Black Entrepreneur Buys Essence to 'Return Ownership by the People It Serves'

SheaMoisture founder Richelieu Dennis acquires the media brand from Time Inc.

Richelieu Dennis

Richelieu Dennis, founder and chairperson of Essence Ventures, purchased Essence Communications, which includes the magazine and its parent lifestyle brand, from Time Inc. The media brand that has been embraced by Black women since the 1970s returns to being ran by an entirely Black-owned independent company.

In a multi-billion dollar deal linked to conservative and politically active Charles and David Koch, who agreed to a $650 million commitment from their equity development fund, Meredith Corporation is set to buy Time Inc. Essence, fully acquired by Time Inc. in 2005, was not included in the sale. It was looking for another buyer.

Essence Ventures was founded last year by Richelieu, CEO and founder of Sundial Brands, creator of the popular skin and hair care line SheaMoisture. He announced Wednesday the acquisition of Essence Communications for an undisclosed price.

"We are excited to be able to return this culturally relevant and historically significant platform to ownership by the people and the consumers whom it serves and offer new opportunities for the women leading the business to also be partners in the business," Richelieu said in a statement.

"Our focus here will be on ensuring that Essence reaches its full potential via heightened capabilities, technology, products and touch points that super-serve the interests of Black women locally and globally."

Essence tweeted on Wednesday:

Born in Liberia, Dennis attended Babson College in Massachusetts. He was unable to return to his country after graduating in 1991 due to civil war, according to the Sundial Brands' website. The following year, he partnered with his college roommate, Nyema Tubman, and his mother, Mary Dennis, to create the hair and skin care line, incorporating four generations of his family's recipes. Unilever announced the acquisition of Sundial Brands in November, with Dennis continuing as CEO.

He applauded the leadership of Essence president, Michelle Ebanks, who will continue to run the company. In addition, Ebanks will join its board of directors.

"The strategic vision and leadership that Michelle has provided to Essence over the years have been exemplary," Dennis said.

The all-Black women executive team will also have equity stakes in the business.

Ebanks said the acquisition "represents the beginning of an exciting transformation of our iconic brand as it evolves to serve the needs and interests of multigenerational Black women around the world."

Essence, where Gordon Parks served as editorial director during the first three years of its circulation, has been a multi-generational staple for Black women. It currently reaches a global audience of more than 16 million across its various platforms encompassing its signature print magazine as well as digital, video and social platforms.

Popular events include the Black Women in Hollywood Awards and the annual Essence Festival, a cultural celebration that debuted in 1995 and is now one of the country's largest annual events, attracting more than 450,000 attendees.

"We remain committed to leveraging our resources to provide opportunities for other culturally-rooted entrepreneurs and businesses that further our culture and create economic opportunities for our communities," Dennis said.

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