|Sundial Founder Richelieu Dennis|
By Erickka Sy Savané
It was a festive evening at Ginny’s Supper Club, the intimate downstairs lounge at Red Rooster in Harlem last week. I was there tagging along with my girl Sid, who gets invited everywhere, and honestly, anytime I can get away from an evening of doing homework with the kids is cause to get lit! Everyone else, however, was there to celebrate the merger between Sundial, the parent company that owns Shea Moisture, Nubian Heritage, Madame C.J. Walker and nyako, with Unilever, a multinational company that generated over 50 billion in sales last year. Although the amount of the merger was not made public, one can guess from the fact that Sundial is expected to turn over an estimated $240 million this year, that it ain’t too shabby. Sundial founder Richelieu Dennis will continue as CEO and executive chairman for the company that he started in 1991 with his mom and longtime friend, Nyema Tubman, all Liberians unable to return to the country once Civil War broke. Here are some highlights from the evening, along with the deets on the 100 million that Sundial plans to give black women!
After a few drinks and some mixing and mingling with familiar and unfamiliar faces, Michaela Angela Davis, image activist and longtime consultant to the company, gets on the mic to introduce the man of honor, simply known as Rich. For anyone who remembers Rich from his days of selling soap out of his car in Harlem, or when he owned Nubian Heritage bookstore on 125th street and 5th Ave, a source of pride in the community long before gentrification, you know he’s come a long way. Michaela compares Rich’s success to hip hop.
“You started off on the street selling ounces of Shea, and now you’re in business!” she joked, saying that he was selling ounces of Shea when others were selling “other” things.
Rich walks up with his mama in tow, and Michaela explains that she is the real star of the company. It’s easy to see why. She’s a sweet-looking petite older lady, round, and soft spoken when she does speak. But don’t let the calm demeanor fool you. Introducing her as the most incredible human being he knows, Rich told a helluva story about how she wasn’t the type of mom to dish out praises growing up. In fact, if he received all A’s on his report card she said nothing. But if he came home with a B that was his a$s straight. He learned the level of excellence that was expected in her house and today he wouldn’t have it any other way.
|Sundial Founders Rich Dennis, (mom) Mary Dennis and Nyema Tubman|
“If it wasn’t for that, the levels of excellence that we strive to have would not be here. So as I’ve lived my life and built this company with my college roommate, and co-founder Nyema, it’s been about excellence, thinking differently, caring about the people we care about deeply, and more than anything else, giving back to where we came from. This partnership allows us to do that. It gives us the infrastructure to do what we want to do.”
And what is that exactly? He plans to develop communities, with a focus on black female entrepreneurs.
“Women of color are the backbone of our communities and the most under-served. This partnership allows us to impact women like my grandmother, single mothers like my mother, women from around the world who have an idea, but no resources. She may find it hard to get a loan from the bank, or she’s got a product that no one believes in. We want to take some of those obstacles out of her way.”
It makes sense, coming from a man who is making a quarter of a billion dollars off of his grandmama’s recipes. It sounds even better coming from their website.
Sofi Tucker started selling Shea Nuts at the village market in Bonthe, Sierra Leone in 1912. By age 19, the widowed mother of four was selling Shea Butter, African Black Soap and her homemade hair and skin preparations all over the countryside. Sofi Tucker was our Grandmother and SheaMoisture is her legacy.
So he sat down with the people from Unilever and they figured out a way to help black women around the world to use their business model called ‘community commerce’ to invest in them and their ideas so they too can build billion dollar businesses. It started with Rich’s own money, and with Unilever pitching in, reached 50 million. And while 50 was great, it didn’t feel like enough, so they rose it to 100 million. One. Hundred. Million. Dollars. To. Help. Black. Women. Create. Businesses. Around. The. World.
Obviously, he had to address people who say he’s selling out. To that he says the products aren’t going to change and because of how his business model is set up, he prefers the term ‘investing in.’
Imagine all those black women with family recipes that have been there for generations. Everything from hair and body products, natural cures for aches and pains, food recipes…anybody perfect their Granny’s mac & cheese? It’s endless. And to think that black women are already the fasting growing group of entrepreneurs in this country! So the next question is how to apply, because we’re definitely going to follow-up on this. We’ll keep you posted with info. on our end, but also research it on your own to figure out how to get a piece of the pie!
Michaela Angela Davis and Founder & CEO of Sundial Brands, Richelieu Dennis chat with Incoming EVP & COO of Unilever North America Personal Care Esi Eggleston Bracey about this groundbreaking purpose-driven partnership.