Magic Johnson always wins, even against his mum

This competitive spirit might appear arrogant, but after listening to Magic Johhnson speak at Oracle NetSuite’s SuiteWorld18, Simon Fitzgerald found him to be full of humility, adaptability and persistence.
Simon shares the most important lessons he took from Magic’s speech.

This competitive spirit might appear arrogant, but after listening to Magic Johhnson speak at Oracle NetSuite’s SuiteWorld18, Simon Fitzgerald found him to be full of humility, adaptability and persistence.
Simon shares the most important lessons he took from Magic’s speech.

Magic Johnson plays a first-to-ten game of 1-on-1 basketball with his daughter. He lets her get to 9 and then, as he calls it, ‘crushes her’. He does the same against his Mum, although he lets her get to 9.5 before crushing her, too. She gets 9.5 because he loves her and because she’s his mum. Neither get to ten. Ever.

This competitive spirit might appear arrogant at first, but after listening to him speak at SuiteWorld18 in Las Vegas last week, it becomes a testament to his humility, adaptability and persistence.

Magic Johnson: A great man

This man changed the image of HIV around the world.

He successfully introduced Starbucks to suburban America. Not even Howard Schulz, the founder and Chairman of Starbucks, had this level of foresight.

He took his struggling high school team to win the Michigan state championships against all odds. Everyone, including that team, had written him off. It was at this moment that a local sports journalist first coined his nickname, Magic.

This Magic man is now personally worth $500m and his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, worth $1B.

How?

It wasn’t magic and it wasn’t luck. Sheer determination to win, to not let his ego obstruct, to be adaptable to change, and an acute understanding of his customers. Magic believes the principles of being a successful basketballer are exactly the same as those of a successful CEO.

“Always make your business about the customer and what they like, not what you like. You have to know your customer, speak to that customer and over-deliver to that customer.”

He gets in early, he prepares, he asks questions, he listens, he respects his team, he has a huge personal drive and he’s always willing to learn.

His humility was first evident as a young Laker. Acknowledging his desire to be a businessman, he knew he didn’t know anything about business. So he set about surrounding himself with the right people.

As a player, he had the CEO of the Lakers open the books to show him how the business ran.

Then he called the Lakers’ PR guy to get the names and phone numbers of all the season ticket-holders and then proceeded to call them to invite them to lunch so he could pick their brains and learn everything he could.

Later he went into partnership with Starbucks and eventually opened 125 stores in low-income neighbourhoods. These stores perform well above the industry average.

The reason? He understood his target market. His customers.

“The coffee was great but the dessert didn’t match the demographic. I had to put sweet potato pie, peach cobbler and pound cake on the menu. Then I had to change the music. I put in Prince, Motown, Earth Wind and Fire. It’s about over-delivering for the customer. If you made your first purchase and you’re comfortable, you’re gonna sit there long enough to make your second purchase.”

It’s not about you. It’s about your customer.

Magic also cites his share in the LA Dodgers as a classic example of meeting the market. To over-deliver to the millennial market, he recognised the Dodgers couldn’t do the same thing they’ve always done. They had to invest in creating the right experience to capture the attention of a new generation to maintain relevance.

“These customers are focused on the experience of having a drink and hanging out with their friends than the game itself. This is why we installed pavilions where consumers can socialise while the game happens in the background.”

Change is always good

His theory on change is also prophetic and perhaps takes inspiration from George Bernard Shaw: “Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”

As he put it, “You’ve got to be ready to adapt and adjust. With my real estate fund, we built some condos and then the market crashed. The banks weren’t loaning any more money, but quickly we said we can change our strategy to a renter’s model. It worked because we were smart enough to recognise the existing model was not going to work. Be quick and nimble to say, I can adapt and adjust to what’s going on to make it work.”

Wisdom to live by.

This is a gently-edited version of a post first published on Simon’s LinkedIn. Reproduced here with permission.

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