Herbert P. Wilkins, Sr.
Longtime MMTC Board Member and Benefactor, Minority Venture Capital Icon, Mentor, and Champion for Diversity of Ownership in the Media and Telecommunications Industries
January 9, 1942 – December 3, 2013
Herbert P. Wilkins, Sr., renowned venture capitalist and entrepreneur, will best be remembered for his stalwart leadership and achievements on behalf of minority entrepreneurs in the broadcast, cable, wireless and satellite industries.
Affectionately known as the “Godfather of Minority Venture Capital,” Herb’s strong belief in the potential of minority businessmen and women motivated him to take risks that many others feared to take, leaving behind a legacy of success in minority-owned businesses in the communications industries.
The Syncom Legacy
Herb revolutionized minority entrepreneurship in the broadcasting, cable, telecom and wireless industries through his successful venture capital funds, Syndicated Communications, Inc., and Syncom Venture Partners, funds that, collectively, have invested nearly a half-billion dollars in approximately 150 minority-owned communications business enterprises over the past 35 years. With a mission to diversify the ownership of media and telecom in the United States, Herb, along with his long-time partners Terry Jones, Duane McKnight and the Syncom team, adopted a winning approach by investing in deals other venture capital firms refused, and sharing the risks and rewards of their investments with other minority venture capitalists through syndication-style investments. The Syncom Funds not only made financial investments in minority entrepreneurs, but they also incubated them to help to ensure their success.
Consistent with that vision, Syncom advised and invested in major industry icons and brands that include Bob Johnson of BET Holdings, Inc. and District Cablevision; Cathy Hughes and Alfred Liggins of Radio One and TV One; Moctesuma Esparza of Buena Vista Television and Maya Cinemas; Tom Castro of El Dorado Communications; Simplink Corporation; SiTV; Amador Bustos of Z-Spanish Media Corp, and made investments in two wireless companies, Movistar (Puerto Rico) and PrimeCo Wireless Communications LLC (Chicago). Herb served on the boards of many of the companies in which Syncom invested. Notably, he served, along with cable television industry pioneer John Malone, on the board of directors of BET Holdings, Inc., helping to advise his friend and business partner Bob Johnson, who later became the first African American billionaire when BET was sold to Viacom. Herb, Bob Johnson, and former FCC Commissioner Tyrone Brown were the braintrust for BET’s future investments and would help to spawn initiatives to increase minority ownership, including the FCC tax certificate. And prior to becoming FCC Chairman, William E. Kennard was hand-selected by Herb to serve as Syncom’s primary outside counsel for a number of years. Herb’s numerous investments culminated in the acquisition of the $6 billion Iridium Satellite Corporation as part of a team of private investors who purchased Iridium from Motorola out of bankruptcy for $25 million, then led Iridium to a turnaround success.
Herb credited his family with his strong work ethic and entrepreneurial vision; notably, his aunt, his mother, and his father who was a master painter. Herb attended HBCU Central State University, then transferred to Boston University and graduated in 1965 with a B.A. in History. In 1968, Herb married his soulmate, Sheran, whom he often credited for his focus and success in life and business. Herb graduated from Harvard School of Business in 1970; the rest is history.
Herbert P. Wilkins, Sr.’s life touched the lives of so many people that we have captured the tributes of several of his friends, mentees, and business associates. These few tributes reflect the thoughts and feelings of many others whose words could not be included.
“At a minimum, Herb’s life is a movement that parallels the momentous rise of minority ownership of the media and telecommunications industries, and his faith in the dreams of others. The best way we can honor Herb is to continue his work of promoting minority participation in the 21st century technologies.” Maurita Coley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer, MMTC
“I celebrate the life of Herb P. Wilkins, Sr., the brilliant businessman and passionate facilitator of economic opportunities for so many who would otherwise have been denied the resources and encouragement to pursue their dreams. A true inspiration in times such as these.” Lawrence Cooper, Deputy General Counsel, Black Entertainment Television
“Herb Wilkins left a powerful legacy for promoting economic empowerment and opportunity. His positive impact on this country will be felt for many years to come, and we all owe him a debt of gratitude.” Ari Fitzgerald, Partner, Hogan Lovells LLP
“Without question, Herb will always be remembered by me as THE ICON for all of us who had the opportunity to serve and contribute to creating minority-owned and -operated businesses, especially in the broadcasting and telecommunication arena. Herb was a friend, a warrior, and a gentle giant who set the standard on how to achieve success as an astute venture capitalist. He lived the dream, and his legacy will always be remembered by those of us who admired him for being true to his vision and never wavering from his commitment to minority business development. He was a true leader and will be missed but never forgotten.” Kenneth O. Harris, Managing Partner, Greystone Partners, LLC
“Herb’s life epitomizes the impact that minority enterprise, when supported, celebrated, and financed, can have on a people. Herb never went into the night quietly. He would speak the truth, no holds barred. Whenever he had the podium at MMTC, he would do something no one else in the financial world could do – deliver a fiery stemwinder of an address on the urgency of establishing large minority businesses – institutions that would circulate dollars in the minority community and build real wealth. Herb’s oratorical passion was so profound that if you closed your eyes you would think Malcolm X were standing before you, reincarnated.” David Honig, Co-founder and President, MMTC
“Alfred and I are in existence today because of who I used to affectionately refer to as the ‘godfather’ of the broadcast industry. Herb and his partner, Terry Jones, put together our first million dollar package. If they had not believed in us, we would not be where we are today. Herb was the gatekeeper for Black entrepreneurs in the broadcast industry. He was so dedicated to opening that door wider and wider, single-handedly opening doors of entry to minority broadcast owners. Herb was a patient and firm lender, but he was so nurturing, in the way they helped us to grow. When I could not make my payments to Syncom, I pled with him to be patient with me, and I promised that I would be the largest and most successful company in his portfolio. God has blessed me to make good on that promise.” Cathy Hughes, Co-founder, Radio One, TV One, Interactive One
“Working with Herb for 30+ years, I can tell you unequivocally that he was a powerful and passionate force in the fight to provide capital and economic opportunity to underserved entrepreneurs throughout America, especial Blacks and Latinos. The impact of his contributions is being felt today, and will live far into the future. We are all dedicated to carry on his work…” Terry Jones, Managing Partner, Syncom Venture Partners
“When I first met Herb, I met ‘Herb the Icon.’ I was a young lawyer trying to break into the media business, and he was already considered an icon in both the business and venture capital worlds because of his tremendous success. When our paths crossed again, I was privileged to get to know him as ‘Herb the Businessman.’ I began working at BET in 1986, and Herb was a board member and close friend and advisor to Bob Johnson. I quickly learned two things about Herb: he had an opinion, and he wasn’t afraid to share it. I also learned that he truly took delight in investing in minority media companies and in helping them to prosper and deliver value to their shareholders….Time revealed that beneath his tough exterior was a surprisingly soft side. Herb was a big teddy bear, and for many of us he became ‘Herb the Friend.’ While he invested in our businesses financially, he invested in us personally. He mentored me, and so many other professionals, because he cared about us as individuals and wanted to see us succeed. As I worked with Herb over the years, I came to recognize him more and more as ‘Herb the Visionary.’ His influence in the Black and Hispanic media landscape is unmatched. He is in large measure responsible for the success of BET Networks and Radio One – two of the largest brands in the media space. I consider myself fortunate to have known Herb and to have benefited from his no-nonsense approach to business. Herb was an industry icon, an extraordinary businessman, a true visionary, and a wise mentor. His influence and calculated investments in the media space will be felt long into the future. For so many, his friendship and guidance will be missed.” Debra L. Lee, President and CEO, BET Networks
“Mr. Wilkins will long be remembered for his consistent and deep commitment to minority entrepreneurs seeking to realize their dreams of serving communities of color and the nation. His strong belief in the unrealized potential of minority business motivated him to take risks that many others feared to take. He epitomized the maxim ‘doing well by doing good,’ and we are all enriched by the opportunities he helped to create. We are forever grateful for Mr. Wilkins’ generous spirit and sage counsel.” Maureen Lewis, Director of Minority Telecommunications Development, National Telecommunications & Information Administration, U.S. Dept. of Commerce
“Herb was a giant and a visionary in terms of creating minority businesses and wealth. He was the godfather of many of our country’s black business leaders, including myself. One of the many lessons that he taught me was that ‘a person CANNOT ever be successful in business, unless those around that person want them to be. Otherwise, those around that person will spend their time and energy making sure that the person fails.’ I have always remembered that.” Alfred Liggins, Co-founder Radio One, Inc., TV One, LLC, Interactive One
“Herb was a great friend and supporter of Bob [Johnson, Founder of BET], myself, and BET. His sense of humor and sound advice were critical in developing the first minority-owned cable network. He will be missed.” John C. Malone, Chairman, Liberty Media
“Herb was one of the most brilliant strategic thinkers that I ever had the pleasure of working with. He was as tough and cutting edge as they come, but strongly believed in winning the right way, and always with impeccable integrity. Herb was equally passionate about his mission of creating wealth in the minority community through business ownership and growth. He felt this could only be accomplished by bringing meaningful capital access and guidance to entrepreneurs of color to develop high growth businesses for an eventual capital gain exit event to stakeholders. These successful companies would in turn provide top executive opportunities for minority managers who in time would become the seasoned business owners of tomorrow, thus repeating and growing the ecosystem. The success of Syncom in doing its part over the last 35 years to achieve that mission is the legacy of Herb Wilkins, Sr….He will be missed.” Duane C. McKnight, Senior Partner, Syncom Venture Partners
“Herb was a very special messenger, sent to us from a special place, to let us know we are all special people…and he facilitated our realizing our dreams and instincts through his work at Syncom. Thank you, Herb, for helping me along the way, too.” John E. Oxendine, Former President, Broadcast Capital Fund, Inc.
“Herb Wilkins was one of the great financial geniuses of our time. Herb had the foresight to know where business opportunities existed and the expertise to help entrepreneurs succeed with those opportunities. His string of helping to develop BET, Radio One, and many other startup companies into major thriving businesses is unequaled. Herb spoke at numerous NABOB conferences, where he demonstrated his commitment to making African American businesses better and stronger. His dedication to that goal benefited all of us who had the opportunity to work with him and to learn from him.” James L. Winston, Executive Director, National Association of Black Owned Broadcasters (NABOB)
A Big Man
A BIG MAN,
OF HIS TIMES,
HE MADE HIS TIMES;
INDELIBLE HIS TOUCH
HIS ENDOWMENT ONLY CLIMBS,
ENTREPRENEUR BY NATURE,
NATURE KNEW NO MATCH,
LEGIONS ARE HIS SOURCE,
MEMORY WILL NOT FAIL,
YOU ARE NOT GONE,
BUT BRINGING HELL
BLAZING SOME NEW TRAIL.
Frank Washington, Entrepreneur and Attorney
- Maurita Coley, Vice President and Chief Operating Officer of MMTC, is the former Executive Director of Capital Area Asset Builders and a former Partner at the Davis Wright Tremaine Law and Cole Raywid & Braverman law firms. She earned her law degree from Georgetown Law where she was a recipient of the 2011 Paul R. Dean Award, and she holds a BA in Communications from Michigan State University. Coley served on the BET executive management team in the 1990s.