On Wednesday afternoon, the NFL’s 32 owners unanimously approved the sale of the Jaguars to Illinois-based businessman Shahid Khan, who is expected to take over operations from Wayne Weaver on January 4, 2012. Khan is the owner of Flex-N-Gate Corp., which employs more than 12,450 people worldwide and which had more than $3 billion in revenue last year. The Pakistani-born Khan, 61, was born in Lahore-Punjab, and moved to the United States when he was 16 to study at the University of Illinois-Champaign, where he graduated from the UIUC School of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in 1971. A long-time follower of the NFL, Khan last year entered into an agreement to purchase 60 percent of the St. Louis Rams only to have that bid matched by Rams minority owner Stan Kroenke. Weaver announced his agreement with Khan to purchase the team on November 29 of this year, an agreement league owners approved 32-0 Wednesday. Khan on Wednesday evening sat down with jaguars.com senior John Oehser writer and discussed among other topics his approach to running an NFL team, his religion and his excitement level at realizing his lifelong dream . . .
You said on Wednesday when speaking to the media that you’re fanatical enough to know your weaknesses when it comes to running a team, to know what you shouldn’t be doing. Not every owner feels that way. Where did that come from? Is that from research, or seeing other owners’ mistakes? Something else?
It’s my lifetime experience running a business. (Laughing) And yes, also watching some owners. I think in football you see that. Running an auto parts business isn’t nearly as sexy. You don’t get photographed coming out of the washroom, but I think the key thing is that’s a simple essence of business.
So, you simply apply that business sense to the NFL.
Absolutely, I think this is a business and a civic asset.
It was also interesting to hear you talk about the responsibility, how humbled you are to assume the stewardship, if you will. Some people would take over a team and not feel that way. . . .
Why not? It gets down to your core values and what you think is important. At a certain point, whatever your life experience is hardwires you. How you approach things and what your mindset is – you get hardwired. You think a certain way. If you have success that thinking pattern gets reinforced. When you don’t, you go back and start making a midcourse correction.
Specifically, what did you like about the situation?
Obviously, Jacksonville is a nice community. I think it’s an opportunity. It was for sale. Now, there might be other teams for sale. The league had put me in touch with other teams, but I had to go and figure out which one I would want to pursue and which had the highest probability of closing. You look at it and you say, ‘Where’s the upside?’ Jacksonville has a great upside.
You and Wayne Weaver talked a lot in your press conference about how you met with not only Weaver, but other NFL owners to discuss the possibility of someday owning a team. A lot of work and preparation went into this. Is that just what you’re about?
That’s what luck is, right? When preparation meets opportunity.
How much do you know about Jaguars General Manager Gene Smith? You’ve met with him, briefly, but that obviously will be a process.
Obviously, I had lunch with him Wednesday. What I know about him is from his reputation. Illinois has a new coach, Tim Beckman. He speaks very highly of Gene. Now, granted, they’re both from Ohio, so that should put up a red flag right there. (Laughing). Obviously Wayne speaks highly of him. That’s the most important thing.
When discussing the task of taking over as owner of an NFL team, you mentioned the word “sobering.” What did you mean by that?
(Laughing) Sobering, because it’s like you’re about to eat your own cooking.
You’ve obviously been very successful and had many big, memorable days in your life. You’re being somewhat reserved, but what’s your excitement level right now?
It’s the biggest day in any American – I’d say, “Man,” but maybe in a woman’s – life. How many people are going to get to do this? How many times have you sat at home on a Sunday afternoon and said, ‘They ought to be doing this,’ or, ‘They ought to be doing that.’ Now, to have the ability to do that? There are basically only 32 people who get the opportunity to do that. That’s huge power, but with that comes responsibility and accountability.
Talk about the process of getting to this point. There obviously has to be a lot of consideration to exactly how to go about an undertaking such as this . . .
I started out and I talked to people. Very few people own 100 percent of an NFL franchise – very few. This was a team transfer, but on the agenda Wednesday, there were a lot of cases of people selling two percent or five percent, this and that. I started off looking at the Rams, where you could purchase 60 percent. Then, it was, ‘Maybe put a group together.’ You get to a point where you say, ‘I don’t want to do that.’ I have the means to write a check and get it done.
Was it important for you to be sole owner?
I’ve had partners in different businesses. I’d rather not have partners. That way I don’t have accountability to them. It’s mine alone and I would prefer that.
Around Jacksonville and among Jaguars fans, there has been a clear buzz about you since the announcement. There are multiple Twitter accounts with references to the ‘tach of Kahn, KahnStache, etc. It has become something of a phenomenon . . .
I have been absolutely amazed. It tells you the power of social media and tells you the power of Jacksonville fans. It’s something you can’t duplicate with money or marketing or anything like that.
Is the goal now to tap into that energy?
My call is to tap into the fans’ desire to have a winner. My calling is to tap in and get them to come to the stadium, fill the stadium, rock and roll in the stadium and put a winner on the field.
Is there anything else you’d like to discuss, anything you’d like fans to understand about you?
I saw where religion was a big issue fofr some people. If you’re saying, ‘What’s your religion?’ I can tell you, it’s Muslim. These are personal, private kinds of things, but I don’t believe religion should come between a man and a Bud Light, OK. There were different expectations of things that were going to happen, but it’s, ‘Be Cool.’
When you go into the Jacksonville community talk to people – businesses and fans – there understandably is nervousness on the part of some people about the team’s future. That’s the Million Dollar Question, as you well know. Your approach with people on that issue will be what?
My approach is, ‘Hey, we’re here. We want to do the best thing for Jacksonville. Come and support.’