Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson Honored With Leadership Award

Funds raised from gala to help minority and women businesses

Earvin "Magic" Johnson and American Express CEO Ken Chenault (Source: © David Negron)

NBA All-Star Earvin “Magic” Johnson received the Entrepreneurial Leadership Award on Thursday at The Council of Urban Professionals (CUP) 3rd Annual Leadership Gala fundraiser for his work to advance minority businesses.

Kenneth Chenault, CEO and chairman of American Express, presented Johnson with the award and took a moment to recognize him for his business success and philanthropy efforts.

“Every career he’s been involved in he’s driven to win but you can’t win unless you support others,” said Chenault, one of Black Enterprise’s 100 Most Powerful Executives in Corporate America. “He holds the NBA record for most assists and carried that over into his business career. He wants his team to win and wants to help individuals in furthering their potential.”

Through strategic partnerships, investments, and endorsements with companies such as AMC Theaters, T.G.I Fridays, 24-Hour Fitness Centers, Burger King, and Starbucks, Johnson led the first major economic push in decades to bring these businesses into minority neighborhoods that were often neglected. His motto is simple: “We are the communities we serve.”

“This feels great,” said Johnson. “CUP is doing a wonderful job of rallying the troops and showing people how to work together to make it better for all of us. Sometimes the deals are so large that you need two or three businesses to come together to get the deal done.”

CUP, a New York-based non-profit organization, advocates for public and private sector diversity issues that affect urban professionals and their communities. Throughout the year CUP hosts sessions that educate minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWBE) on how to get access to capital and opportunity through government and corporate diversity programs as well as networking events encouraging MWBE’s to work together to score contracts.

New York Gov. David A. Paterson, who spoke to the crowd of more than 400 civic and business leaders at the gala, said that out of $11 billion in discretional funding only 3% of all state procurement contracts were awarded to businesses owned by women or minorities.

“There is a lack of opportunity for black and brown women procurement operations,” said Paterson. “We must have qualified men and women in every sector of society.”

“If we can’t get contracts how are we going to build wealth?” Johnson asked the crowd. “We can’t allow us to only get 3-4% of contracts in the state. We have to do and demand better.”

As chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Johnson is working to change that. His firm provides minority owned businesses with funds to help them expand their businesses. Johnson also has partnered with capital management entities such as Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, the largest private real estate fund focused on the revitalization of underserved communities; Yucaipa Johnson Corporate Growth Fund, a private-equity fund; and his joint venture with The TCW CapitalAssit Fund is providing debt financing to middle market companies.

“I’m about making change. I was a point guard on the court, but now I’m a point guard in the corporate America. I’m still about kicking butt and winning, but now I’m just wearing a suit.”

Other honorees included Joel Greenblatt, Managing Partner of Gotham Capital; John Petry, a partner at Gotham Capital; Eva Moskowitz, Founder and Chief Executive Offer of Success Charter Network; Janice Savin Williams, Co-founder and Senior Principal of the Williams Capital Group L.P.; Christopher J. Williams, chairman, CEO and founder of The Williams Capital Group L.P. and Williams Capital Management L.L.C.

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