Entrepreneurship Gone Right: What We Can Learn From Magic Johnson

Earvin “Magic” Johnson (alas, no relation) played his last quarter of professional basketball nearly two decades ago. Since then, he has parlayed his fame on the court into an impressive array of successful businesses, perhaps the most innovative of which is a collection of food and beverage outlets, mainly Starbucks franchises, in underserved neighborhoods nationwide.

One such neighborhood is located a few miles from Redskins Stadium in Landover, MD, near Washington, DC, where I grew up. There, he built the the AMC Magic Johnson Capital Center 12 movie complex. Last month, Johnson, pictured above with his executive team in a photo a grabbed from his website (hope you don't mind, Mr. Magic), announced the sale back to Starbucks 105 franchise locations he purchased form the company several years ago. When coupled with his almost simultaneous sale of his share of the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team, it has been speculated that the sales brought Johnson more than $100 million. As small business leaders, we can learn a lot from Johnson. Here are a few characteristics we can adopt and apply to our own lives:


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  1. Be resilient. When Johnson retired from basketball, an act that came immediately after being diagnosed with the AIDS virus, many people wrote him off as a thoughtless jock who had allowed promiscuity and selfishness to ruin his life. Boy, were they wrong.

    Not only did Johnson return to the court to play in the Olympics, but he also managed to do what it took to keep his marriage from unraveling and to be a great dad to his three children. He's authored a book and sits at the helm of Magic Johnson Enterprises, a suite of businesses consisting of a foundation and the commitment to use his brand to represent and serve ethnically diverse, urban communities. No one else is doing that on the scale he is doing it, and no one has ever don it before.

    Takeaway: No matter what life throws at you (or what you throw at yourself), you can rebound. You can make something useful out of yourself and your circumstances, no matter how hopeless they may seem.

  2. Be teachable. Johnson says that from the moment he arrived in California to play for the Los Angeles Lakers. Jerry Buss, the team's owner, must have seen Johnson's hunger to achieve both on and off the court. He took him under his wing and taught him everything there was to know about the business of basketball. From handling the finances to handling the media, Johnson says he learned it from Buss. The results of Johnson's sponge-like approach to life speak for themselves.

    Takeaway: Listen and learn with humility, then act on what others have taught you.

  3. Be of service. Following in the footsteps of his mentor, J. Bruce Llewellyn, Johnson drives his business not only to be profitable, but so he can pour himself into communities that might not otherwise be recognized. Evidence of this is found in the innovative deal he struck with Starbucks to bring their coffee stores to communities Starbucks may never have proactively served absent Johnson's involvement.

    In Segment 1 of this video, Johnson says that after he and Starbucks's founder Howard Schultz struck that deal, “everybody and their mama” lined up to own a Starbucks.

    Evidence is also found in the theater complex he built near my hometown (pictured below), in a community that for years had been overlooked by national shopping and entertainment outlets. When it was announced that Johnson was investing, dozens of well known outlets followed, including Men's Wearhouse, Next Day Blinds, Sprint, Lane Bryant, Chik-Fil-A, Kay Jewelers, and Yankee Candle. I once lived near the location where these stores now stand, and I know first-hand of county leaders's struggle to bring retail to the area. “The Magic” made things happen.

    He used his brand, recognized by inner city youth as the epitome of success, to bring jobs and a sense of connectedness in their communities. Serving the underserved has made Johnson more wealthy than basketball ever did. It means his legacy transcends athletic prowess, showing every young boy that happiness and contentment does not begin and end with some kind of ball.

    Takeaway: Serve and you will be served.

A Catalyst For Change

Johnson writes that he told the entrepreneur, “I want to make a lot of money like you,” upon meeting him. In response, Llewellyn said, “No, Magic. If money is all you want, there will never be enough of it, and you will never be happy. You have got to be about more than that. You have the opportunity to be a leader who can do great things and change people's lives for the better. You can be a businessman who is also a catalyst for change.”

Pass it On

In his book, 32 Ways to Be a Champion in Business (affiliate link), Magic credits the late http://www.indiebusinessnetwork.com/a-tribute-to-j-bruce-llewellyn-business-leadership-at-its-best/, for setting him on a correct entrepreneurial path. According to the book, when he told Llewellyn that he wanted to be rich like him, Llewellyn told him that a desire for financial wealth is not enough. In order to be an honorable business leader, Llewellyn told Johnson that he must be motivated by a desire to service people, not just to make money.

I'd say Johnson got it. What a great example of entrepreneurship gone right. Learn more about Johnson's for-profit and non-profit ventures at his website.

Llewellyn passed what he knew to Johnson, and now Johnsons, through books, videos and his example, is passing what he knows to people like you and me.

Question: How are you inspired by Magic Johnson's life? How so?

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About Donna Maria Coles Johnson

Donna Maria is an author, podcaster, attorney, and the founder and CEO of the Indie Business Network, providing affordable product liability insurance and mentoring. Donna Maria teaches Makers and Creative Entrepreneurs how to use technology and community to build a profitable, sustainable business.