A few decades ago, Michael and Steve Roberts had no idea they would be proud owners of TV stations and hotels- estimated worth $1 billion. Some time ago, the Roberts brothers had next to nothing, now the two African American business owners own a St. Louis hotel that once prohibited black people from entering.
“Black folks need legacy. We have to have examples of successes in order for us to be able to let the generations to come know that many of the successes that occurred by African-Americans in this country can be seen and pointed out and can be emulated,” says Michael Roberts, the chairman and CEO of The Roberts Companies.
Michael Roberts brothers, whose office sits on the busy St. Louis street Kingshighway, said They used to call us the Kings of Kingshighway, because we own so much on this street.”
The once one-room office in a historically black neighborhood of St. Louis is now a sprawling empire comprised of 76 companies and 1,100 mostly minority employees. From commercial real-estate, to telecommunication companies, the Roberts brothers have their hands in businesses across the board, according to CNN.
“We weren’t rich. We weren’t poor, but we just never had any money,” Michael says of their upbringing.
In addition to being model businessmen, the brothers encourage young people to relentlessly pursue their dreams regardless of a lack of money.
“We tell folks, learn it, get your hands dirty — you know, a little sweat equity,” says Steven Roberts, the president of The Roberts Companies. “For that college student, for that future entrepreneur … we’re saying understand what your passion is, and understand what your product is, too.”
Michael Roberts chuckles. He notes that his younger brother has always been good at “putting the meat on the bone.” He says he likes to tell youths and college students: “What would your life be like if you could eliminate the fear of failure, and where would you be at this point in life?”
As expected, however, there will be bumps along the road, but Michael maintains his steadfast approach.
“If you eliminate the fear of failure and if you use every moment to its fullest extent — a very existential concept — then you are able to take your ideas, your dreams, your aspirations, and you can pursue them with courage and confidence and bravado.”
The brothers adhere to one simple business philosophy: You diversify or die. And they don’t believe in a full retirement. “What other animal retires?” Michael Roberts says. “If a lion retires today, tomorrow morning he becomes his brother’s breakfast.”
The brothers use there father as a an example. The 86-year-old, who refuses a paycheck from his sons, frequents the Victor Roberts building named after him.
“I suggest anyone who has a father,” Michael says with a laugh, “please hire them, because you can get them for free.”
On a recent walk-through at The Roberts Orpheum Theater in downtown St. Louis is a symbol for their quest for legacy. Now that the brothers own the theater that once barred black people from sitting in the highest balcony.
“Mom can sit wherever she likes,” Michael Roberts said.