Richelieu Dennis has worn a number of hats throughout his life. He is well known as a successful Liberian entrepreneur and businessman who has made a name in the cosmetics industry. Additionally, Dennis is a philanthropist that cares deeply about social issues that impact the communities that he cares about most.
He champions equality, and his funds and initiatives are geared towards empowering young successful black entrepreneurs. Giving back to the community is second nature to him, and throughout his career he has developed significant infrastructure projects in several under-funded areas across the world.
Richelieu Dennis’ Early Life
His journey starts from very humble beginnings. Sadly, Richelieu Dennis’ father passed away when he was just a boy. Dennis grew up with a single mother who was an Economist with the Liberian government. Yet, with so much unrest in the country at the time, his mother eventually decided to make a change for their family.
“I grew up in Liberia at a very tumultuous time, a very violent time. We had our first set of riots that really shook the country when I was 10 years old. We had those riots in ’79, and then the following year we had the coup d’état. Just extremely violent.” Rich Dennis stated in an interview with Inc. magazine
Richelieu Dennis migrated from Liberia to the United States in 1987 just as the internal conflicts in Liberia began to escalate..
Dennis managed to secure a scholarship to attend business school at Babson College. During his time there, he began selling shea butter products to his classmates, leveraging the supply provided by his mother from Liberia. In the beginning, his intention was not to create a business. Instead, he was keen on relocating back home to pursue citrus farming.
That, however, did not come to fruition.
His mother ended up joining him in America. She was originally coming to celebrate his graduation from Babson College in 1991. Later, they found out that she had boarded the last plane leaving Monrovia before a bombing wiped out ewverything and ended up demolishing the Dennis home.
The Beginning of Sundial Brands
Now with the help of his mother, Rich Dennis ultimately turned his college project into a street business selling his shea butter and the products created from it in Harlem, on 125th Street. Looking back, one could argue things worked out for the better.
Dennis believes it was his education that set him apart. At the early stages of his enterprise, he used the business-to-customer model. This meant he made direct deliveries to individual clients using his Toyotra Previa. Over time, his service graduated from small-time clients to larger fairs and markets. Eventually, his shea butter products landed in health food stores. After sixteen years, he had expanded his business further to serve retail clients.
Richelieu Dennis’ cultural background played a significant role in inspiring him to focus on beauty products. The use of shea butter products was prevalent in Liberian society as people sought out skincare protection from the sun. The situation was vastly different in the United States of America, where Eurocentric beauty ideals crowded out any space for black products. Rich saw this underserved ethnic market as a potential gold mine and aspired to create supply where very little existed. This is what led him to found Sundial Brands.
Today, Sundial is known for its work with shea butter. In fact, Sundial’s largest and top-selling brand, SheaMoisture, revolutionized the mass beauty market when it hit retail shelves in 2008.
Creating a Product People Need and a Business that Succeeds
Richelieu Dennis was the chairman and chief executive officer of Sundial until December of 2019. During his tenure, he saw the company grow exponentially. He also founded a technology company known as ‘Essence Ventures LLC.’ Later, he found it wise to invest in a seed round fund and partnered with three other ventures for more investments.
The main aim was to keep up with the diversified need of a dynamic society, now embracing more natural products sourced from the earth to use in their hair and face. This cultural shift meant the company had to expand its product mix. They offered products to cater to retail shops within the United States of America and the global market.
The brand strategy was unique as it fused fashion trends with cosmetics to ensure myriad identities and styles were represented. Richelieu Dennis and his company champion inclusivity in a traditionally exclusive industry.
Rich Dennis’ Philanthropy
Beyond building a global skincare brand, Richelieu is well known for his philanthropic activities and various projects that aim to create a path for all people to live a better existence. He cares deeply about the welfare of the community and giving back. This is why Richelieu Dennis developed ‘Sundial Community Commerce.’ Through this, he has positively impacted millions of people all over the world.
The initiative has developed infrastructure projects, broadened access to healthcare, created both educational and work opportunities, and fostered a safe working environment. The brand has received numerous accreditations for its involvement in corporate social responsibilities.
In 2017, he founded New Voices Fund, whose core mission was to equip entrepreneurial black women with the necessary resources to succeed. The fund raised over $100 million.
Adding on to this, he started ‘Social Mission Board’ to create a global commerce outreach.
Richelieu Dennis Ultimately Gives Back
Richelieu Dennis is truly a multi-faceted individual. It is impressive how much he has achieved despite any setbacks that occurred along the way. The odds were always stacked against him and yet Rich Dennis had the courage and strength of mind to not only succeed for himself and his family, but to succeed in a way that he could give back to so many others in need. He has since received an Honorary Law degree from Babson College.
Additionally, Dennis is on the Board of Trustees and works closely with his alma mater to support and inspire other young entrepreneurs. He hopes that more people of color will take a page from his life book of experience and believe deep down that with hard work and a fighting spirit anyone can achieve their goals.
Today, Sundial Brands empowers and influences the next generation of young entrepreneurs. Richelieu Dennis agrees companies must attain financial goals that measure the brand’s ability to stay in business and compete, Yet, the ultimate success comes directly from the impact it can have assisting the next generation of minority entrepreneurs. He wants to give them the tools necessary to fight poverty and ultimately make the world a safer and better place for all.