Immigrant of the Week: Shahid Khan from Dishwasher to Billionaire, Following His American Dream

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You can do anything you want to. You have to work hard, you have to create your own luck, and you have to have some luck also. But here in America, it’s all possible…The most important thing is to really make a difference” – Shahid Khan

From Poverty to Billionaire Status: It all Began with $1.20 an Hour

Shahid khanImage Source: Forbes

Shahid Khan was born into Pakistan’s middle class shortly after independence from Britain. His dad was involved in the construction business and his mom was a math professor. At 16, he moved to the US to study at the University of Illinois, at Urbana-Champaign. His first night in the US was in a room at the local YMCA for $2, and his first job was washing dishes for the princely sum of $1.20 an hour.

While a student, he went to work at Flex-N-Gate, which produces car parts and where he probably made more than $1.20. By 1971, he had a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, and in 1978 using a Small Business Administration loan of $50,000 and $16,000 of his own savings (back then you didn’t need to take out a mortgage and sell a kidney to afford college), he started Bumper Works, which obviously makes bumpers for cars.

Two years later, he bought Flex-N-Gate and merged Bumper Works into it. The 1980s were a good time in the US automotive business, and Khan managed to supply bumpers to America’s Big Three Automakers (Ford, GM and Chrysler). In 1984, he got an order from Toyota for pickup truck bumpers. Three years later, he was Toyota’s exclusive supplier for pickups, and in 1989, he was the company’s sole supplier of bumpers for all its vehicles. Borrowing Toyota’s methods of manufacturing (The Toyota Way), he saw his sales grow from $17 million to $2 billion in 2010.

In 2011, Flex-N-Gate had more than 12,000 employees, and 48 plants around the world. Revenue that year was $3 billion.

Shahid Khan Buys the Jacksonville Jaguars

Shahid KhanImage Source: Brand Synario

So, what do you do if you have that kind of money? Well, Khan decided he wanted an NFL team. His first attempt was in 2010 to buy 60 % of the St. Louis Rams, but that fell through when a minority owner exercised his right of first refusal. In 2011, his luck was better. He bought 100% of the Jacksonville Jaguars for $760 million. It was finalized and approved by the NFL before the year ended. He became the first non-white owner of an NFL team, and he has since become a board member of the NFL Foundation.

Of course, there is another kind of football, and Khan decided he wants a team in Britain. He bought Fulham FC from Mohammed Al-Fayed, who also owned Harrod’s department store in London until 2010, still appears to own the Ritz in Paris and whose son died in the car accident that took the life of Princess Diana of Wales. The price was estimated at £150–200 million; as a private transaction, no official price has been released.

Since buying both teams, they have not flourished on the field. Jacksonville has finished third in the AFC South Division in each of the last 3 seasons, and Fulham has been relegated from the Premiership to the Championship (England’s second tier league) after the 2013-14 season. But as we have seen from his automotive career, Khan plays the long game. He is sinking money into both teams. He has spent $100 million on the Jaguars’ stadium and Fulham’s budget for buying players’ contracts has expanded since he took over. His ambition for the Jaguars is a Super Bowl win, and for Fulham to get back into the Premiership, and then win it.

Forbes magazine called him “The New Face of the NFL and the American Dream.” Throw in the New Face of English Soccer and you are just about on the money. It’s a long way from the YMCA and $1.20 an hour.

Now let’s hear Mr. Khan in his own words:

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Billionaire Shahid Khan Talks Philanthropy (extended)

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