Shahid Khan – Success is a forked road

“Skill and confidence is an unconquered army”


How do we tell a story of a man who’s net worth is a staggering $4.6 billion, lives in Florida, owns two relatively big sporting franchises; the Jacksonville Jaguars in American and Fulham Football Club in England, and has a self made score of 10 in Forbes’ rich list? We start at the bottom.

At 16 and with only $500 in his pocket Shahid Khan realised he could still earn more as a dishwasher whilst studying for his Bachelor’s degree in Illinois than most people do with a full time job back home. It was then Khan, who prefers the name Shad Khan, decided he was not going to look back anymore.

In order to immerse himself more in the American culture Khan joined the fraternity Beta Theta Pi. It was there he met his soon to be life-long friend Mike Hennemen. 40 years on they are co-owners of a bio diesel plant. “He was very much like everybody else,” Henneman fondly recalls. “I know that’s crazy to say because he came from Pakistan. He really blended in, participated, and was active. I will tell you, what’s interesting in my mind about it, you would think that in a lot of situations people would be more reserved and shy and want to be with other people from Pakistan. In this particular case, he actually forced himself to be the opposite.”

Khan also fell in love, with American Football and a pretty blonde girl. There was a bar near the University of Illinois campus and Khan noticed a ponytail blonde girl playing pinball. They had mutual friends but had not met. He did not wait for those friends to introduce him to her.

“You’re waiting for an introduction, you’re doomed,” he said. Those seven words sum up Khan’s approach and headstrong attitude towards life. As it you now know this pinball playing girl and the love struck Khan are now married with two grown children, Tony and Shanna. Tony is a bio-diesel executive who is working in analytics for the Jaguars, and Shanna works as a district aide for a congressman. Not bad for a man who started as a 16 year old fledgling with only $500 to his name.

At 20 in the summer of 1970 Khan had managed a car – an Alfa Romeo if we are being certain – now he needed a job. One particularly lucky day he got two job offers (quite a dream for a lot of us these days), one as a sit-down manager at a local ice cream parlor, and the other as an engineer. Both of these jobs meant the fast and pretty girl were looking up, but the ice-cream job looked relatively more easy going, an air conditioned office and ice cream of course. The engineering job meanwhile was basically a blacksmith’s hellhole and no ice cream (of course!). Khan called up the lady at the ice cream parlor and apologized saying he was going to start another job. He came to the USA to study engineering and that was what he would focus on.

Taking the tougher decision was how Khan lived his life and he is certain it is what has made him succeed. He insists the hard way has always been the right way. He was employed at, and eventually bought Flex-N-Gate. He converted it into a multinational corporation that employs 14,000 people in 48 manufacturing plants and nine product development and engineering facilities in five countries. Most people would be content with that, but not Khan. He needed an ace in the hole, and his was bumpers.

Shahid Khan
Shahid Khan

Khan tried to sell bumpers for pick up trucks to the Big Three automakers in Detroit, but he got nowhere with that. So he turned his attention to foreign automakers, particularly Toyota. Maybe it was in his blood, as Pakistanis have a strong attraction to Toyota or maybe it was just a killer instinct. Through various trial and tribulations to woo Toyota and making costly trips from Japan to Hawaii. Khan convinced them to buy his bumpers since they were already exporting their pick-ups to America without bumpers. They were sold on the one-piece bumper; it saved weight while adding structural support. “There’s no downside to failing,” he says. “That’s a very, very American concept. As a matter of fact, failure can almost become a merit badge for the next opportunity.”

The next opportunity was sports, he owns Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL and Fulham FC, which has only after its first year missed out on top flight English Premiership football. Also, despite a third straight losing season the Jaguars value jumped 15% to $965 million since he bought it for $770 million. Seems everything Shad Khan touches, turns to gold. Now a household name in wealth and the American dream, Khan’s winning smile and curled up moustache is sure to inspire us. To never be afraid of a fork in the road and take harder path that would lead us to success.