Few American success stories inspire those seeking success of their own more than the journey of Jaguars owner Shahid Khan. He recently shared his perspective and background with Charlie Rose of PBS.
Khan came to America alone in 1967, at age 16. He had never seen snow in his life, and he arrived to a record amount of it in Illinois.
“It was quite a memorable experience for me,” Khan said. “You have your one suitcase with you. You walk in shoes that are not used to water or snow and they kind of start melting away. It’s an experience you never forget. Very life affirming, where they soak right through your socks.”
He talked about the impact of realizing that he could find a job — at $1.20 per hour — to help pay his rent of $2 per night at the local YMCA.
“It’s something so unique about America,” Khan said. “The empowerment and the fact you control your own destiny. Most of the countries in the world, you can’t do that.”
He believes that it’s an outlook that people who are born and raised in the United States don’t necessarily have. “You focus on one percent of the glass that’s full, not on the 99 percent that’s empty,” Khan said. “That perspective, you’re only gonna get frankly if you’re born someplace else and you come out and you discover this and you say, ‘Oh my God, what an amazing, amazing opportunity I’ve just been given.’”
And he made the most of it. After getting an engineering degree, Khan went door-to-door in search of a job. “You get used to rejection,” Khan said. “You have to. I think that’s a key lesson in life, that you have to be able to handle rejection.”
Eventually, he was offered two jobs. One in a “blacksmith”-type role at a small truck parts business and the other as a manager of an air-conditioned ice cream shop. He chose the harder job that better fit his education, and he instantly helped revolutionize the company’s manufacturing processes.
Eventually, Khan bought the company, Flex-N-Gate, and in time he generated enough income to eventually buy an NFL team. To get there, he resorted to what got him his first job — cold-calling.
Khan’s effort to get to know the league’s owners came with some advice from NFL executive Eric Grubman: “Some of these guys aren’t going to want to talk to you, but it’s not you, it’s them,” Grubman told Khan.
Khan eventually talked to enough of them to get in line to buy a team. He made a bid for the Rams, but minority owner Stan Kroenke opted to exercise his right to match the offer. In 2011, Khan bought the Jaguars from Wayne Weaver.
“We have to win,” Khan said of the team he has owned for one full season. “Obviously, we haven’t won in a number of years. We’re going through a turnaround, and really a rebuilding process.”
If he applies the same glass-one-percent-full philosophy that he has been using from the moment he arrived in this country 46 years ago, the turnaround will happen.