For St. Louis billionaire business owner Mike Roberts, the adage of keeping it all in the family is an especially important truism for African-American entrepreneurs, as family-owned businesses are often the crucial link to establishing and maintaining intergenerational wealth.
Roberts, along with his younger brother Stephen, own a multimillion-dollar business empire that consists of everything from hotels to TV and radio stations from coast to coast. Roberts Brothers Properties was listed as the 41st largest African-American owned business in the country in 2010 by Black Enterprise magazine with revenues at about $92 million. Through a variety of savvy business deals, networking contacts and a virtually unmatched sense of business acumen, the two siblings are indeed, bent on keeping their business—all in the family. Mike Roberts was the keynote speaker at a New Jersey Black Chamber of Commerce event in late February at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in New Brunswick, NJ. “Black folks need legacy and we have to have consistent and positive examples for our future generations,” Roberts said. “The successes by today’s African-American business owners can be emulated by future generations of black entrepreneurs.”
Roberts said he and his brother have made forays into industries that were once unobtainable and non-existent to people of color. For example, in 1999 the brothers opened the first Sprint PCS affiliated wireless store in Jefferson City, MO—becoming, at the time, the only PCS affiliated company owned by African-Americans. The two sold the company several years later and netted more than $100 million on proceeds from the sale. And in 2007 the brothers set another precedent by becoming the first two African- American brothers to own a radio and television station in the same market after they purchased a Jackson, Mississippi radio station. The two already owned the CW-TV network affiliate station of WRBJ-Channel 34 in the city. It was around the same time the twosome closed a deal to purchase another television station in Evansville, Indiana.
“Starting out, we were in a small one-room office in the heart of St. Louis,” Roberts said. “We weren’t rich and weren’t poor, we just never had any money.” The one-room office eventually morphed into a consortium of 76 companies with more than 1,100 employees. Additionally, the brothers are the largest African-American developers in the Bahamas, where they own and operate a posh and upscale resort.
Lastly, Roberts cajoled the audience to set goals and to follow in the golden footsteps of other successful minority business owners before them. They also advocate a simple, yet cogent business philosophy of work incessantly and they always explore new business ventures in order to grow the empire. “You diversify or you die,” he said. “If a lion retires today, tomorrow morning he becomes his brother’s breakfast.”