Johnson shares his path to success in business

NBA legend talks about his journey, gives advice during Black Enterprise Conference in Ohio


COLUMBUS, Ohio – Earvin “Magic” Johnson is easily considered one of the greatest basketball players in history. But it’s his strategic business moves off the court that have made the five-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer a force to be reckoned with and widened his impact.

Rachel Robinson, the wife of the late Dodger great Jackie Robinson, joins hands with Los Angeles owner Earvin “Magic “ Johnson before the start of a MLB game between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 15.(MEL MELCON/LOS ANGELES TIMES)
Rachel Robinson, the wife of the late Dodger great Jackie Robinson, joins hands with Los Angeles owner Earvin “Magic “ Johnson before the start of a MLB game between the Dodgers and the San Diego Padres at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles on April 15.

His wise investments and partnerships have elevated him toward all-star status in another arena. Just as noteworthy is Johnson’s track record of opening businesses in predominately Black neighborhoods, providing jobs in the community.

As a youth, his goal was to play professional basketball, but it was not his sole focus, he told a gathering of Black business owners and entrepreneurs, at the Black Enterprise Conference and Expo held recently in Columbus, Ohio.

Business came first
Former college and NBA player, current collegiate basketball TV analyst Clark Kellogg conducted a one-on-one “fireside” chat with the basketball legend on the first day of the conference, in which Johnson talked about his start in business and shared keys for success.

“Even as a young man who was thinking about playing in the NBA, I was still dreaming about being a businessman because I’m a big believer if you can’t dream it, you can’t become it. So, when I got my first job at 16, it was seven floors that I had to clean, you know, an office building,” he told the audience.

“I would get to that seventh floor and I would bust in like I was Earl Graves, Sr., you know like I was the CEO,” said Johnson, flashing his trademark smile. Earl Graves, Sr., is the renowned founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine, longtime businessman and philanthropist.

What he owns
Johnson credited two Black business men, Greg Eaton and Joel Ferguson in his hometown of Lansing, Mich., as examples of Blacks owning buildings, car dealerships and other businesses.

They were his childhood examples of what could be accomplished, he explained. It is important that Blacks mentor and help one another in business, he added.

Johnson, CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers major league baseball team and has several enterprises, including Magic Workforce Solutions, Sodexo Magic Food Service, Magic Airport Holdings, ASPiRE and other entities.

‘Strategy is everything’
He began fact-finding, researching and reaching out to people early in his playing career to set the stage for the growth and development of his own business portfolio.

It’s important to gather information, fact find and develop a solid business strategy, said Johnson.

“Your strategy is everything. How are you going to drive ROI (Return On Investment), how are you going to implement your plan, execute it and then who’s going to manage that,’’ he inquired.

“A lot of people looked at me as a dumb jock. I could play basketball, but I couldn’t run a business,” he said.

Recognized spending power
Johnson said he was repeatedly turned down by investors and potential business partners that did not share his vision or think that he was business savvy. And the fact he wanted to invest in the so-called ghettos and ‘hoods around the country was a vision, few shared.

“We have to get into … proving people wrong. Everybody told me I couldn’t do it in urban America. They said there was no money to be made in urban America,” explained Johnson.

“I wanted to impact Urban America. I wanted to show people. Here we are, African-Americans about a trillion dollars spending power. Latinos about a trillion dollars spending power. That’s a lot of disposable income. We love to shop; we love to do things, but the problem is a lot of retail is not in our community. We’ve got to drive outside of our communities and spend our money,” he explained.

Strategic partnerships important
Johnson said knowing demand for products, goods and services was present in the inner cities prompted him to open Magic Johnson Theaters in 1994 in South Central Los Angeles in a joint venture with Sony Pictures Entertainment.

Through the years, he has formed business partnerships with Starbucks, T.G.I. Friday’s and 24 Hour Fitness. And it has certainly paid off as Johnson’s net worth, estimated to be $700 million makes him one of the country’s wealthiest Black Americans.

Forming strategic partnerships is important, stressed Johnson. “A lot of times we want it all for ourselves, we want 100 percent. And that becomes a problem,’’ he continued.

“Look, if I can get 50 percent of something, I’m good. That check is still good. So you get somebody that don’t have the expertise that you have and then you guys come together and you build something very powerful and build a successful business.”

‘Be a competitor’
Different knowledge bases and skill sets are part of the formula for his success, he noted.

“I know what I know and hopefully my partner knows something else and then we come together and make a lot of money and then we put people in our community to work. And that’s what I did to build my business,” said Johnson.

The same work ethic displayed on the basketball court is what he brings to the boardroom.

“If you’re going to be in business, you better be a competitor. A competitor will do their homework, research, bring their passion and fire, will be disciplined. You know it’s really important to stay focused on the prize,” he said.

Passing it on
He also said building a track record of success and brand building are important, adding, “Your brand, your reputation is everything.”

Commenting on the grim fact that Blacks, Latinos and other minorities have been unable to pass down wealth to future generations, Johnson said parents must teach their children early about business, citing Graves Sr. as an example.

His son Earl “Butch” Graves, Jr. is now president and CEO of Black Enterprise after being prepared by his father.

Johnson said he is doing the same with his oldest son, Andre.

Giving back
Magic Johnson told the crowd he has not forgotten his roots, growing up poor in Lansing. The youngest of nine children, his mother and father worked hard to provide for their children.

Giving back also is something Johnson said is important. His Magic Johnson Foundation, formed not long after he made his 1992 announcement that he was HIV positive, awards student scholarships, hosts job and health fairs, HIV/AIDS education and a host of other community services.

“God blessed us to be able to do what we do and then somebody helped us along the way to achieve what we are achieving at that time. Those two African-American men helped me to become what I am today. That’s why I’m standing here talking to everybody,” he remarked.

“So it’s my job to reach back and to give back too. And so I really believe that you can do good and do well at the same time – that you can give back and still be successful at the same time. We should always be about giving back while we’re trying to also build our own success.”

This story is special to the NNPA from the Final Call.



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