How This Black Mother And Son Turned A Soap Business Into An $850 Million Fortune

Posted On : 09/29/2018

Who could believe that old recipes to aid hair and skincare – passed down from generations – could end up being so profitable? 

They Started Their Business In The 90’s

It’s an incredible story of hard work, passion and a beautiful bond between mother and son – Mary and Richelieu Dennis. Mary raised her beloved son in Liberia and Sierra Leone. They eventually settled in Harlem, where Richelieu attended business school Babson College.

It was always his dream to become the boss of his own company and return home to his native land. Sadly, it wasn’t to be after civil wars broke out in both Liberia and Sierra Leone. Although the game plan changed – his passion did not.

Twenty-seven years ago he stumbled across his grandmother’s generation-old recipes of hair and skincare products. With his mother and college roommate, they launched a beauty and skincare product company now known as Sundial Brands/ Shea Moisture.

Their products are made of natural ingredients such as Shea butter, essential oils and African black soap. As word-of-mouth about the products spread, the business began to boom.

But Richelieu had a clear vision on how he wanted his merchandise to be advertised. He wouldn’t allow his products to be put in the so-called “ethnic aisle” of drugstores. He had to wait for over 16 years for major retailers such as Macy’s and Target to carry his brand.

At this point Sundial/ SheaMoisture was so popular its revenue had reached $60 million. This quadrupled with mass distribution. Recently, the Richelieu, his mother and business partner sold 49% of his company to Unilever.

Now it’s worth $1.6 billion!

The Richest Black Entrepreneurs In The World

But just because Richelieu sold his company to a big brand – doesn’t mean he’s selling out.

Unilever gave Richelieu full control of the company with no strings attached. Dennis and Mary were given 51% of it which amounts to $850 million, making them two of the richest Black entrepreneurs in the world.

As part of the deal, Richelieu is free to run the company as long as he wants. “We’re here to run the business,” Dennis shared with Forbes. “It’s not like I’m in a Founder’s Room, where Unilever wheels us out to show us off. It doesn’t feel like we sold the business.”

Last year the entrepreneur bought Black women’s lifestyle magazine Essence. He also announced the New Voices Fund which aims to support female entrepreneurs of color. The women are competing to have a whopping $100 million investment. 

All Sundial Brands/ Shea Moisture products are available for purchase on Amazon at https://amzn.to/2Ij8zSq

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