As a partner and vice chairman of Monumental Sports and Entertainment, Sheila Johnson is the only African American woman with ownership in three professional sports teams: the WNBA’s Washington Mystics (for which she serves as the team’s president and managing partner), the NBA’s Washington Wizards and the NHL’s Washington Capitals.
As founder and CEO of Salamander Hotels & Resorts, she also oversees a growing portfolio of luxury properties and lifestyle businesses with locations including Virginia, Florida, Jamaica and Charleston, South Carolina. The company ranks as one of the largest minority-owned, women-owned companies in the Washington, D.C., metro area.
Given all that Johnson is involved in, you might be forgiven for wondering how the renowned executive, entrepreneur and philanthropist finds the time to teach at the University of South Carolina. But that’s exactly what she’s doing, returning to the university’s College of Hospitality, Retail and Sport Management for a second semester this spring as executive in residence, teaching a specialized course, Leadership Development.
“Being able to pick the brains of enormously successful industry leaders like Ms. Johnson is incredible,” says Devin Arasa, a sport and entertainment management major who took the class last fall. “Every Monday, I come into class excited to discuss my views on leadership responsibilities and philosophy with my peers and learn how to become an impactful leader from our guests. Courses like Leadership Development are great examples of what the College of HRSM has to offer and why I came to the university in the first place.”
Co-teaching alongside distinguished guests and HRSM faculty members David Cárdenas, interim dean, and Robin DiPietro, director of Hospitality and Tourism Management, Johnson’s course explores how leaders mobilize others to accomplish extraordinary goals. This semester’s guests have included Dawn Staley and Virginia Ali, owner of legendary Washington, D.C., restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl.
The course is designed for students in the College of HRSM Leadership Program to learn how to transform values into actions, visions into realities, obstacles into innovations, separateness into solidarity, and risks into rewards.
“This course has been pivotal in my leadership development and completely transformed the way I view leadership, entrepreneurship, and what it means to simply be a good person,” says Darby Klemz, a retailing management major who was part of the first class to take the seminar during the fall semester of 2022. “I feel truly blessed to have had the opportunity to tap into the minds of brilliant professionals for 8 weeks.”
Johnson has built a stellar career across the college’s industries of sport, entertainment, hospitality and retail.
An ardent supporter of education and the arts, she serves on the board of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, as chairman of the College of Performing Arts at The New School, and as founder and chair of the Middleburg Film Festival. She is also known as a television pioneer, having been a founding partner of Black Entertainment Television, and she has extended her influence into the realm of feature films and documentaries as well.
“Sheila Johnson is a visionary leader who has built an incredibly successful career across our industries, and we are so excited that our students will continue to have the extraordinary opportunity of learning from her," says Cárdenas. “Our college is dedicated to bringing together passionate students, inspiring teachers and industry leaders, and this teaching collaboration brings that vision to life in a way that will make a transformative impact on students.”