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Betting On Success

Black entertainment television founder Bob Johnson commands a billion-dollar empire built on one simple rule: choose a niche and serve it any way you can.

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This story appears in the August 1999 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Robert (Bob) L. Johnson, founder, chairman, CEO and owner of BET Holdings Inc., likes to quote a line from singer Ella Fitzgerald: "I've been rich and I've been poor, and rich is better." Johnson grew up as the ninth child of 10 in a struggling Freeport, Illinois, family; today, he lives on his own 133-acre horse farm in Virginia.

After graduating with a master's degree in international affairs from Princeton University in 1972, Johnson worked for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Urban League before becoming vice president of the National Cable TV Association. It was in that capacity he got to know John Malone, the legendary head of Tele-Communications Inc. (TCI), the nation's largest cable TV provider.

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