This case explores the significance of people management in creating a competitive advantage for organizations. Robert L. Johnson’s desire not to work for someone else led him to become founder and chief executive officer of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the first African-American-owned cable network in 1980. Under Johnson’s leadership, BET became publicly owned in 1991, returned to the private sector seven years later, and in 2001 was sold to Viacom at a $3 billion valuation. Amid success, Johnson never lost sight of one of his original goals: to provide people of color the opportunity to be successful business leaders. Debra Lee joined Johnson in 1986 as the firm continued to accomplish the vision. Not only was BET black-owned but most of the executives, entertainment talent, and employees were African American and the firm’s products were targeted to the African-American community. When BET was sold, questions were raised about changes that might occur after a dominantly white-controlled media company took over this predominantly African-American firm. They faced a challenge: What would happen if and when Johnson left BET? How could Johnson and Lee continue to pursue the original vision and goals for BET and sustain the culture, leadership style, and human resources approach to managing people once it became a division of Viacom? Was change inevitable? If so, what should they change, and more importantly, how were they going to get their employees on board? Although BET had made it to the top, would opportunities for people of color be put aside? A teaching note is available to registered faculty, along with a video supplement to enhance student learning.
Darden Business Publishing – University of Virginia