April 22, 2024

Jacksonville Business Portrait

First down: High hopes for Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan

The business community in Jacksonville hopes Kahn can deliver more than just a better football team.

Lilly Rockwell | 5/29/2012

Shahid Khan
[Photo: Ryan Ketterman]

In America, you are “not tied down by some status quo. It’s a meritocracy, which is wonderful, but then it’s hard getting to a certain stage and even harder staying there, which is the challenging and fun part.”

— Shahid Khan

Fresh off a 14-hour flight from Japan, Shahid Khan approaches the podium before the crowd gathered in the ballroom of the downtown Hyatt Regency Jacksonville Riverfront. If he’s tired, it doesn’t show.

It’s been a month since Khan bought the Jacksonville Jaguars NFL franchise from Wayne and Delores Weaver for $760 million. And many in the crowd — a who’s who of the city’s elite and a raft of economic development professionals — have met him privately.

But the February luncheon marks a formal coming-out party for the 61-year-old billionaire owner of Flex-N-Gate, an Illinois manufacturer with plants on three continents that makes original equipment parts for virtually every major automaker from Acura to Volkswagen.

Khan, called “Shad” by friends, reaches the microphone. Silverware stops clinking. Conversation dims. He begins with a story from his overseas trip, explaining that he had taken along Jacksonville Jaguars jerseys as gifts for Japanese auto executives. “Some of the CEOs, I gave it to them and they were really excited and liked everything, and we talked about the Super Bowl and every single one of them had a simple question: ‘Where is Jacksonville?’ ”

The room erupts into knowing laughter. Jacksonville’s business community is confident these days but still very aware that the city lacks the visibility and status of places like Miami, Orlando and Tampa Bay.

The business crowd expects Khan to deliver a winning football team, but they’re expecting a lot more. Khan’s international connections and personality make him a natural ambassador for a city in search of a higher profile. As the owner of a multinational company, he might move some badly needed jobs and other business investment to Jacksonville. Charities are excited about his record as a philanthropist.

There’s something else as well: In a city with little diversity in its business community and a heritage of Southern racial dynamics, Pakistan-born Khan along with the recent election of the city’s first African-American mayor instantly offers the city a more cosmopolitan profile that better serves its business aspirations.

Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jaguars, who finished last year 5-11, face the challenges typical for teams in communities with smaller economic bases. Attendance rose from 2009 to 2010 but fell slightly in 2011. Khan has pledged to keep the team in the city. [Photo: AP/Frederick Breedon]

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