Posted on May 8, 2009

The Wealthiest Black Americans

Matthew Miller, Forbes, May 6, 2009

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most lucrative brands in the world. Today The Oprah Winfrey Show airs in 144 countries, drawing 44 million U.S. viewers each week. Her Harpo Productions helped create the likes of Dr. Phil and Rachael Ray. She’s produced Broadway shows and has her own satellite radio channel. For all of this, she consistently earns more than $200 million a year.


With a net worth of $2.7 billion, Winfrey tops the inaugural Forbes list of the Wealthiest Black Americans. She is the only billionaire on the list of 20 tycoons, all of whom are self-made. The group built their fortunes across a spectrum of industries spanning athletics and entertainment, media, investments, real estate, construction and restaurants.

Black Entertainment Television founder Robert Johnson became the first African American billionaire in 2000 after he sold the network to Viacom for $3 billion in stock and assumed debt. Since then, sagging Viacom and CBS stock, plus investments in real estate, hotels and banks–industries pummeled in the past year amid the recession–have dragged Johnson’s net worth to $550 million, we estimate. He ranks third on the list; his former wife and BET co-founder, Sheila Johnson, ranks seventh with $400 million.

Between Winfrey and Robert Johnson, in second place is golf phenom Tiger Woods, worth an estimated $600 million. {snip}

Woods’ career winnings exceed $80 million, but his real money is made off the course. His annual prize money represents less than 15% of his income, with splashy sponsorship contracts from Nike, Gatorade, Gillette, Accenture, AT&T and others raking in at least $100 million each year.

Rounding out the top five are two basketball greats: Michael Jordan ($525 million) and Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. ($500 million), both of whom parlayed their time on the court into lucrative endorsement and business deals in retirement.


Like our signature rich lists, The World’s Billionaires and Forbes 400, the Wealthiest Black Americans list is a compilation of net worth–not income.

Our estimates are purposely conservative and should be considered “at least” figures. While we try to value everything from individuals’ stakes in publicly traded and privately held companies to real estate holdings and investments in art, yachts and planes, we do not pretend to have access to list members’ tax returns and bank accounts.

Two real estate mavens who have survived the recent property slump appear on the list.

The grandson of a hotel doorman, Don Peebles, worth $350 million, runs one of the country’s largest minority-owned real estate development companies. Peebles Corp.’s portfolio includes hotels, apartments and office space in Miami Beach and Washington, D.C.


Quintin Primo III is worth $300 million. The minister’s son grew up in Chicago. He earned his MBA at Harvard in 1979 and took a job in Citicorp’s real estate lending division. Primo founded Capri Capital in 1992 with childhood friend Daryl Carter and achieved initial success extending mezzanine loans to small borrowers that larger firms neglected to serve. Today Capri’s portfolio is larded with apartment complexes; the firm’s assets under management have swelled to $4.3 billion.


Ulysses Bridgeman, Jr. garnered his $200 million through a combination of athletic grit and business savvy. {snip}

Upon retiring in 1987, Bridgeman bought five Wendy’s franchises to generate income while he planned his next career. Today he controls a sprawling dining empire with 161 Wendy’s and 118 Chili’s locations. Last year, sales of his Manna Inc. holding company were $530 million.

With a net worth of $125 million, Kenneth Chenault, chief executive of American Express, rounds out the group. Chenault attended Harvard Law and held posts as a consultant and a lawyer before joining Amex in 1981. He became the company’s chief executive in 2001. The company’s shares are down nearly 50% in the past 12 months as profits shrink, delinquencies rise and cardholders throttle back spending.