I had the distinct pleasure of attending a keynote by Earvin “Magic” Johnson at Zoominfo’s Growth Acceleration Summit. As the summit was held in Boston, there were numerous anecdotes about Celtic great Larry Bird and their rivalry, but the key business-related anecdote was that you have to continuously improve. Bird was a great competitor that forced Magic to up his game. They were great rivals that made each other better and raised the quality of the game.
There were also a set of business insights as Johnson has taken his game discipline to business. A few of his tips:
- Find underserved markets and tailor your product to those markets — For Magic, the biggest underserved market was the inner cities. He knew that there were few movie theaters in urban America even though the per capita theater spend of African Americans was high. His first theater in LA had the 10th highest gross in the country. He then convinced Starbucks that they should open coffee shops in marginalized inner city communities (and opened the first non-Starbucks owned shops). Magic tailored the music and food to the community (e.g. sweet potato pie) and his stores had a higher gross than Starbucks owned locations. The key to business success is “you have to know your customer.”
- Out deliver — It’s not enough in today’s market to meet your customer’s expectations, you need to out deliver. There is no lack of competition. If you want customer retention, you need to out deliver. If you want brand ambassadors, you must out deliver. Magic Sodexho (food service) passed on its first Disney RFP and waited three years before bidding on the Disney Land contract. His firm realized that due to the size of the park, many employees had little time to eat. To support the contract, they developed kiosks and carts to bring food to the staff during their breaks. This example of out delivering helped them win the larger Disney World contract when it came up a few later.
- Culture is important — Magic emphasized the value of a winning culture whether helping bring back teamwork to basketball or encouraging principles such as everybody gets onboard, no hidden agendas, and do your job. Furthermore, employees are better motivated if their company has a social mission such as bringing jobs and opportunities to Urban America.
- Hire self starters and reward them — Look for young employees that come in early, leave late, and ask a lot of questions. Then give them opportunities to grow with your company. His COO began as a secretary and proved herself at each level. He also emphasized the value of rewarding all employees and not falling into the trap of rewarding only the executives. You can win the big contract, but if you only reward the execs for the victory, then you won’t have a team ready to out deliver.
Not many people have the pleasure of excelling in one field of battle. Magic has had great success in both Basketball (Hall of Fame, 5 NBA Championships, 12 All Star Teams, NCAA championship, Olympic champion) and business.