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Entrepreneur, Sheila C. Johnson is one of the United State’s most notable philanthropists and the first black American woman in the United States to become a billionaire. She is the cofounder of Black Entertainment Television (BET), CEO of Salamander Hotels and Resorts, and the owner or partner in three professional sports franchises.

Regarded as one of the country’s smartest businesswomen, Johnson started off her career in music. Discouraged by her low pay teaching violin at a music school, she started taking on students in her own home in the evenings after her day job, eventually earning $64,000 per year working for herself. At her peak, Johnson had 100 students and took them on performance tours around the world, including a trip in which they played for the king and queen of Jordan.

Having learned the ins and outs of the business world, she co-launched BET in 1979, using the channel as an outlet for public affairs programming and her own youth oriented talk show Teen Summit. After becoming dissatisfied with the direction that artists’ videos were taking, especially in their portrayal of women and messages for teens, Johnson sold her share of BET and got a new start in the resort hotel industry, which she saw as an extension of BET in that resorts are another form of entertainment.

Johnson continues to stay true to her values and live them out through her work as CEO of Salamander Hospitality, President and managing partner of the WNBA team The Mystics, independent filmmaker, and active partner in various nonprofit and academic institutions. She is a powerful champion for women’s equality, youth, community, and the performing arts.

Full Profile

    Sheila C. Johnson is a successful entrepreneur and impassioned philanthropist.  

     

    As vice chairman of Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Johnson is the only African-American woman to have ownership in three professional sports teams, the WNBA’s Washington Mystics, the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.  Johnson is president and managing partner of the Mystics.

     

    As CEO of Salamander Hospitality, a company she founded in 2005, Johnson oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties.  Woodlands Inn, in Summerville, SC, is one of only a handful of properties in North America to receive the prestigious Forbes Five Star and AAA Five Diamond ratings for both lodging and dining.  In 2008, Travel + Leisure selected Woodlands as the #1 hotel for service in North America and #3 in the world (it was the only US hotel ranked in the Top 10).  In 2007, Johnson acquired Innisbrook, a Salamander Golf & Spa Resort. Set on 900 acres, this 72-hole resort in Innisbrook, FL hosts the annual PGA TOUR’s Transitions Championship and the LPGA Legends Tour Open Championship. The company is also building the much-anticipated Salamander Resort & Spa, located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Middleburg, VA.


    Johnson is a partner in ProJet Aviation, a comprehensive aviation service company specializing in aviation consulting, aircraft acquisitions, management and charter services based in Leesburg, VA. She is also a partner in Mistral, the makers of fine bath, body and home products.


    Johnson has long been a powerful influence in the entertainment industry as a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television (BET) and most recently as a film producer. In partnership with other investors, her first film, Kicking It, premiered at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, UT. She was executive produced her second film, A Powerful Noise, which premiered at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival in New York and her third film, She Is The Matador. Her latest film, The Other City, about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Washington DC, premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival in April 2010.

     

    In 2006, Johnson was named global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty by empowering women because they have the unique power to help entire communities escape poverty. “Sheila’s I Am Powerful Challenge” was instrumental in helping raise funds for CARE’s important work. Johnson is also a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.

     

    A fervent supporter of the arts and education, Johnson was recently appointed by Barack Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities and serves as chair of the board of governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York. She sits on the boards of Americans for the Arts, the Jackie Robinson Foundation, the Tiger Woods Foundation, the University of Virginia Curry School of Education, Howard University and the University of Illinois Foundation.


    An accomplished violinist, Johnson received a Bachelor of Arts in music from the University of Illinois, as well as honorary degrees from numerous other institutions. Johnson lives in Middleburg, VA, is married to the Honorable William T. Newman, Jr. and has two children.


Sheila C. Johnson Speaker Videos Back to top

Keynote Speech


Sheila Johnson offers key lessons that she has learned going from the entertainment industry to the hospitality industry, a venture many people viewed critically due to her lack of experience running a hotel. Johnson responds to these doubts, that whether one is launching a hotel or a television network, the same key strategies can be applied.

“It’s important to get the best people around you,” she states, crediting her success to her partners and team. Noting you must first have a clear vision of where you want to go, she hits on the importance of what she calls her second lesson: “...how essential it is to find a first-rate team. People who bring a depth and breadth of skill and experience to the table.”


Speeches / Speaking Engagements Back to top


An authority in both business and entertainment, Sheila Johnson is passionate about having a positive impact on the world through her work. Whether she’s speaking on how to succeed in today’s business world, the rewards of giving back to your community, or the benefits and indispensable role of performing arts in education, Johnson is inspirational. A trailblazer in business, she offers her audiences accessible advice on perseverance, problem solving, and making your vision a reality.

Lessons from a Groundbreaking Leader
The entrepreneurial bug bit Johnson early on. Never one to take the easy road, she has been on a path to success that has been filled with hard lessons—including the absolute importance of collaboration. In today′s challenging business environment, entrepreneurs need encouragement more than ever before, and Johnson not only offers them inspiration, but also imparts the important lessons she′s learned.

The Rewards of Philanthropy
Leaders must be givers, sharing their time, resources and vision to help others who are less fortunate, and inspiring those around them to action. In addition to Johnson′s contributions to the arts, she is a global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty by empowering women, because they have the unique power to help entire communities escape poverty. "Sheila′s I Am Powerful Challenge" raised millions for CARE, and "A Powerful Noise," the documentary Johnson produced about three remarkable women effecting change in Mali, Vietnam and Bosnia, helped raise awareness of women′s issues around the world.

Creative Pursuits
Johnson spent her grade school and college years training to be a concert violinist. She is now an advocate for the arts and arts education, as she believes that they allow children an important outlet for their creativity and help with all other academic pursuits. She serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York and sits on the boards of VH1′s Save the Music Foundation and Americans for the Arts. Johnson speaks authoritatively on the rewards and benefits of investing in the arts.





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Lessons from a Groundbreaking Leader
The entrepreneurial bug bit Johnson early on. Never one to take the easy road, she has been on a path to success that has been filled with hard lessons—including the absolute importance of collaboration. In today′s challenging business environment, entrepreneurs need encouragement more than ever before, and Johnson not only offers them inspiration, but also imparts the important lessons she′s learned.

The Rewards of Philanthropy
Leaders must be givers, sharing their time, resources and vision to help others who are less fortunate, and inspiring those around them to action. In addition to Johnson′s contributions to the arts, she is a global ambassador for CARE, a leading humanitarian organization fighting global poverty by empowering women, because they have the unique power to help entire communities escape poverty. "Sheila′s I Am Powerful Challenge" raised millions for CARE, and "A Powerful Noise," the documentary Johnson produced about three remarkable women effecting change in Mali, Vietnam and Bosnia, helped raise awareness of women′s issues around the world.

Creative Pursuits
Johnson spent her grade school and college years training to be a concert violinist. She is now an advocate for the arts and arts education, as she believes that they allow children an important outlet for their creativity and help with all other academic pursuits. She serves as chair of the Board of Governors of Parsons The New School for Design in New York and sits on the boards of VH1′s Save the Music Foundation and Americans for the Arts. Johnson speaks authoritatively on the rewards and benefits of investing in the arts.


Keynote Speech


Sheila Johnson offers key lessons that she has learned going from the entertainment industry to the hospitality industry, a venture many people viewed critically due to her lack of experience running a hotel. Johnson responds to these doubts, that whether one is launching a hotel or a television network, the same key strategies can be applied.

“It’s important to get the best people around you,” she states, crediting her success to her partners and team. Noting you must first have a clear vision of where you want to go, she hits on the importance of what she calls her second lesson: “...how essential it is to find a first-rate team. People who bring a depth and breadth of skill and experience to the table.”