This past Monday, Los Angeles Times reported that Discovery Communications has taken a majority interest in OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network by paying $70 million. When OWN was launched back in 2011, it was a 50/50 venture between Oprah and Discovery. Now, the cable giant owns close to 75%.
Despite the joint venture, we have always looked at OWN as a black owned network. With recent hits such as “Queen Sugar” and “Greenleaf”, OWN has become one of the top networks for black audiences. A close partnership with black directors such as Ava DuVernay and Tyler Perry has become the network’s trademark in recent years.
That is why Discovery now having a majority in OWN might feel like yet another black owned business getting bought out.
Recently, the sell of Sundial Brands, the parent company of SheaMoisture, to Unilever did not go well with many in the black community. It’s not so much that a black owned brand that is so prominent in the natural hair care market being sold to a large corporation that was upsetting to most. It’s the fact that it was Unilever, the parent company of Dove, that acquired Sundial.
Of course, we all remember Dove being in the hot seat recently for their controversial ad.
Sundial is not the only beauty brand that has been accused of selling out. Carol’s Daughter, another leader in the natural hair care market, was sold to L’Oreal back in 2014.
For most entrepreneurs, having other companies be interested in acquiring your business is a big achievement. That achievement is magnified even more when the deal is for millions and the acquiring company is a large corporation with name recognition.
That’s the thrill of entrepreneurship. Build a company, sell it, and build another one! That’s what entrepreneurs strive for, regardless of race or background.
So, do we fault these businesses for selling?
Being a black owned business comes with a lot of hope and responsibility that’s heavier than other businesses. SheaMoisture was raised up to the level they are at right now by black women. Black women who were discriminated against and forgotten about by other major beauty brands. That’s why even their effort to expand beyond their traditional target market was met with a lot of criticism by their loyal customers who felt left out.
Whether that controversy was warranted depends on your point of view. Is the company simply trying to grow without abandoning it’s base customer or going after a larger market at the cost of their loyal customers? That, of course, cannot be answered until we see how the campaign plays out. Holding SheaMoisture to the black market only when it has the ability to expand to other races while still serving their traditional clients well is, of course, unfair. We want our black owned businesses to grow big and and flourish, as long as they don’t abandon us.
Then what is a company to do when having to juggle the responsibility to the community with growing, expanding, and selling a black owned business? Are they burdened with finding another black company to sell to or sifting through the history of each company interested in buying them for any racial controversy in their past? As you can see here, the list of large corporations that have been sued or have come under fire for various allegations of discrimination is long. Sometimes, even the stores where you buy your black products have had racial controversies, which is the case for Walmart.
So, is selling a black owned business to a larger corporation simply selling out? We don’t think so, but us know your thoughts in the comments.