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Magic dishes out team talk

Posted: March 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 3, 2012 2:00 a.m.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson speaks at the VIA B2B 2012 Industry Show luncheon meeting, held at the Hyatt Regency Valencia on Thursday afternoon.

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Successful entrepreneur, American icon and NBA legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson advised members of the Santa Clarita business community to “over-deliver” and “not dilute (their) brand” as he spoke to more than 250 people at the VIA’s lunch and B2B Industry Trade Show Thursday.

Johnson, the keynote speaker, said he always knew he wanted to be a business person after his basketball career, however, he more specifically chose to invest his money and efforts in urban community neighborhoods to provide opportunities for young people.

Partnering with Sony, Johnson first built six Magic Johnson theater complexes, generating about $500,000 annually. He wanted to grow his small business in a smart way.

Stepping up his game, Johnson next looked for partnerships in which one-half of the money for his next venture would come from outside of his own funds.

Johnson convinced Howard Schultz, chairman and CEO of Starbucks, to partner with him and build Starbucks in urban communities in need of economic activity.

Johnson promised Schultz he’d make the first three Starbucks No. 1 in their markets. Critics said he wouldn’t be able to deliver, but Johnson did so by blending the top talents of each business to create magic.

Combining Starbucks coffee with food and music the African American, Asian American and Latino markets appreciated, Johnson went on to build 125 outlets with Starbucks, achieving among the highest per-cup margins at his stores.

“I didn’t tell Starbucks how to make coffee,” he said. “But I showed them how to do business in urban America.”

Johnson had a mission to dominate urban areas by bringing businesses into communities where people could gather. He went on to bring in fitness gyms and build retail shopping centers, in addition to the movie theaters and coffee shops he first introduced. With a track record of success and delivering high returns on investments, Johnson broadened his reach by going into the hotel business.

Today, the man known as well for his business prowess as his days playing for the Los Angeles Lakers is making new inroads into broadcast media by acquiring radio stations. He is also getting ready to launch the Aspire television cable network and channel.

“We know how to start a business, grow a business and make it successful,” Johnson said of his firm Magic Johnson Enterprises. “And we know how to sell it.”

Asked how he would translate his entrepreneurial success in urban areas to a tight-knit, somewhat geographically isolated community like Santa Clarita, Johnson told The Signal his success has come from using focus groups and bringing people what they want.

“This community is already successful with hard-working people and good income levels here, so as long as you bring residents what they want, it will be successful,” Johnson said. “Make sure it’s the right business and product mix.”

Johnson, a known philanthropist and five-time NBA champion, hall of famer, winner of the Most Valuable Player Award and a member of the ’92 Olympics “Dream Team” that brought home a gold medal and one of the final bidders for the Dodgers baseball team, told the packed audience to always have an exit strategy for any business they own.

“Never fall in love with anything you own. If someone has a price you like, you sell it,” Johnson said.

But the real magic behind Johnson’s success, he believes, is to always do a wonderful job serving customers, and be a loyal and trustworthy brand.

“I’d rather lose money on a deal than hurt my brand,” he said. 

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