Magic Johnson doesn’t fit neatly into any box. He is a retired pro basketball star who has reinvented himself to become a mega-entrepreneur that’s smashed nearly every glass ceiling.
His journey to the top is testimony to overcoming adversity alongside dogged determination to succeed and prove people wrong.
As Johnson’s career has morphed from basketball icon to savvy businessman, an underlining principle has been to give back to the community, especially the next generation.
So over the weekend, the 6-foot-9 towering NBA legend took time from his busy schedule to inspire, encourage and motivate 100 handpicked teens at the seventh Disney Dreamers Academy in Orlando, Florida.
“I grew up poor but didn’t have poor dreams,” Johnson told the high school students. “I don’t want any excuses from any of you. Failure is not an option.”
During his motivational speech, Johnson talked candidly about the need to make sacrifices, stay disciplined and face obstacles head-on.
He opened up about growing up in poverty in Michigan and overcoming a “reading problem in 7th grade.” Then once he had his heart set on a career in basketball, Johnson recalled that he’d spend hours and hours practicing, without falling into the trap of being distracted by friends.
“I made sacrifices,” he said. “When my friends were doing something else I was on that basketball court each and [every] day.”
Talking about his transition from the basketball court to the boardroom, Johnson told the teens the most important thing he has learnt is the value of knowing your customer.
In fact, his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE), has made its money capitalizing on the buying power of minorities coupled with a unique understanding of diverse urban communities. Johnson has a knack at working with established brands and fine-tuning them to suit the areas he targets, as was the case with his Starbucks partnership, which served as a catalyst for redevelopment in urban communities.
“I changed and tweaked my Starbucks to fit urban America,” said Johnson, chairman and CEO of MJE. “I took out those things that wouldn’t resonate with the urban consumer.”
He also touched on the importance of establishing and protecting your brand.
“All of you are a brand,” said Johnson, who is now one of America’s most influential black businessmen. “What you do with your brand is going to be so important.”
Johnson has an estimated net worth of $500 million. Clearly his brand name has premium value.
He believes a reason his numerous business interests are successful is he is flexible when faced with challenges and unexpected problems. “You have to adjust and adapt in business every single day,” said Johnson.
“Life is about having a plan and then executing it. I had a plan to be a businessman but then I had to execute it.”
Johnson is still clearly thrilled he has achieved the unthinkable – the ownership of basketball teams.
“I got a chance to own the Lakers, but why, because I did everything the right way. I made all the right decisions so when the opportunity came I was ready for it.”
“It was more important that I opened the door for other minorities to finally understand that they could own teams. It was not just for me but for them as well.”
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