Robert L. Johnson
Chairman of the Board
Robert L. Johnson is the Founder and Chairman of The RLJ Companies, an innovative business network that owns or holds interest in a diverse portfolio of companies in hotel real estate investment, private equity, financial services, asset management, insurance services, automobile dealerships, sports and entertainment, gaming and automotive industries. In July 2007, Mr. Johnson was named by USA Today as one of the “25 Most Influential Business Leaders of the Past 25 Years.”
Prior to forming The RLJ Companies, Mr. Johnson was Founder and Chairman of Black Entertainment Television (BET), the nation’s first and leading television network providing quality entertainment, music, news, sports and public affairs programming for the African American audience. Under Mr. Johnson’s leadership, BET became the first African American owned company publicly traded on the New York Stock Exchange. In 2001, Mr. Johnson sold BET to Viacom for approximately $3 billion and remained the Chief Executive Officer through 2006.
Thomas F. McLarty, III
Executive Vice Chairman
Thomas F. McLarty has a distinguished record of business leadership and public service, including various roles advising three U.S. Presidents: Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush and Jimmy Carter. Mr. McLarty worked with President Carter as a member of the Democratic National Committee, was appointed to two commissions by President Bush and served President Clinton in several key positions: Chief of Staff, Counselor to the President and Special Envoy for the Americas, with over five years of service in the President’s Cabinet and on the National Economic Council. Upon leaving the White House in July 1998, Mr. McLarty became President of Kissinger McLarty Associates, an international advisory firm formed in partnership with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger.
He is also Chairman of McLarty Companies, a fourth-generation family transportation business, including a major automotive retail endeavor — RLJ-McLarty-Landers — a partnership with Robert Johnson and Steve Landers. Additionally, Mr. McLarty serves as Senior Adviser to The Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, as Senior Adviser to the law firm Covington & Burling and as Chairman of Randall & Dewey, a leading global energy industry advisory firm.
As White House Chief of Staff, Mr. McLarty helped enact the historic 1993 deficit reduction package, the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Family and Medical Leave law and the landmark welfare reform legislation that enabled more than 6.8 million people to move from welfare to work. He also organized the successful 1994 Summit of the Americas in Miami, which ultimately led to his appointment as Special Envoy for the Americas in 1997.
As Counselor to the President, Mr. McLarty advised on a broad range of international and domestic issues. He traveled to the Persian Gulf on the President’s behalf to build financial support for the Bosnian peace process, led the U.S. delegation to the inauguration of South Korean President Kim Dae-jung and signed the peace accords that brought peace to Guatemala for the first time in three decades. Mr. McLarty planned U.S. participation in the 1998 “Summit of the Americas” in Santiago, and participated in several G-7 and APEC Summits. He also served as White House Coordinator for the Centennial Games in Atlanta, a role for which he was honored with the Olympic Torch from the Atlanta Organizing Committee and the Olympic Shield from the U.S. Olympic Committee — that organization’s highest award.
Born in Hope, Arkansas, in 1946, Mr. McLarty graduated summa cum laude from the University of Arkansas in 1969 and returned to Hope, where he helped build the business his grandfather founded into one of the nation’s largest transportation companies. He was elected to the state legislature at the age of 23, served as Chairman of the State Democratic Party from 1974–1976, and later served as Finance Chair for both David Pryor’s and Bill Clinton’s gubernatorial campaigns.
In 1983, Mr. McLarty became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Arkla, a Fortune 500 natural gas company. During his tenure, Arkla grew into the nation’s largest natural gas distributor, with customers in 11 states and significant exploration and pipeline operations. The company was recognized by Forbes and Wall Street Transcript for management excellence, and by other national organizations for environmental initiatives and minority enterprise development. Mr. McLarty was appointed by President Bush to the National Petroleum Council and the National Council on Environmental Quality, and he was a member of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Board from 1989 through 1992.
Mr. McLarty is a frequent public speaker, and has published numerous articles on U.S. trade and foreign policy. He has served on the boards of many corporate and nonprofit institutions including as a director of Union Pacific and the Acxiom Corporation, and on the boards of the Bush Clinton Katrina Fund, the Council of the Americas, the InterAmerican Dialogue, Ford’s Theatre and the Center for the Study of the Presidency. In addition, he serves as a Senior International Fellow at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Mr. McLarty is the recipient of the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Medal; the highest civilian honors of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama and Venezuela; and the Center for the Study of the Presidency Distinguished Service Award.
Together with his wife, Donna, he has been honored with the National Conference for Community and Justice Award and the American Natural Gas Association Humanitarian Award/Public Service Award.
Mr. McLarty’s wife, Donna Cochran McLarty, is a longtime advocate for the arts and humanities, and has been a leader in national and international efforts to support women, children and families. She is Vice Chair and Founding Member of the Vital Voices Global Partnership. She serves on the boards of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ International Committee on the Arts, the World Conference on Religion and Peace, the Wesley Theological Seminary and several other nonprofit organizations.
The McLartys divide their time between Little Rock, Hope and Washington, D.C. They have two sons: Mark, who lives and works in Hong Kong; and Franklin, Vice President of the McLarty Companies in Little Rock.
Jim Press serves as president of RML Automotive, a $1.4-billion operation consisting of 24 dealerships and 40 automotive franchises across the United States. In this role, Press is responsible for strategic planning and coordination between existing dealerships, pursuing new auto-related business opportunities and growing RML’s domestic footprint.
Jim Press brings over 40 years of industry experience to RML, including having spent 37 years with Toyota Motor Company, where he led the company during one of its most successful eras as president and COO. As Toyota’s highest-ranking American, Mr. Press was responsible for overseeing all aspects of the business, from design to operation. He also served as the company’s first non-Japanese Board member.
In 2007, Mr. Press was recruited by Chrysler Corporation to become the company’s president and vice chair. In this role, Mr. Press headed Chrysler’s sales and marketing efforts and was responsible for the company’s brands and dealerships. The same year, the Automotive Industry Action Group named Mr. Press “Automotive Industry Executive of the Year.” Most recently, Mr. Press served as a senior advisor to Nissan-Renault.