URBANA — The president of Urbana-based Flex-N-Gate says developing an NFL franchise can be very much like developing an auto parts business.
In both instances "you have to get the right people," said Shahid Khan, the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Khan, who will be the commencement speaker at the University of Illinois this weekend, appeared Monday night on the "Charlie Rose Show" on the Bloomberg television network.
Khan talked about some of the parallels between developing Flex-N-Gate into a successful business and developing the Jaguars into a successful NFL franchise.
He told the story about coming to the United States from Pakistan in 1967 to go to the University of Illinois with a suitcase and $500 to his name. He said he wanted to go to the UI because it had a reputation as a great engineering school.
Since he couldn't afford to stay at the Illini Union, Khan went to the YMCA, which offered him a room for $2 a night.
"It was an experience you never forget," Khan told Rose.
After getting his engineering degree, Khan said, he took his resume and went door-to-door making what he called "cold calls" looking for jobs in Chicago and Champaign before he got a job working in a blacksmith shop.
"You have to handle rejection," Khan said. "That's a key lesson in life."
Later, after making millions of dollars in the auto parts industry, Khan once again found himself making "cold calls" to speak to different NFL owners about his interest in buying a pro football team.
"When I cold-called these people, they didn't know me from Adam," Khan said.
In December 2011, NFL owners unanimously approved Khan as the new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Khan, who made a fortune after he designed and developed a one-piece truck bumper that became a phenomenal success, said one key to his success in auto parts involved hiring a local student who knew Japanese to go with him to Japan to seek business from Isuzu.
Later, as he got business from Mazda and Toyota, Khan said, personnel from Toyota taught him how to run a more efficient plant.
"If you look at the auto parts business, you have to get the right people," he said.
Khan said he has applied that philosophy as the owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, doing a lot of research before hiring a team president and general manager.
"I started talking to the wise old men of the NFL," Khan said. "I made a list of who would be the best fit for us."
He said many NFL franchises find the most success when their general manager and head coach grow together.
"My job is to get them the resources and hold them accountable," Khan said.
Khan is a member of the UI Foundation Board of Directors.
In 2011, Khan was one of six Illinois residents to receive Order of Lincoln medallions from the Lincoln Academy of Illinois, making him a Lincoln Laureate.
In 2007, Shahid and his wife, Ann Carlson Khan, gave $2.5 million to create five Shahid and Ann Carlson Khan professorships at the UI in the Center on Health, Aging and Disability in the College of Applied Health Sciences.
The Khans also gave the Urbana campus $10 million to fund a center on healthy aging, public health and accessibility at Huff Hall called the Khan Annex.
In addition, the Khans donated money for the Khan Outdoor Tennis Complex at the UI.