Could it be Magic?


Could it be Magic?

Glad you asked – yes, it is! Basketball superstar and businessman extraordinaire, Earvin “Magic” Johnson, recently gave the keynote speech at the Chief Procurement Officer Summit in San Diego, California. Our SVP of Global Marketing, Roger Blumberg, had the pleasure of being there. We say “pleasure” but actually, being a lifelong Magic fan, he was like a kid in a candy store. However, pro that he is, while everyone else was asking Johnson about his illustrious basketball career, Roger bombarded him with questions about how supply chain diversity can help minority-owned enterprises and the communities they operate in…

If you only know Johnson for his three NBA MVP awards, three NBA finals Most Valuable Player awards, nine NBA finals appearances, twelve All-Star games, and nine All-NBA first team selections – to name but a few – you might be surprised to hear about the work his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, does. Serving as a catalyst for fostering community and economic empowerment, Magic Johnson Enterprises provides access to high-quality entertainment, products, and services that answer the demands of multicultural communities. To quote the great man himself, “It’s not whether you can become successful… it’s how many people you can help become successful.”

SVP meets MVP

Roger describes meeting Magic Johnson as “literally life-altering. It was so inspiring to hear how much he’s done, post-basketball – he’s such an influential person, you can just feel his energy when he talks. He could sell ice to the Eskimos all day long but he’s using that superpower he has to influence change. I respected him as an athlete, I knew a lot about him, but now that I’ve gotten to hear his story as a professional and a change agent, I have even more respect for him. We’re definitely in a better place because of him, and underserved communities owe him a lot of thanks.”

Born in Chicago in 1959 as one of ten siblings, when he was young, Johnson often helped his father on his garbage route. He was teased by the neighborhood children who (in a burst of obvious creative genius) nicknamed him “Garbage Man”. “He gets it,” says Roger. “He comes from it; he comes from the inner city and from being poor. He wants to see positive change happen and he’s doing all the right things at all the right levels to achieve that.”

Star power

Of course, as a CEO, if Magic Johnson wants to set up a meeting with you, you’re going to take it. So, when Johnson saw the potential in bringing Starbucks into the inner cities, he managed to convince former Starbucks CEO, Howard Schultz, and the business partners created Urban Coffee Opportunities. The first UCO store opened in Ladera Heights, California, in 1998. “That deal changed everything,” Johnson says. “We built 125 stores. We made that deal happen and that’s what really put me on a path to success. It showed everybody that I could drive ROI in urban America.”

However, as a savvy businessman, Magic was also aware of his limitations in the beginning. At the Chief Procurement Officer Summit, he talked about how one of his companies had an opportunity pretty early on to submit an RFP to Disneyland to do all the catering. Johnson looked at the opportunity, looked at where his team was at, and decided Disneyland was just too big for them; they wouldn’t be able to provide the necessary support.

The Magic model

Roger explains how Johnson encourages the companies he mentors and invests in to not always try to close the biggest deals early in their growth cycle, but rather to focus on properly serving smaller customers or companies first and, once they’ve gotten really good at that, they can move up to serving larger companies. In Johnson’s case, his company waited three years until the next time Disney went to RFP and, that time, they won the business. 

“That was his model and it was brilliant. I think these small businesses are often not ready for the biggest companies but, if they can support the tier two level, that would be amazing. There’s such an opportunity for what I call the underserved community to get more business. And it has to happen at every level. So, the largest organizations need to find opportunities for small and diverse companies to do business with them. The opportunities provided don’t have to be for the top product lines but there’s got to be room somewhere within the organization to find spend for these smaller companies and, as per Johnson’s advice in his speech, to pay them faster as a way of helping them get through the recession. That’s the importance of looking into your supply chain to find opportunities to have the business go down a level.”

So, as it turns out, it wasn’t just a meeting between a global sports star and a global marketing expert, but also very much a meeting of the minds. And that’s when the real magic happens.