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The ‘Magic Johnson School of Business’

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell
Thousands of students from throughout the Mid-South attended a makeshift business school last week at Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ... Thousands of students from throughout the Mid-South attended a makeshift business school last week at Temple of Deliverance Church of God in Christ.
The keynote speaker was Earvin “Magic” Johnson, who has made the transition from NBA superstar to a mega-businessman who has helped direct about $1.3 billion toward investments in urban communities over the last 15 years.
The Oct. 22 gathering at Temple of Deliverance was billed as the (National Civil Rights Museum’s) Freedom Awards youth rally and Johnson did his part to make sure it was about serious business.
“Running a business is just using common sense,” said Johnson. “Companies all over the country bring me in to help them increase their business in the urban market. Believe me, business is just using common sense. You learn what your target market likes, and then you make sure it happens.”
Johnson amazed a lot of people when he brokered a deal that made the Johnson Development Corporation owner of 115 Starbucks Coffee locations and propelled it into the big-business arena.
“I was able to combine the brand and retail strengths of Starbucks with my knowledge of under-served communities in metropolitan areas. Both these aspects have become a recipe for success.”

Magic Johnson Enterprises also operates a number of TGI Friday’s restaurants throughout the country. Today, Johnson Enterprises is worth $500 million.
So can an entrepreneur making multi-million dollar deals really get through to inner-city youth? The on-the-spot answer was “yes” as evidenced by frequent bursts of deafening cheers and applause
Johnson told the students he was raised in a low-income, urban community in Lansing, Mich.
“I had seven brothers and sisters, and my mother took care of us all by herself,” said Johnson. “One thing she instilled was that we had to get an education if we wanted to succeed.”
Johnson took the stage after the other two Freedom Award winners – noted historian Dr. John Hope Franklin and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – offered the young people words of encouragement. He walked down from the podium and got close-and-personal with them.
His overall message was simple: “If I can do it, so can you.”
Here are some basic precepts from Johnson’s “Magic School.”

(1) Stay in school and get a good education.
“Young people look at rappers, sports figures and entertainers and say, ‘I want to have those things, too.’ And guess what, you CAN have those things. Preparing yourself for success with a good education is the first thing you need to do. Because if you are lucky enough to make a living in sports or entertainment, That career is only going to last for a while. You’ve got to have something to fall back on.”

(2) Dream big, and don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.

“I grew up poor, but my dreams were not poor. I didn’t have a lot of money, but I was determined to make something of myself one day. My mother could not afford to buy me expensive sneakers when I was playing ball back in high school. But I didn’t let that stop me. I became a pretty good basketball player in those $1.99 specials she bought. Failure has never been and will never be an option for me. Don’t make it an option for you. Know that you can be successful if you are determined that you will be.”

(3) Be confident in your ability to succeed because God created you to be successful.

“When I first started going after Starbucks to buy some retail outlets, I realized they had never partnered with anyone. But I figured there always has to be a first time for everything. I never went in thinking I was not going to sign a deal with them. Never. I believed I could, and God gave me the courage to work until I made it happen.”

(4) When I say good business is just common sense, it is very simple.

“Most Starbucks you see are mostly in the suburbs and other areas where most of us don’t live. It just made sense for me to offer the products in urban areas that our community likes and is familiar with. People said that blacks would never buy $4 coffee. But I knew I could make it work.

“I just used the sense God gave me. If you want to market a product in a target community, you have to be knowledgeable about that community. I felt that if I provided what my target market wanted, then the stores would be successful.

“Now, I knew some changes had to be made. We don’t eat scones. We don’t even know what that is. I had to remove scones and biscuits from our urban stores and put in some red velvet cake, pound cake, and crumb cake simply because that is what black people eat.

“In our Magic Johnson Theatres, I added strawberry drink because you know we like ‘red Kool-aid.’  If you take the time to study your market – the people you want to purchase your product, and you know what they like, then your business can’t help but be successful.”

(5)  Don’t let past failures define your future.

“Even if you try your best and failed at something, that does not mean you will always never be successful. I publicly announced in 1992 that I had contracted the HIV virus. I felt as if I had let everyone down, including my wife and family. I felt like a failure.

“But I believed that I could get back up and make my life count for something. I used my celebrity as a platform to become an advocate and spokesman for those carrying the virus.
“I went back to school to learn about how to be successful in business. And I always knew I could still make a difference. Failure is only temporary.”

(6) When God blesses you to be a success, share your blessings with others.

“When God gives you the wisdom and favor to become successful, you must remember those who have not been as fortunate. Our charitable foundation has sponsored hundreds of deserving students with scholarships who could not afford to go on their own. And when you give to others, God will bless you even more in what you are trying to do.”

(7) Keep moving forward. When you reach one goal, set another one.

“Always work hard toward your goals, whether it is in school or on a job. Once you reach that goal, go even higher and set another goal. In that way, you never stop growing as a person and you never stop learning.”

(8) Don’t try to do anything without God.

“Faith in God and concern for others defines real success. Always include the Lord in whatever you are trying to do. He will give you the wisdom and determination you need to be successful.”

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