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Ask the expert: Magic Johnson explains the keys to his success and how they can be applied to your business

When Earvin “Magic” Johnson retired after a Hall of Fame career in basketball, he did not in any way actually retire. He grew his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, into a billion dollar investment company that provides high-quality products and services that focus primarily on ethnically diverse and underserved urban communities.

QuickBooks EVP & GM Alex Chriss spoke with Magic Johnson during a fireside chat about what keeps Magic going in tough times, the traits of successful business owners, and what Magic looks for when he is investing in a small business. Here is part of the conversation. For the full conversation, watch the video below.

Alex: Many people know about your incredible basketball career, but maybe not everybody knows about the impact you’ve had as CEO and founder of Magic Johnson Enterprises. Talk to me about the mission and the evolution of your enterprise.

Magic: I started as a small business owner trying to drive revenue, trying to make sure that we had a successful business. I started off with one movie theater, and we grew to six. AMC came in and bought us all out. Then I started with three Starbucks. I became the only person in Starbucks history to have their own Starbucks outside of the company. We built 125 Starbucks in 40 different markets.

And it was funny: when we announced the deal in the LA Times, everyone said “No way, minorities aren’t paying $3 for a cup of coffee.” We’ll pay $3 for a cup of coffee, but we don’t know what scones are. So I had to take the scones out of my Starbucks and put in sweet potato pie, peach cobbler, things that resonate with the urban consumer. I took out the music that normally plays in Starbucks and put in Michael Jackson, Prince, Beyonce, that music that resonates with my customer base. That’s why we were so successful. So what am I telling everybody out there? Know your customer, over-deliver to that customer, and you’ll get the retention that you’re looking for and they become your brand ambassadors.

I’m in a lot of different businesses today, but I started with one, and I tried to be great at that one. And then my portfolio was able to grow, because we were great at that one thing that we did in the beginning.

Alex: If you look at the patterns of successful small businesses, are there characteristics that you see that are markers of success?

Magic: Yes. They stay hungry for knowledge. They listen to companies like yourself. They make sure that every single day they look at how they can improve their business. What’s the new technology out there? What can help them become successful? Be open to change, to new ideas, to pivot. That, to me, is what makes the most successful companies.

Alex Chriss: When this pandemic hit us just over a year ago, one of the first things we thought about was how we make sure that our small businesses can keep their employees and keep their doors open. The government came out with the Paycheck Protection Program, and we got super involved in that. and I know you did as well. How did that get started?

Magic Johnson: We’d lost 41% of all small black businesses and then about 32% of all Hispanic small businesses. And then another 25% of women-owned businesses. So when I saw those numbers, my company pulled out $325 million. We’ve saved over 15,000 businesses so far, and we’re still doing it even today. I was so happy and so proud to be able to work with small business owners to keep their doors open. They’re critical to the communities that they’re in. And I’m happy that all those incredible business owners got to keep their employees. And that’s critical, because small businesses make America go.

Alex: Small businesses have had to persevere this last year. The resilience of our small business communities is just incredible. What advice do you have for small businesses that are still weathering the environment?

Magic: The first message is to have the same passion and drive and love for what you do as when you first opened the door. I’ve lost a lot of money this last year, with our sports teams not being able to have fans, but I’m still waking up with a smile on my face and I’m still excited because the future is bright. Yes, it’s been tough. Yes, it still will be a struggle [but] it’s going to get better, it will definitely get better.

Right now you can affect your business by making sure you embrace change, making sure you are good on your finances. You have to really understand: where is your company at this point? Where are you financially? Do you need to get a loan? Can you get a grant from your city or state, because they have federal funding as well? Do you need to cut back at home? You must know your finances now. If you don’t know them, get your accountant or somebody to come in and break it down for you, so you know where you are.

Also, don’t be afraid of new ideas, fresh approaches and new technologies to invest in for your business. Don’t be afraid to say you need help. If I don’t know something I’m calling every employee I got and saying, “I don’t know; what do you think?” Or I’m calling my friends, “Can you help me with this? I’m struggling with this.” I’m not just a proud business owner or this proud former basketball player that can’t ask somebody to help me. If I don’t know it, I ask for help. And then I’m smiling all the way to the bank, because I was smart enough to ask for help.

Stay healthy, stay safe. Blessings to everybody. This is incredible, my friend. Thank you for allowing me to spend some time with you. I loved this conversation, because I know the struggle. And I want to help as much as I can.

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