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Roberts, Michael V.

Michael V. Roberts

1948–

Businessman

Michael V. Roberts has been turning the business world on its head since he began making deals in the 1970s. With his brother Steve, he started Roberts-Roberts & Associates, a consulting firm. This led to opportunities in politics, real estate, broadcasting, wireless communication and construction, just to name a few. Roberts' perseverance and vision have also made him a popular speaker at colleges and conventions.

Sold Dashikis and Studied Law

Michael V. Roberts was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on October 24, 1948. He was the eldest of four children, born to Victor, a postal worker, and Delores Roberts, a homemaker who became a teacher after her children had grown. The family lived in a two-family flat with their grandmother for the first years of Roberts' childhood. Growing up, Roberts was very close to his brother Steve, who was three and a half years his junior.

When another sibling was born, the Roberts family moved to an all-white neighborhood. Roberts attended the newly integrated Northwest High School. After graduation, he attended Forest Park Community College, and then transferred to Lin-denwood University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree. Throughout his matriculation, Roberts also sold African dashikis (shirts) and other African imports to stores. He graduated, and with a grant from the Dan-forth Foundation and money he earned from his sales, Roberts enrolled at St. Louis University to study law. He earned his JD and began Roberts-Roberts & Associates while his brother studied law at Washington University.

Roberts-Roberts & Associates' main focus was to help companies figure out ways to increase minority business participation in government contracts. Though he had little experience as a consultant, Roberts used his natural skills as a businessman to help the business thrive. He told Forbes, "We grab at a chance and then figure out how we're going to do it and how we're going to pay for it." His tactics worked, and the business grew.

Roberts had his sights set on more than just business success. He also wanted to make a difference in his community through politics. In the late 1970s, he accomplished his dream of becoming involved in politics. Roberts was chosen as Jimmy Carter's St. Louis campaign manager in his presidential bid. When Carter became president, Roberts was a frequent guest at the White House. Roberts was elected as an alderman on the St. Louis City Council. He was the youngest person ever elected at the age of 28. His brother continued the tradition by being elected at age 26, a year after the elder entered office. He, his brother, and three other council members would work together to help revitalize the city's downtown area. The city took on several ambitious construction projects that, in turn, bolstered the city's economy.

Purchased Real Estate to Save Neighborhood

When Roberts noticed that his childhood neighborhood was suffering from decline, he determined that he would stop the decay. Together with his brother, Roberts began Roberts Brothers Properties (RBP), and purchased a 200,000-square foot building from retailer Sears. They renovated the building, and began to lease out portions to various businesses to help the neighborhood stay afloat. Roberts stated to St. Louis's Riverfront Times, "We've put our money, our experience, our expertise, our life into this neighborhood. We have to be a [part] of this renaissance of inner-city hard-core areas. If we don't, then who will?" In addition to leasing out to 50 businesses, RBP and Robert-Roberts & Associates moved into the top floor. Roberts also rechristened the building, naming it after his father, who had retired from the U.S. Post Office after 39 years. RBP would continue to purchase old buildings and land, then would either renovate or construct new buildings. Their tenants ranged from Blockbuster Video, State Farm Insurance, and the leading grocery store chain in St. Louis, Schnucks, to various governmental agencies. With the success of rebuilding their childhood neighborhood, Roberts and his brother looked beyond their hometown, expanding their efforts to Denver, Colorado, where they began purchasing land and building strip malls.

After eight years as an alderman, Roberts left his position to run for city council president. He lost, but filed a lawsuit for a recount, arguing that the punch-card system was faulty and that the minority voters in St. Louis did not understand how the system worked. His case was dismissed by the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. He was also chastised by the court for using the Voting Rights Act for his own gain. He would later send the papers from his court case to Vice President Al Gore to help him during his fight for the presidency in 2000.

At a Glance …

Born on October 24, 1948, in St. Louis, MO; son 'of Victor (U.S. postal worker) and Delores (homemaker, teacher); married Jeanne, children: four. Education: Attended Forest Park Community College; Lindenwood University, BS; The Hague Academy of International Law, Netherlands, 1972; International Institute of Human Rights, Strasbourg, France, 1973; St. Louis University Law School, JD, 1974. Politics: Democrat.

Career: Roberts-Roberts & Associates (now The Roberts Companies), founder, 1974–; founded more than 30 other companies, including Roberts Brothers Properties, 1982–; Roberts Broadcasting Company, 1989–; Roberts Wireless Communications, 1998–; Roberts Isle, 1998–; Roberts Tower Company, 2001–; Roberts Custom Cabinetry and Woodworking, 2005–.

Memberships: Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity; Alamosa PCS Holdings, board of directors, 2001–; St Louis Arts & Education Council; Better Family Life, board of directors; Home Shopping Network, board of directors.

Awards: Black Enterprise Top 100 Industrial/Service companies list, 2000, 2003, 2005; Spirit of St. Louis award, Mayoral Office, St. Louis, MO, 2003; Gateway Classic Sports Foundation, honoree, 2004.

Addresses: Office—The Roberts Companies, 1408 N. Kings Hwy, St Louis, MO 63113; Web—www. michaelvroberts.com.

Roberts was introduced to someone who was looking for minority businessmen interested in broadcasting. He and his brother formed Roberts Broadcasting Company, and joined the fray of minority businesses vying for broadcasting licenses. After six years, Roberts Broadcasting won a license. They searched for programming, and entered talks with the Home Shopping Network (HSN). Roberts persuaded HSN to pay his company $3.8 million to build a television station to receive their satellite signal, and another $1.6 million to air their programming. HSN agreed, and WRBU-TV Channel 46 debuted. The television station was the first station built in St. Louis in more than 20 years. It was also one of the few in the country that was fully automated, needing only a technician to come in and change tapes. Roberts Broadcasting Company would later add 11 more stations to its list in locations throughout the country, including Denver, Colorado, Nashville, Tennessee, Salt Lake City, Utah, and Co-lombia, South Carolina. Roberts would sell or merge eight of the stations in later years. He also changed networks, switching from HSN to the United Paramount Network (UPN).

Hopped on Wireless Communication Bandwagon

In the late 1990s, wireless communication was an emerging business, and Roberts wanted in on the action. Meetings between the brothers and Sprint led to the formation of Roberts Wireless Communications. Roberts was able to persuade Sprint to allow them to build a wireless network in Missouri, and parts of Kansas and Illinois. This new venture would cost $78 million. Roberts approached several companies, but only Lucent Technologies would give $56 million, while Roberts Wireless would take care of the remaining $22 million, and then, only if the Roberts brothers would use their company as collateral. Roberts and his company began building towers throughout the state, and also opened the first Sprint store in St. Louis. Roberts then merged with Alamosa Communications, who bought out his company for $300 million, and assumed the $56 million debt to Lucent.

Building towers in three states brought about the formation of Roberts Towers Company in 2001. Roberts built towers for cellular phones, and also broadcasting towers. The company also expanded into Oklahoma (cell phone towers) and Utah, New Mexico, and Tennessee (broadcasting). After expanding into several new territories, Roberts Wireless Communications became the United States eighth largest tower company, leasing to all of the major wireless communication giants.

Though a large amount of attention was given to his growing broadcasting and wireless communication companies, Roberts continued to expand his empire by making several major building purchases. Roberts Brothers Properties purchased the St. Louis Board of Education building in downtown St. Louis. Roberts renovated the inside of the office building and turned it into residential lofts and retail stores. Roberts Lofts opened to much fanfare, offering up lofts as small as 784 square feet, up to 2,200 square feet penthouses. Roberts also purchased the building across the street and built a garage.

Purchased Hotels and Airplanes, Wrote Memoir

Roberts approached Wyndham Hotels, LLC to purchase the Mayfair Hotel, located in the middle of the downtown area. He also bought the old Orpheum Vaudeville Theatre that was adjacent to the Mayfair Hotel, and renovated it. He and his brother needed a tax write-off, and the two purchased a Gulfstream III, a 12-passenger luxury business jet, and a Hawker jet, which sits eight passengers. With Million Air managing operations out of Dallas, Texas, Roberts Aviation was formed. Roberts also acquired another hotel in Atlanta, Georgia, and christened it The Roberts Mayfair Hotel-Atlanta. He bought land in the Bahamas, one of his favorite vacation destinations, and built a 50-unit condominium and apartment gated community.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Roberts began speaking to several businesses, schools, and organizations about his success and ways for others to become successful. He also wrote a book, Action Has No Season, Secrets to Gaining Wealth and Authority. He stated in his foreword that he wrote his book for his children, because "[i]n order to ensure their success in this ever-changing global business world, they would need the advice and counsel of a visionary capitalist such as me."

Roberts and his brother began 34 businesses. He told Commerce magazine, "We are diversified. I always felt that was important. If you limit yourself to one sector of business opportunities in this economy, you die." They continued to use the office in the first building they acquired, but the company name was now The Roberts Companies. In addition to Roberts being the chairman and chief executive officer, his brother Steve was president and chief operations officer. Their father came out of retirement to become chief financial officer of the company. Their siblings and two of Roberts' own children also work for the brothers' companies.

In addition to becoming a major player in St. Louis, Roberts gave back to his community through donations and time. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi, St. Louis Council on World Affairs, and on the board of directors for various organizations, including Better Family Life. He devoted as much time to his business as he did to his family, which included his wife, Jeanne, and four children.

Selected writings

Action Has No Season, Secrets to Gaining Wealth and Authority, Authorhouse, 2005.

Sources

Books

Action Has No Season, Secrets to Gaining Wealth and Authority, Authorhouse, 2005.

Who's Who Among African Americans, 18th Edition, Thomson Gale, 2005.

Periodicals

Black Enterprise, December 2001; June 2003; June 2005.

Business Wire, July 24, 2003.

Commerce, May 2003.

Forbes, October 16, 2000, pp. 170-173.

Jet, August 11, 2003, p. 12.

Riverfront Times (St. Louis, MO), March 17, 2004.

On-line

"About the Roberts Companies," Roberts Tower Company, www.robertstower.com/about_us.asp (March 1, 2005).

"Action Has No Season, Secrets to Gaining Wealth and Authority," Authorhouse, www.authorhouse.com/bookstore/itemdetail.aspx?bookid=24359 (March 1, 2005).

Michael V. Roberts, www.michaelvroberts.com (March 1, 2005).

"Mike's Newsroom," Michael V. Roberts, www.michaelvroberts.com (March 1, 2005).

"Roberts Lofts on the Plaza Revitalizes Historic St. Louis Board of Education Building," St. Louis Front Page, www.slfp.com/CNews030405.htm (March 1, 2005).

"Walk of Fame Recognizes Local African Americans," Newsgram City of St. Louis, http://stlouis.missouri.org/citygov/newsgram/volumes/volume10/gate-wayawards.htm (March 1, 2005).

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