When it comes to business, Robert L. Johnson knows what he's talking about. After launching the successful Black television network BET, he sold it to Viacom for approximately $3 billion. In 2001, Johnson became the first African-American billionaire, according to Forbes.
Johnson went on to develop RLJ Companies, a premier holding company and asset management firm. The RLJ companies is a portfolio of companies in the financial services, real estate, hospitality, professional sports, film production, automotive and gaming industries. The businesses include RLJ Development, a privately held hotel real estate investment company; RLJ Lodging Fund II and RLJ Real Estate Fund III, both of which are private equity real estate funds; RolloverSystems, a financial services company providing retirement planning services based in Charlotte, North Carolina; RLJ Equity Partners, a private equity fund; RLJ Select Investments, a multi-strategy hedge fund platform; Urban Trust Holdings, a company that holds Urban Trust Bank, a federal thrift institution; the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and Charlotte Arena Operations; Our Stories Films, a film production company; Caribbean Gaming & Entertainment, a video lottery gaming company; and RLJ-McLarty-Landers Automotive Group.
Now Johnson has come up with a plan that will help African-Americans and other minorities in the business world. Speaking recently, he urged U.S. corporations to establish a version of the "NFL Rooney Rule" in order to increase employment and business opportunities for African-Americans. Under the Rooney Rule, NFL teams must give a fair chance to minority candidates for head-coaching or general manager positions.
In turn, Johnson is urging Fortune 1000 companies to adopt a version of the National Football League's (NFL) Rooney Rule.
Under his proposed The RLJ Rule, companies would be encouraged to voluntarily establish a 'best practices' policy to identify and interview the talent pool of African-American managers and African-American companies.
"The RLJ Rule calls on U.S. Fortune 1000 companies to voluntarily consider a more diverse pool of qualified candidates when filling senior-level job openings (VP and above) and hiring minority contractors," explains Johnson. "What I’ve proposed is the business version of the National Football League's Rooney Rule, a 2003 mandate that required teams to consider diverse candidate pools when filling senior positions. I'm suggesting corporations throughout the country implement this practice on a voluntary basis as part of their enhanced best practices and commitment to diversity inclusion. It gets corporate America to become more open to the idea of providing fairness and equity in employment opportunities at senior management levels, which has long not been the case, but as the NFL’s Rooney Rule has demonstrated successfully in professional football, a similar commitment by corporate America will at least assure that qualified and talented African-Americans are no longer overlooked."
The RLJ Rule is two-pronged: it (a) encourages companies to voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified African-American candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above; and (b) encourages companies to interview at least two qualified African-American firms for vendor supplier/services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor.
Companies seem to like the idea. "There has been strong support received so far for the RLJ Rule. I have reached out to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Business Roundtable, Business Council, the U.S. Black Chamber of Commerce, and the Executive Leadership Council. I have also asked the President’s Jobs Council to endorse the RLJ Rule. The rule is not a quota system and it’s not a mandate. People have responded very well to the concept and understand that the RLJ Rule can only strengthen business talent and performance overall," explains Johnson.
According to Johnson, it is time to change the corporate culture on many levels. "It’s important to get corporations involved for a number of reasons. The RLJ Rule would immediately reduce the unemployment disparity between Black and white individuals. Today, when positions at the vice president (and above) level come up and the job is filled without an African-American ever being considered, nobody feels they have done anything wrong. In most cases, and this happens very often, opportunities are filled through a hiring stream that doesn't include many African-Americans," notes Johnson. "The RLJ Rule is intended to encourage corporations to look at the large pool of African- American and minority talent when making hiring decisions. It will show that when given the opportunity, African-Americans and other minorities can compete at the highest level."
But it is not up to the private sector alone. Government and corporations can do their own part in creating a more level playing field for African-American executives. "Both the government and the private sector have their respective roles," says Johnson. "I’m a believer in bringing business solutions to social problems and thinking that a lot more can be achieved in the private sector that would benefit communities across the country."