There is nothing that makes me smile wider than returning to my alma mater, University of Illinois. No matter where you attended college, returning to campus gives you that feeling of fun, youth, and freedom.
Recently, I returned to Champaign-Urbana to interview entrepreneur, philanthropist, and owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, Shahid “Shad” Khan. Shad came to the United States at the age of 16 from Pakistan with barely the shirt on his back. He enrolled in college courses at the University of Illinois in Champaign. He needed to quickly find a job, any job, to afford food. The YMCA had a job opening for a dishwasher. “Washing dishes gave me the sense of empowerment and feeling that I control my destiny,” Shad says. Other jobs during his teenage years included delivering pizzas, working for the highway system, and going door-to-door as a salesman for a cleaning company that turned out to be a pyramid scheme.
Shad’s most meaningful job was working for Flex-N-Gate, an automotive parts manufacturer that he now owns. Working at Flex-N-Gate, Shad didn’t understand why the company was manufacturing two-piece bumpers for automobiles. He left the company to start his own company developing a one-piece automotive bumper, which is still used today on virtually every domestic automobile.
Cold calling was a big part of Shad’s success. In fact, as a commencement speaker for the graduating class of 2013 at University of Illinois, he spent several minutes talking about this practice, telling graduates, “Cold calling is about developing social skills and getting used to rejection. We are constantly selling something to somebody.”
Shad believes that life is a continuing process of learning. “If you aren’t learning, you are regressing,” he says, “because more growth comes from failure than from success.” Everybody has to start somewhere doing something. You never know where you will end up or what career path will choose you. Work hard, be open minded, and persevere. “There are 320 million American dreams. Go get yours.”
Shad has a perfect example: In 2010, he was very close to finalizing a deal to purchase theof the . Things didn’t work out in . But the experience helped Shad purchase the Jacksonville Jaguars just two years later.
As for Shad’s dream? “The Jacksonville Jaguars to play the Chicago Bears in the Super Bowl.” Here’s hoping this dream comes true.