Richelieu Dennis


From Sundial and Unilever, an M&A Trend We’d Like to See More of

Jay Coen Gilbert | January 14, 2018


It’s been a busy few months for Richelieu Dennis, the founder of Sundial Brands. After selling Sundial, the personal-care products company he founded, to Unilever in late November, he kicked off 2018 by buying Essence, the storied black culture magazine, from Time Inc., returning the magazine to black ownership. “I’m very focused on giving back, investing and growing my community,” Dennis told the New York Times. “This is a continuation of my quest to do that.”

Dennis, a native of Liberia (and pictured above), is making his mark in other ways. The following article by B Lab’s Jay Coen Gilbert explores the unusual deal sweetener that Richelieu negotiated as part of his agreement with Unilever. #MoreOfThisPlease!

Just after Thanksgiving, Unilever announced its acquisition of Sundial Brands, a $240 million portfolio of personal care brands serving the growing new majority market. SheaMoisture, Sundial’s best-known brand, burst out of the “ethnic aisle” years ago and has found its soaps, lotions and shampoos in bathrooms of every shade, including mine.

While I was excited to learn about Unilever’s fourth B Corp acquisition in the last 12 months, and fifth overall — joining U.S.-based Seventh Generation, U.K.’s Pukka, Brazil’s Mae Terra, and of course, Ben & Jerry’s — I was most excited to learn about an unusual, if not unprecedented part of the deal.

As part of the agreement, and the latest example of how to sell without selling out (see past articles on Seventh Generation and New Chapter), Unilever and Sundial are creating the New Voices Fund with an initial investment of $50 million to empower women of color entrepreneurs. The intention is to scale the Fund to $100 million by attracting investments from other interested parties. That’s $50 million dollars already committed to pay it forward.

Sundial co-founders Richelieu Dennis, his mother Mary Dennis, and his best friend Nyema Tubman

It is encouraging that there are an increasing number of funds focused on scaling businesses led by women and people of color (ReinventureImpact AmericaThe Harriet FundDigital UndividedBackstage Capital, and Force for Good Fund are just a few examples) and I hope this necessary trend continues to grow. However, I have never heard of entrepreneurs negotiating the terms of sale for their business and including in the negotiation a deal point that requires the buyer to put tens of millions of dollars into others people’s pockets.

That’s groundbreaking.

It may have nothing to do with the fact the Sundial is a B Corp, but it is inspiring to see Sundial put the B Corp Declaration of Interdependence into action in such a powerful way. The B Corp Declaration states that leaders of a global economy who use business as a force for good must act with the understanding that: “We are responsible for each other and future generations.”

Related: More Businesses Are Heeding the Call to be a Force for Good

Perhaps it shouldn’t have surprised me that the leaders of Sundial would think this way. Sundial was co-founded by CEO Richelieu Dennis; his mother, Mary Dennis; and his best friend and college roommate, Nyema Tubman. The company takes its inspiration, literally and figuratively, from Dennis’ grandmother, Sofi Tucker.

In an expression of especially strong good karma, early plans are for the Sofi Tucker Foundation to oversee and ensure ongoing mission-alignment of the New Voices Fund. It was his family’s heritage and home recipes for natural hair and skin care that Dennis turned into his first brand Nubian Heritage and sold on the streets of Harlem as a Liberian immigrant in the early ’90s after he and Tubman graduated from Babson College.

Dennis and Sundial were given their inspiration by strong women of color, so it makes sense that they and the Sofi Tucker Foundation would want to pay it forward to the next generation.

It makes sense, but it isn’t typical. Maybe one day it will be. Wouldn’t that be the coolest M&A trend ever?!?

Jay Coen Gilbert is cofounder of B Lab. This article was originally published in Forbes and B the Change, which gathers and shares the voices from within the movement of people using business as a force for good and the community of Certified B Corporations. 


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