Pakistani owner of an NFL team, Shahid Khan plans to invest in Pakistan’s domestic T-20
The story is old and one that exists in almost every other home in Pakistan. A young and ambitious man, full of enthusiasm, carrying dreams of a promising future decides to move to a foreign land.
The initial days are miserable and the harsh realities of life continuously slap him in the face. If he is resilient and hardworking, luck bends on his side and he crafts an admirable living, while others end up mopping floors, selling groceries and filling empty gas tanks.
However, the story of Shahid Khan is different, in fact it is inspirational. The 16 year old from Lahore, travelled to the United States to study industrial engineering at University of Illinois. While he was still a student, he began working at an auto parts company called Flex-N-Gate in Urbana.
He left his employer in 1978 with an idea to start up his own company. With his $13,000 savings and a $50,000 loan from the Small Business Loan Corporation, he created the start-up Bumper Works, which revolutionized the industry through an innovative one-piece bumper design.¬ Two years later he bought his former employer (Flex-N-Gate).
Today, Shahid’s enterprise employs 12,450 workers globally pumping more than $3 billion in revenue.
This however, is only one part of his amazing success story; the other part is much more fascinating. After years of tireless struggle, Shahid Khan aka Shah decided to shed his riches to achieve the unthinkable.
On 4th January 2012, the 61 year old business tycoon purchased a National Football League (NFL) team, Jacksonville Jaguars, for a whopping $760 million. By doing so he not only became part of America’s top sport but also became the first Muslim and first member of an ethnic minority to own an NFL team.
Call it the fulfillment of the American Dream or Pakistani ambition, Khan’s hold over the oval ball took the American public and media completely off-guard. All of a sudden his religion and birth place took center stage, while his accomplishments that are based on an amazing success story were pushed into the background.
Such an inspiring tale fuelled me to learn more about this remarkable man. After months of trying to get his contact, with the help of publicist Jim Wookcock, I was finally able to get a hold of the business maverick via Skype.
In my decade long career, this was the first time I was interviewing someone using the latest technology. The absence of formal greetings and the regular hand shake deprived the opportunity for a first hand personality impression and nerves to settle.
His long, wavy hair and thick mustache that ended in waxed tips was the first thing that caught my attention. They served as a perfect reminder that Shad still remains hooked to his roots.
According to one of his old friends, “That mustache didn’t come out of nowhere, that’s his signature.”
After his wealth, religion and ethnicity, it’s his frightening mustache that makes an impression; even the New York Times has showered their spotlight upon it.
But as we progressed along the Q&A session, I discovered that behind the fear-provoking mustache lay a shy, private and down to earth man.
Welcome to America
The 60’s was a time when people growing up in Pakistan wished to go to England, but Khan’s late father believed America was the land of opportunities and that is where Khan should go.
However, opportunities didn’t just welcome him with open arms rather it was the brutal climate that greeted the 16 year old upon his arrival to Illinois.
The bus deposited him at the small college town of Champaign, Illinois.
The same day Illinois received record snowfall of 2 feet in two days. Hailing from Lahore, weather such as that in Illinois was not normal for Khan. To make matters worse the 16 year old spent his first night at the YMCA at $2 a night till the university dorms opened, as he could not afford the $9 rate offered at the Students Union Hotel.
With only a handful of reserves pocketed from his father, Khan wasted no time in looking for a job, and started washing dishes for $1.20 an hour the very next day.
“I quickly forgot the comforts I had back in Pakistan. We were middle class, but back in the 60’s the concept of middle class in Pakistan would be very good. You certainly weren’t doing your laundry, your cooking or anything like that, so the comforts you had are all gone.
That’s another thing that till today I can’t make my bed or cook for myself.”
Passionate about building a new life, Shahid turned these obstacles into adventures. Realizing that his $1.20 an hour was what 99% of the people earned, he was all praise for the new country, quickly learning that the power of optimism was really the power of America.
Apart from his hunger to become a successful businessman, Khan found two other loves at university, his wife Ann Carlson Khan and the
American version of football
Hailing from a Country of Cricket Fanatics, How Did American Football Attract Him?
“The answer is simple. Football is by far the number one sport in America. It’s a very simple game and at the same time extremely complex. Very much like cricket where you hit the ball, here you have to carry it. When you become a fan you often get frustrated, because you don’t see the right players being selected, the right tactics being applied and strategies working. Things can be improved but there are only 32 people who can do that, and those are the owners of the teams.
I wanted to be one of those decision makers. We must also remember that Football is the highest grossing sport in America so the prospect for making good money is always there.”
A Football Team in Muslim Hands
Being the first Muslim to own an NFL team certainly came with lot of eyebrows lifting amongst fans in Jacksonville. Suddenly Shahid’s religion and birth place took center stage. One fan called into a live show and said he won’t buy any more tickets because he wanted an American owner. Shad however, chuckled softly and preferred to see the lighter side.
“Oh yes, there was a huge amount of apprehension. The area of North Florida and South Georgia is very football crazy. They don’t have any other sports here, no baseball, basketball, hockey, nothing. Football is all they care about. Fans here were apprehensive and very concerned.”
Shrugging off concerns Shahid adds that stereotypes against Muslims need to be addressed,
“It’s my duty to make them realize that we are here to stay and lift the team. The team has great potential and we are committed to make it rise. There are some stereotypes that exist and you have to get those removed.”
Ready to franchise a Pakistani T-20 Team
He might have been living in America for the past 40 years, but the Gulberg Lahori still finds cricket running in his veins. He still rejoices when he remembers the last time he saw a test match between Pakistan and Australia at the Qaddafi stadium, way back in 1966.
And here comes the big news, folks: Shahid loves T-20 cricket and regularly follows it.
This news left me itching to ask if he would be interested in using his riches to buy a local team. The question instantly garnered an exciting answer, with Khan shifting his position and bending over the screen to say: “Obviously, if Pakistan decides to launch a Pakistan Premier League I would definitely love to hire a team there.”
Expressing his concerns over Pakistan’s security issue and the lack of international sports being played in the country, he said: “It’s really sad that Pakistan is forced to play its game in other countries.
It’s a dilemma for the fans. I would love to help Pakistan in this area, not only in financing, but image, organization, stadiums and most importantly security. With that settled Pakistan can launch its own league that is compatible with the IPL and later on have a Super-Bowl of cricket in the sub-continent.”
Those who know Khan say that he is not a reckless adventure seeker; rather he is an audacious opportunist. The NFL has given him a wonderful opportunity to shine, let’s hope the security situation in Pakistan allows him to flex his gates for his homeland.