If one were to walk down the hair care aisle of any major big box store, there is a high chance Shea Moisture would be on the shelves. With products like shampoos, conditioners, and oils, the natural hair care line has been serving Black and Brown communities for years. But did you know the brain behind the massive beauty and hairline is Liberian-born mogul Richelieu Dennis?

From Humble Beginnings To A Purpose-Driven Mission

Dennis attended Babson College and began selling shea butter from his dorm room. By the early 90s, he had leveraged his dorm room sales to start the Shea Moisture line, which would eventually become a part of the parent company Sundial Brands. However, Dennis’ journey was one of hard work, selling his product from a card table in Harlem.

Beyond the entrepreneurial spirit, Dennis recognized his product was not just a hustle but a connection to something greater.

“But for me, there was this overwhelming sense of responsibility: there were no real products or brands tied to [our] ancestral culture. These ingredients existed,” Dennis said in a 2023 Forbes interview. “You’d have people show up and say, ‘My mother made so-and-so when we were in South Carolina. And she got it from my grandmother, who got it from her mother.’ But because Black culture had been interrupted by slavery, that never got translated into actual products, goods, and services.”

Richelieu Dennis Pays It Forward

Richelieu Dennis, with his deep-rooted connection to the community and strong business acumen, transformed Sundial Brands into a game-changer in the haircare industry, catching the attention of Unilever. The AFROTECH™ report on the deal revealed that Dennis sold the company for a staggering $1.6 billion. While this significantly boosted his personal wealth, he used the acquisition to launch the New Voices Fund, a testament to his commitment to empowering entrepreneurial women of color.

The New Voices Fund, a brainchild of Richelieu Dennis, was established with a clear mission – to provide support to entrepreneurial women of color who often face barriers in accessing capital and building crucial relationships with partners. This initiative is a tangible demonstration of Dennis’ commitment to fostering diversity and inclusivity in the business world.

“We have to build our businesses, create value in them, unlock that value,” he said. And we have to take that value and invest it back into our community so that other families get the same opportunities. I think because that hasn’t happened enough at scale for many people, our community hasn’t seen the positive impacts that this can have; they’ve only seen the negative.”

A Man Respected Among His Peers

Known in some respects as the Godfather of Black Entrepreneurs, Dennis is a serial entrepreneur and investor. Since selling Sundial Brands and stepping down as its CEO, Dennis created the Social Mission Board to scale Community Commerce globally. He would go on to create Essence Ventures, a consumer technology company that merges content and commerce for its community members aimed at meeting the cultural and life-sustaining needs of people of color. The organization eventually acquired Essence Communications, Inc. from Time, Inc. in 2018.

In that same year, the 55-year-old purchased the estate of hair and beauty icon Madame CJ Walker. Upon its restoration, the estate is used as a business incubator for Black women entrepreneurs to receive training and guidance to grow and further develop their businesses.

The Liberian native walks it like he talks it with his support for women-owned businesses. Dennis is an investor in Pinky Cole’s popular plant-based burger restaurant Slutty Vegan and the hair care brand Mielle Organics.

Dennis’ acquisition of Essence was the precursor to his current massive presence in the media and art spaces. As one of the co-founders of Group Black, Dennis seeks to transform the face of media ownership and investment. That mission was made evident by the 2023 bid to buy Vice Media, potentially joining over 150 other brands, including ESSENCE, Afropunk, and PlayersTV.

Dennis’ Money Moves Don’t Stop

Most recently, in a separate deal under another media moniker, Sundial Media Group, Dennis and the organization recently announced that it was acquiring Refinery29, a digital media platform serving women, previously owned by Vice Media.

Although Dennis’ money moves have led him to an estimated $350 million-dollar fortune, the goal is never to replicate his success but to find new inspiration for growth and equity across industries consistently.

According to Forbes, “I’m competitive around mission as opposed to accomplishment. There’s so much work to be done in bringing fairness to the marketplace,” Dennis stated.

He continued: “It is hard being an entrepreneur. Period. But when Black entrepreneurs have been systemically blocked out of opportunities and access, it becomes even harder. There was no infrastructure, there was no ecosystem, there was no path that Black entrepreneurs had to rely on or follow.”