By Christopher Palmeri
and Brian Womack
Robert Johnson, the first black billionaire in the U.S., said corporations should copy a National Football League policy designed to address inequality and interview minorities for every senior job.
Johnson, the founder of Black Entertainment Television, told reporters the voluntary measure would be similar to what the NFL calls the “Rooney Rule,” which requires franchise owners to consider members of minority groups for senior posts.
“My take on affirmative action is that it is absolutely necessary because there’s a wide disparity between African-Americans and white Americans,” said Johnson, 67. “Unemployment is double for African-Americans, the wealth gap approaches $90,000. We’ve got to resolve that by providing more jobs or opportunities.”
The longtime media executive spoke at the Allen & Co. conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, an annual gathering of executives from media, technology, finance, government and industry. Johnson sold his BET Holdings LLC to Viacom Inc. in 2001 for $2.35 billion.
The issue of race can’t be separated from economic inequality, Johnson said, adding members of minority groups need to catch up in terms of access to capital and jobs.
The 10-year-old Rooney Rule, named after Pittsburgh Steelers owner Dan Rooney, ensures minority coaches are considered for promotions. Team owners interview at least one minority candidate for a head coach or general manager opening.
Among Fortune 500 firms, six are led by blacks, according to Diversity Inc., a consultant. They are: Kenneth Chenault (American Express), Kenneth Frazier (Merck), Ursula Burns (Xerox), Roger Ferguson Jr. (TIAA-CREF), Don Thompson (McDonald’s) and Clarence Otis Jr. (Darden Restaurants).