Entrepreneur, investor and social impact innovator Richelieu Dennis has a passion for entrepreneurship and innovation that traces back to his family’s roots in Africa and that is sustained by a mission to fill unmet consumer needs around the world. As the founder, CEO and Executive Chairman of Sundial Brands, his vision has resulted in the 27-year-old family founded-and-operated manufacturing company’s success today as the maker of top hair, natural, bar soap and bath and body brands via SheaMoisture and Nubian Heritage, as well as prestige beauty brands – Madam C.J. Walker Beauty Culture and Nyakio.
After being widowed at a young age, Richelieu’s grandmother – Sofi Tucker – sold handcrafted Shea butter and African Black Soap preparations in Sierra Leone to support her family. She became known as a healer throughout the countryside and taught these recipes to Richelieu. In 1991, upon graduating from Babson College and unable to return to his home country of Liberia because of civil war, he partnered with his college roommate, Nyema Tubman, to pursue a bold concept: address specific skin and hair care issues that had been traditionally ignored by mass market companies. Drawing from deep family traditions, Richelieu incorporated four generations of recipes and wisdom into natural bath and body care products and co-founded Sundial Brands with his mother – Mary Dennis – and Nyema.
Richelieu now leads Sundial's vision to serve under-served consumers through problem-solution products made with natural and certified organic ingredients. As a result, he has become recognized in the market for research innovation and incorporation of culturally authentic and globally-sourced ingredients into the company’s formulations. He has led Sundial from selling products on the streets of New York City to selling in and co-creating a comprehensive portfolio of offerings with the largest U.S. retailers in mass, prestige, drug, grocery, beauty supply, natural and other specialty channels, as well as direct distribution to the UK, Caribbean, Canada, Mexico, South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria, with more to come.
In November 2017, Richelieu architected a first-of-its-kind deal in the beauty and personal care industry - marking a continuum of almost three decades of demonstrating how business can be done differently and creating new paths to building legacy. With the landmark acquisition of Sundial Brands by Unilever, Richelieu negotiated the largest natural personal care deal ever in the U.S. and also the largest consumer products deal by a majority black-owned company. As part of this purpose-driven agreement, he and Unilever created a groundbreaking US$100 million New Voices Fund to invest in and empower women of color entrepreneurs.
Richelieu is also an innovator in the identification of and response to the cultural shift in the U.S. resulting in the New General Market, which Sundial defines as an amalgamation of cultures, ethnicities, and demographics aligned against commonalities, need states and lifestyles, e.g. an inclusion approach vs. a traditional segmentation approach. Through his vision and the company's Community Commerce business model, its purpose-driven way of doing business, Sundial equips underserved people with access to the opportunities and resources that enable them to create lasting value for themselves and others, thus building stronger, self-sustaining communities and enterprises around the world.
Under Richelieu’s leadership, Sundial has been certified as a B Corp company and holds a Fair for Life social and fair trade certification. Additionally, in 2015, Sundial received WWD/Beauty Inc’s Corporate Social Responsibility of the Year Award. In 2016, SheaMoisture received WWD/Beauty Inc’s Ad Campaign of the Year Award for “Break the Walls.”
In 2017, Richelieu founded Essence Ventures, an independent African-American owned company focused on merging content, community and commerce to meet the evolving cultural and lifestyle needs of women of color. In January 2018, the company announced that it had acquired Essence Communications Inc. from Time Inc. – reestablishing ESSENCE as a 100% black-owned independent company. Richelieu currently serves as the chair of Essence Ventures.
Richelieu has been named by OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network to its inaugural “SuperSoul 100” list celebrating a dynamic group of 100 trailblazers using their power to move the world forward and whose vision and life’s work are bringing a higher level of consciousness to the world around them and encouraging others to do the same. In addition, he has been named by Fast Company as one of the “Most Creative People in Business.” Richelieu and Nyema have also received the Lewis Institute Changemaker Award from Babson for their efforts in challenging the status quo and creating positive social change.
In December 2017, the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 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.