BET's Johnson plans hedge fund venture

Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson plans to become a pioneer in another market, in which he says African Americans are underrepresented--the hedge fund space.

However, in an interview Tuesday, the billionaire mogul said he won't forget his entertainment industry ties and could look for potential opportunities there in the future.

"I still think there ought to be an African American-controlled movie company," he said when asked where he saw unserved markets in the entertainment sector. "If no one else fills that need, maybe I will have to do it," he added, even though he signalled he had no current plans in this area.

Johnson's near-term focus will be a new financial services venture. Earlier this week, he signed a letter of intent with Deutsche Asset Management, the asset management unit of Deutsche Bank, to form an asset management firm with an initial focus on hedge fund activities.

Johnson said his holding firm The RLJ Cos. will form the new venture with the goal of becoming the largest asset management company owned, controlled, and directed by African Americans. Deutsche will be a minority investor and provide investment strategies and expertise.

The venture plans to provide investment products to pension funds and other institutional investors. A spokeswoman for Johnson said some of the investment activities may include media and entertainment companies, but she didn't provide details.

Given securities markets regulations, Johnson said he can't discuss possible investment strategies, fund sizes, or the likely timing of the launch of the asset management firm.

"I always look for opportunities in areas where I am confident I can put together talented people and strategic partners and where there is an underrepresentation of African Americans," he said about his motivation for the new business.

Johnson said he isn't much involved with BET anymore, where he is set to step down as chairman on January 26. "It's in great hands with (president and CEO) Debra Lee," he said. Johnson sold BET to Viacom Inc. in 2001 for $3 billion.

Johnson's The RLJ Cos. controls more than $800 million in assets, including a $315 million private equity fund that invests in hotels in urban markets. He also owns the NBA's Charlotte Bobcats and WNBA's Charlotte Sting.

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