Johnson wheels and deals to fulfill ambitions for RLJ

Anyone keeping track of Robert L. Johnson, chairman and chief executive of Bethesda-based RLJ Cos., probably noticed the batch of deals he has closed in the past four months: a couple of hotels, a few equity ventures. Before the ink could dry on any of those agreements, the billionaire businessman had several more in the works, including plans for a debt equity fund and another community bank.

Since selling Black Entertainment Television to Viacom in 2001 for $3 billion, Johnson, 64, has made aggressive moves to turn RLJ into a full-fledged conglomeration. The Bethesda company, with roughly $5 billion under management, owns or holds interests in 11 companies that have a hand in everything from automobile dealerships to insurance services.

Johnson has an eye out for opportunities that can achieve what he calls “the double bottom line,” creating value for investors while benefiting minority communities. His ultimate aim, however, is to grow RLJ into one of the largest African American-owned asset management firms.

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