Johnson Says There's No 'Magic' to Business Success
When you hear the name Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jr., the first thing that comes to mind is basketball. Yes Johnson is a former point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers with five NBA championships, three MVP awards, and an Olympic gold medal. But the basketball hall of famer is also a philanthropist and savvy businessman.
After retiring from the NBA in 1996, he focused his attention on the Magic Johnson Foundation and Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE), which includes a portfolio of funds to finance revitalization projects in underserved communities. He is notorious in business for having owned over 70 franchises of Starbucks and the only franchisee to own a 50 percent share. Although he recently sold his Starbucks in 2010, as well as his share of the Lakers, his name and brand is still associated with AMC Magic Johnson Theaters and 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sport centers. Johnson recently became chairman of VIBE Holdings, a multi-cultural media company that includes Vibe magazine, Uptown magazine and Soul Train brands. He is also leading the charge in bringing a football team back to Los Angeles.
Taking a break from March Madness, Johnson talked to Inc.com's Tiffany Black about managing multiple businesses, the keys to a great comeback, advice for start-ups and minority businesses, and his love of music.
In one of your Dove Men's Care commericals that started running during the NCAA tournament, you talked about how the statement "I can't" motivates you. How do you motivate others?
I tell people to look at me and understand that everybody first told me that I couldn't be a 6-foot, 9-inch point guard and I proved them wrong. Then they told me I couldn't be a businessman and make money in urban America and I proved them wrong. And they thought I couldn't win all these championships and I proved them wrong there as well. I motivate others by making sure that they understand to go after their dreams and don't let anyone tell you, you can't. If you are motivated enough and put the work in that you can achieve anything in life that you set your mind too.
You also talk about the importance of a team when it comes to winning. How can those concepts be applied for some of our readers who are one-man start-ups?
They may be a one man operation in terms of them starting their own business, but at some point they will have a team of people. When you are a successful business person, you are only as good as your team. No one can do every deal alone. I make sure that I have people who want to win, who are about winning, who are competitors, and that understand the brand and how to grow the brand. Other entrepreneurs should define what winning is to them and then tell their management team or their company what they expect and what he or she wants to see happen—and that everybody has to work as one. In most of the corporations I know that's what happens.
You have multiple businesses and you are the personality or spokesperson for so many of them, how do you manage it all?
Again, it's putting together a great executive team and great people who work to manage the businesses. That's No. 1. No. 2, I do very few deals. I turn down more deals than I actually do. They have to be the right deals. They have to be the right corporations. Like this campaign I'm doing with Dove, I was already using the product before they called me. So this was a no-brainer for me to use Dove Men + Care products because I was using the body wash and the deodarant already. That made it easier for me to go ahead and do the campaign because I was already excited about the products.
Why did you sell your franchises of Starbucks?
People didn't understand I had a contract with them to sell at that time. So it wasn't that I did it randomly. It was an agreed upon exit at that particular time. I had a great, great time with Howard Schultz and Starbucks. We made a lot of money. We put a lot of people to work. And I want to thank Howard Schultz for that opportunity. But it was an exit that was already agreed upon.
Drew Lawrence from Facebook and @AaronMazor from Twitter asked about how your bid to bring the NFL back to LA is coming along given the current NFL lockout.
We are still working on it but we have to wait until the labor agreement is finalized by the players and the owners. So we are at a standstill, on the outside looking in, just as everyone else is to see when they reach an agreement. Nothing can happen until that happens. But I'm excited, very excited about the possibility. LA deserves a team. And everybody that lives here in Los Angeles is very, very excited about the NFL coming back to Los Angeles. It will be a great day if it happens. We already cheer for all the other teams. It's a shame that on Sundays now we gotta go to sports bars and peoples homes and cheer for somebody else, not a team of our own.
Paul Shively, one of Inc.'s Facebook fans, asked what are the key factors to a great business comeback because you came back big time?
I think reinventing myself was really key for me. I have reinvented myself several times. I'm a guy who really understands who I am and what I want to accomplish. I think the comeback is just about staying the course and then also never getting down. Because a lot of people, when they fall down, they stay down. I'm a guy who gets right back up and says, 'Okay, there is more I can do. There is more that I can achieve and I'm gonna go after it.' And then you gotta have a plan. What's your plan to comeback? You probably have to work harder than you have ever worked in your life to come back. Just look at Donald Trump, who was down and managed a come back—look at him now! So there's a lot of people who have been down, but they came back and they came back strong because they had a plan. And because they didn't let their prior situation keep them down.
What advice do you have for minorites who have a passion for something and want to start their own business?
We have got to, first of all, start owning our own businesses. It's what makes Harlem go or Chicago go or any community go. It's not enough to be passionate about it—the No. 1 thing you have to do is research to make sure there is a business there. No. 2, make sure there is demand for what you are going to have your business in. I was able to build my company because demand was already there. You also have to understand the competition and what they are doing. Make sure that you don't have a 'good' staff or a 'good' management team, but a great one. I would encourage all minorities to start their own business. Especially because we have so many talented young people out here today. It's really crucial for the growth of our communities. And when we own our own business then that dollar touches a lot of hands in our community because that money stays in Harlem, for example, instead of somebody owning a business and taking it out of Harlem. That's why it's importantto keep it in your neighborhood because you can give people jobs in your commuity. It also sends a great message to young people that they can dream to one day own their own businesses in their community as well.
Is there an opportunity for small business owners to utilize the Magic Workforce Solutions?
Yes, small business owners and small businesses [use the program for staffing]. They tell us what they are looking for and we train the people to do that job. We also manage those people on site if they need us to do that. It's worked out very well for us. It's in seven or eight states including Ohio, Texas, Georgia, and Michigan. It's a business that we look forward to growing. Any businesses interested can go to the website to contact us.
I live in Harlem, New York and we have a Magic Johnson theater. Any chance you will open a 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sport center in Harlem?
I would love to do that. As you know I love Harlem. What I love is that the people are so great and they really support your businesses. Harlem is definitely one place that I hope to expand because of the theater and Starbucks that I built there. We have a community empowerment center there. So yes, Harlem is a place that I will be looking to do a lot of business.
You already have movie theaters. Have you ever considered owning a movie studio or distribution company like Tyler Perry? John Riddick, through Facebook, noted that minorities have so few outlets for our films.
Great question. First I congratulate and salute Tyler, he's doing a great job. Would I think about it? Of course, I've been thinking about it. But right now as you know and I know the studios are cutting back on producing movies. They are not doing as many movies as they used to do. I'm doing my research and homework but I don't know if I will ever get in to it or not. If I do, hopefully the timing will be right. But if I don't, we have Tyler. I agree that we need more because we need more minority-based movies. Tyler does a wonderful job but the problem is he may give us two movies a year and we need more than that. Minorities are underserved when it comes to family entertainment and movies.
Continuing with entertainment, you're now involved with Vibe Holdings LLC. I told my Mom and she was so excited that you might bring Soul Train back. What are your plans with Vibe and Soul Train, in particular?
Tell your Mom that's a great question and tell her yes we are working to bring Soul Train back. That's No. 1 because we all grew up and learned how to dance every Saturday morning watching Soul Train. And that's not just people of all colors. I have had people of all colors approach me about this and it's really amazing. I didn't really know until I bought it how people love Soul Train. Then when you think about the library, it is truly amazing the content that we have. And we have already talked to a lot of companies who want to license the content and the library and we are going to start that soon. When you think about over 300,000 photos and I wouldn't tell you how many shows, it's unbelievable. Soul Train has a really unique and special library. And then Vibe has always been for the young people. I'm excited about Vibe as well, and Uptown is for the wealthy and affluent African Americans. My company is going to start buying other companies as well so this is just the beginning.
Here's a question from Kirsten Peck and Mark Myrick from the Inc. Facebook page. They love your New York Times Bestseller 32 Ways to be a Champion in Business. They want to know when are you going to do a book tour?
I will probably go back out pretty soon. Maybe in the fall or so. We have to look at it because after the NCAA Tournament then of course is the NBA Playoffs and then you never want to do a summer tour for a book or anything. So it would probably have to be in the fall.
@MusickEd asked from Twitter if you ever played an instrument or if you could play an instrument what would it be?
No, I haven't played an instrument. And I think it would be the bass because that's how you dance, to the bass. I'm the biggest music lover in the world. I mean I have seen everybody. I went on tour with Michael Jackson and the Jacksons four or five times. You name them, I've seen them and probably a hundred times too. So when you think about Magic Johnson and the thing that relaxes me or gets me going or gets me on that dance floor, it is just some good music. I still love to dance even though I can't do it as long as I used too. But that's one thing I'm really passionate about, good music.