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Magic Johnson: "We don't eat scones"

Posted by Christopher Shea  April 20, 2010 02:15 PM

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What does the business world think when you've got five NBA championships on your resume? "Everybody wanted the autograph," Magic Johnson recently told students and faculty members at Wharton, Penn's business school, "but nobody wanted to invest with me." Johnson had already opened several movie theaters in urban, predominantly black neighborhoods but was having trouble persuading other businessmen that this was a viable business model. (Johnson also had progressive, urban-development goals.)

A turning point came in 1995, Johnson said, when he dragged Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks, to a raucous Friday night showing of "Waiting to Exhale," the movie based on the Terry McMillan novel, starring Whitney Houston, at one of his theaters. "Howard grabs me about 20 minutes in and says, 'Earvin, I never had a movie-going experience quite like this.' ... That got me the deal."

Today Magic Johnson Enterprises operates Starbucks franchises in neighborhoods that the upscale coffee monolith had ignored. In growing that business, Johnson battled some stereotypes--and, it would seem, tried to monetize others, reports the Penn publication Knowledge@Wharton: "People said there's no way Latinos and African-Americans will pay $3 for a cup of coffee," Johnson told his Philadelphia audience. "Yes, we will pay $3, but we don't eat scones. I had to take scones out of my Starbucks and put in pound cake, Sock It to Me cake and sweet potato pie -- things that resonate with the urban consumer."
 Sock_It_To_Me_Cake.jpgBetter than scones?

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