Athlete and business Entrepreneur Earvin “Magic” Johnson imparted a few pearls of wisdom at the fourth Annual Valley Economic Summit, nudging business owners about the importance of knowing their consumers, partnering with other companies, and “over-delivering.” “In business you’ve got to know your customer, you can’t make your business about you and your wants,” he said, during a lunch-time key note address at the Sheraton Universal Hotel on May 6. Johnson, who was introduced by Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, chose to step down from the podium and pace among the crowded tables as he shared his business experiences. “For those who are in business or want to be in business, let me just say this: because of the economy today it’s not enough to just deliver to a company. If you want retention, you’ve got to over-deliver,” he said. “Find out what the company wants, a lot of times we want to walk in and tell them what they need. Me, I’m a listener.” Johnson who recently released his book, “32 Ways to be a Champion in Business”, spoke candidly about building his brand at the Los Angeles Lakers, and then “moving that brand into the boardroom.” “What I decided to do after wearing those tiny shorts, was find out, ‘where could I invest?’ and ‘where could I make a difference?’ and not try to go out to create demand but address demand,” he said. Johnson said he recognized that urban communities were ripe for commercial and residential developments and set out to meet those demands. For this he created the Johnson-Canyon Fund one of his multiple business ventures in order to meet some of these demands for retail, housing, quality entertainment, products and services in these communities. “When nobody believed there was any money to be made in urban America” the enterprise resulted in one of the largest private real estate funds focused solely on the development of urban properties in underserved neighborhoods, facilitating more than $2 billion in development around the city, he said. As an entrepreneur, Johnson has built a multi billion dollar business empire owning a wide variety of companies ranging from a food manufacturer to movie theaters. He has partnered with major brands like Starbucks, 24 Hour Fitness and T.G.I. Friday’s, to bring services to urban communities. He launched the non-profit organization, Magic Johnson Foundation, which promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and provides assistance to at-risk youths and neighborhoods. “Don’t be afraid to partner,” he told his riveted audience, referencing his partnership with the Canyon real estate group. “Fifty percent of something is better than zero. A lot of times people don’t want to partner because they want 100% of everything,” he continued. “I partner. I know my skill set and I know what I do well, but I also know my weaknesses too, and so that’s why I partner with companies to make sure that where I’m weak, they’re strong.” While addressing the importance of partnerships Johnson pointed to representatives of the staffing firm Manpower sitting at a nearby table, and hinted towards a future business association. “I got you manpower, we’re going to do some things together, I’m gonna look forward to that,” he said. Speaking about the economic downturn, Johnson said he plans to make the best of it. “Good business people will adjust to this marketplace and this economy. Are we going to sit back on the fence and not invest? Not us,” he said. We’re going to take advantage of this marketplace, there’s so much to invest in right now.” He said one of his funds has about $550 million dollars in cash, and he plans to use it. “We’re being very aggressive in this tough economy because we feel we can take advantage of it because we have the cash on hand.” After his speech, the audience peppered Johnson with questions asking him if he missed playing for the Lakers, who he’d like to meet out of anyone in the world, and whether he’d consider a run for mayor of Los Angeles. Johnson said he didn’t miss playing basketball, that he would like to have dinner with President Barack Obama, and that he’d rather help the mayor than be the mayor. “God has put me in a position to affect change in urban communities, I think that’s what I’m supposed to do, I’m involved in politics but on my own terms,” he said. Before saying goodbye, Johnson, who was attending the Lakers’ game later that evening, asked his audience to cheer for his team. “They better win or I’m firing everybody,” he joked.
Online Exclusive: ‘Magic” Offers Business Advice at the Valley Economic Summit