Earvin “Magic” Johnson was in Atlanta this week, thanks to Delta Air Lines and the company’s annual Star Awards for diversity suppliers.

Magic was definitely the star in his 30-minute conversation with former radio personality and restaurant owner Frank Ski. I was prepared to be cynical about his talk about being a successful businessman. Of course a world champion, hall of fame NBA star would be successful in business.

But after hearing him break it down, I realize that Magic Johnson does have the magic to be successful in business and everything else he does, including living healthy for more than 30 years with HIV.

“Everybody thought I was a dumb jock,” Johnson allowed in response to Ski’s probing question about his challenges in shifting gears from the basketball court to the world of business, “not a businessman.”

Despite his detractors and critics, Johnson launched his business career. Today he is chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE), which includes multiple business entities and partnerships such as Canyon Johnson, a $1 billion dollar real estate fund, Yucaipa Johnson, a $500 million dollar private equity fund, ASPIRE, a new African-American television network, SodexoMAGIC, Magic Airport Holdings, Best Buy, T.G.I.F. Friday’s Restaurant, Inner City Broadcasting Corporation, Detroit Venture Partners, and Vibe Holdings, LLC . He is the chairman of the multi-cultural media company that houses the Vibe, Uptown, and Soul Train brands. In addition he has a foundation that supports many great causes in communities around the country.

He is most noted in Atlanta for his Magic Johnson Theatres (a venture that no longer exists) and his Starbucks partnership.These deals served as the catalyst for redevelopment in urban communities across the nation and became a part of his business philosophy.

“You’ve got to believe in partnerships,” he said. “I don’t need all the money. Give me 5 percent. I’m good with that, especially If this means you’ll have a successful business instead of a failure.”

Besides partnerships, he said you’ve got to have good people working with you. “You’ve got to hire people with expertise, not just hire family and friends…. I pay my family to stay away.” After joking about his family, he added, “You’ve got to find out who is best out there and who can help you.”

Also, note that in 2010, he divested his Starbucks and Los Angeles Lakers shares for in excess $100 million dollars. However, he continues to assist Starbucks with their community development initiatives and remains vice president of the Lakers.

Johnson said he’s been successful because he always does more than is expected. “You have to do more,” he said. “You have to bring added value to everything you do.” He said that as an entrepreneur, you have to “over deliver on your contract, so you can retain it and get another one.” And for minority entrepreneurs, this is even more important, he said.

As a minority, you have to make sure you’re successful, because it’s not just for you. “If you’re more successful, it will mean more opportunities for other minorities.”

He also advised the small business and minority-business owner guests at the luncheon to make the right decisions about their brands and their reputations. “You want to look at yourself and your partners 20 years from now and say, ‘we had a great run.'”

Magic said he attributes his success to his partners, being prepared and the foundation and values provided by his parents. He said he also wants to be a great example to his children. He noted that his wife Cookie keeps him grounded and is his greatest confidant.
“We didn’t want to become Hollywood, we just wanted to do Hollywood,” Johnson said in response to Ski’s question about maintaining his humility. “I know that God can take it away tomorrow.”

I’ve come away with a greater appreciation of the man behind the brand. So,Magic, thank you for the success that you share with others in business and in the community. And thank you Delta Air Lines for sharing him with us this week.

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