Entrepreneur, investor and social commerce innovator Richelieu Dennis has a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation that traces back to his family’s roots in Africa and is sustained by a mission to serve underserved communities by advancing the philosophy of economic inclusion as a human right.
In 1991 upon graduating from Babson College and being unable to return to his native Liberia due to civil war, Richelieu – joined by his mother Mary Dennis and best friend Nyema Tubman – founded Sundial Brands, the manufacturer behind top beauty and personal care brands SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage. Richelieu served as the company’s chair and CEO until December 2019 and set the vision for its Community Commerce purpose-driven business model and its success as the number one natural hair and beauty company serving Black women and the larger multicultural and natural communities he coined as the New General Market.
Under Richelieu’s leadership, Sundial grew from selling products on New York City streets to co-creating a comprehensive portfolio of offerings with major U.S. retailers and gaining global distribution. In addition, Sundial’s Community Commerce investments impacted tens of thousands of people throughout its global supply chain and in the U.S. through improved infrastructure, increased incomes, healthcare access, safer work environments, entrepreneurial and educational opportunities, and more. The company also obtained B Corp and Fair for Life certifications and received industry accolades for its corporate social responsibility efforts.
In November 2017, Richelieu architected a first-of-its-kind deal in the beauty and personal care industry when he negotiated the landmark acquisition of Sundial Brands by Unilever – one of the largest natural beauty/ personal care deals in the U.S. and also the largest consumer products transaction by a majority Black-owned company. As part of this purpose-driven agreement, he created a groundbreaking US$100 million New Voices Fund to invest in and empower women of color entrepreneurs. In addition, he founded the New Voices Foundation to provide support services for women of color entrepreneurs to achieve their vision through leadership development, skills-building, networking opportunities, and other innovative leadership initiatives.
Upon stepping down from his roles as Sundial chair and CEO, Richelieu created the Social Mission Board, partnering with Sundial and Unilever to scale Community Commerce across the global organization, as well as provide insights, strategy and learnings across Unilever. His mission is to build out Community Commerce models globally, with additional like-minded and like-missioned institutions, using proven frameworks helping entrepreneurs in underserved communities of color close disparities in access, capital and expertise.
In 2017, Richelieu founded Essence Ventures, an independent Black-owned consumer technology company focused on merging content, community and commerce to create an ecosystem that meets the cultural and lifestyle needs of people of color. In January 2018, the company announced that it had acquired Essence Communications Inc. from Time Inc.
In December 2018, Richelieu announced the purchase of Madam C.J. Walker’s historic estate, Villa Lewaro, via the New Voices Foundation. Upon completion of restoration efforts, Villa Lewaro will be used as a learning institute, or think tank, where women of color entrepreneurs will receive in-person and virtual curriculum-based learning and other resources to help build, grow and expand their businesses.
Richelieu has been named by OWN to its “SuperSoul 100” list celebrating 100 trailblazers using their power, vision and life’s work to bring a higher level of consciousness and move the world forward. He has also been named one of the “Most Creative People in Business” by Fast Company. In 2017, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia conferred upon Richelieu one of the nation’s highest honors – distinction of Knight Commander, admitting him into the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers.