Thursday, July 31, 2008


Confidence is about ignoring external or other people's realities in order to believe in yourself and your ability to make great stuff happen. What "great stuff"? Someone has to make it to the Major Leagues, so for thousands of dedicated ball players, the big leagues are a possibility. There are also thousands of CEO positions out there in the market place, so any ambitious executive has the option to imagine himself or herself sitting in the corner office.

In the 1950's when Robert Johnson was in elementary school in Freeport, Illinois, what were the odds that he would become a billionaire? What were the odds that he would become the first African-American billionaire? What was the probability that he would create Black Entertainment Television (BET), the largest black-owned and operated company in the country? Zero probability. In Mississippi, where Johnson was born, black kids still could not go to the same schools as white kids or even drink at the same water fountain. The son of a factory worker and one of ten kids, whose only entrepreneurial experience was a local paper route, such goals were inconceivable to Johnson. But he did dream of going to college and was the only one of his ten siblings to do so. While at the University of Illinois, he dreamed about joining the foreign service and becoming an ambassador. He took the first step by going to Princeton for a masters degree in international affairs and then accepted a job as an aide to Washington D.C.'s congressional delegate.

One night at a party at a neighbor’s house, someone told him that he would make "a good lobbyist for the cable industry." Johnson admitted to knowing nothing about cable TV, but he took the meeting and got the job as vice president of government relations for the National Cable & Telecommunications Association. He quickly learned the business, including how programming could be segmented to a specific audience, which sparked his idea for creating a network aimed at African-Americans. With a $15,000 bank loan and one major investor who loved the idea, Johnson started BET in 1980. Five years later, BET was profitable and growing. In 2001, Viacom bought the network for $3 billion. Johnson, who remained in charge of BET, made $1.5 billion off the deal.

- Excerpt from The Big Idea Blog, Donny Deutsch

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