Robert Johnson, Playing By His Own Rules

Robert Johnson (Courtesy Photo)
Robert Johnson (Courtesy Photo)

BET Founder Pushes Black Hiring, Launches New Network

by Stacy M. Brown
Special to the NNPA from The Washington Informer

Robert L. Johnson keeps tabs on BET because, well, he co-founded the network and, he said, it’s like a grandparent making sure the young ones are OK.

The network, like so many other business ventures that the distinguished entrepreneur has owned and operated, continues to do well and remains a beacon in the black community.

A symbol of leadership and an innovator, Johnson has a legacy that could ultimately be defined by what he’s accomplished to level the playing field for African-Americans and other minorities in corporate America.

His RLJ Rule has grabbed the attention of some executives at Fortune 500 companies after already being endorsed by President Barack Obama and by members of the United States Senate who, led by Republican Tim Scott, recently passed a resolution establishing business best practices to fully utilize the potential of the country based on the RLJ Rule.

“It’s a way to break up the old boys system, the mindset,” said Johnson, 69.

“Hiring is a process busy people do when they have to fill a position. It’s a natural kind of behavior when a position is open to check their email list, see who they went to school with, who they play golf with and the next thing you know, African-Americans are left out.”

That’s exactly what Johnson proposes to change with the RLJ Rule, which encourages companies to voluntarily implement a plan to interview a minimum of two qualified minority candidates for every job opening at the vice president level and above.

Johnson also wants companies to interview at least two qualified minority-owned firms for vendor and supplier services contracts before awarding a new company contract to a vendor.

He said the decision by Xerox this month to implement their version of the RLJ Rule will hopefully motivate other Fortune 500 companies to recognize the compelling need to encourage minority and ethnic diversity in hiring at every level and to encourage procurement opportunities for qualified minority businesses.

“We are not telling people that they have to hire African-Americans; what we want is for them to be given an opportunity,” Johnson said, noting that the approach has worked well for him.

“Tom Baltimore, who is responsible for all of the activities of my RLJ Development, was working at Hilton Hotels, and he wasn’t in line to be a CEO. I gave him a chance and now he’s a CEO,” Johnson said.

“The point is to make certain that minorities are given an opportunity to compete as equals and contribute with their talents to the growth of the economy both nationally and on a global scale. Also, once you bring them in for an interview, it may be that they don’t get that job, but when something else comes up, they are in your database and you know them.”

Naturally, Johnson said he’s not trying to bully anyone into adopting the rule or mandating that they hire minorities.

“The RLJ Rule is principally designed to encourage companies to voluntarily establish a best practices policy to identify and interview the tremendous talent pool of minority individuals and businesses that are often overlooked because of traditional hiring or procurement practices,” he said.

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