URBANA — Ironic? A man who made a fortune building parts for cars is now positioned to buy an NFL franchise called the Jaguars.
Shahid Khan, the 61-year-old president of Urbana-based Flex-N-Gate and the apparent owner-to-be of the Jacksonville Jaguars, got into the bumper business more than 30 years ago.
When he found it hard to sell the U.S. automakers, he turned to the Japanese. After supplying virtually all the Japanese truck manufacturers, he began providing parts for their U.S. counterparts in the 1990s.
Today, Flex-N-Gate employs about 12,450 people at 57 facilities in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Argentina and Spain, according to the company's website.
Flex-N-Gate's products have grown to include exterior components, grilles, hinges, latches, parking brakes and pedals.
Khan, a native of Pakistan, came to the United States in 1967, and graduated from the University of Illinois with an engineering degree.
While in school, he worked for Flex-N-Gate, but in 1978, he started his own business. He ended up acquiring Flex-N-Gate and operating it as an adjunct to his Bumper Works plant in Danville.
Later, he opened the Master Guard plant near Veedersburg, Ind., and the Guardian West plant in Urbana.
Today, Flex-N-Gate is ranked by Forbes magazine as the 168th largest private company in the United States, with estimated revenues of $2.57 billion for the previous fiscal year.
In 2003, Khan acquired a controlling interest in Flightstar, the aviation service company based at Willard Airport. And in 2008, he took over operation of the Urbana Golf & Country Club facilities.
Last year, he worked out a tentative agreement to buy a 60 percent stake in the St. Louis Rams. But the deal fell through when Stan Kroenke, who owned a 40 percent share in the team, decided to exercise his option to buy the team outright.
In 2000, Khan delivered a lecture at the UI in which he called himself a "contrarian thinker" in making business decisions.
His advice: Play to competitors' weaknesses, make strategic alliances to maximize your strength and keep information to yourself.
In April, he was one of six Illinois residents to receive Order of Lincoln medallions from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, making him a Lincoln Laureate.