July 28, 2014

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

Khan & Jaguar fans
Jaguar fans gave Khan a warm reception. Some wore paper versions of his signature handlebar mustache. [Photo:AP/John Raoux]
Khan’s interests shifted from being a sports fan to owning a team about eight years ago. For Khan, friends say, team ownership reflects a genuine interest in the NFL, a solid business investment and a legacy for his children. Newly hired Jacksonville Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey sees something else — Khan’s competitive drive. Khan saw an opportunity to turn a struggling team around, Mularkey says, and “build something special.”

In 2005, Guenther connected Khan with Jerry Colangelo, former owner of the Phoenix Suns and the Arizona Diamondbacks, to give Khan guidance on buying a team. In 2010, Khan tried to buy the St. Louis Rams after owner Georgia Frontiere died. Chip Rosenbloom, her son, told the Florida Times-Union that Khan was “respectful” and quickly earned his trust. But the deal fell through when minority owner Stan Kroenke exercised his right to buy the team.

Undeterred, Khan continued building a rapport with other NFL owners. His relationship with previous Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver began the same way he went about getting his first job after college — with a cold call. “It was part of just going around introducing myself to people,” Khan says. Unknown to fans, Khan attended the Jaguars season opener in September 2010 with family and friends, the Times-Union reported.

By late November, Khan and Weaver had hashed out an agreement at a hotel bar to sell the team for $760 million. Forbes reported that Khan borrowed $350 million of the total. Khan and Weaver kept the deal a secret from everyone but close friends and family until Nov. 29. Hardly anyone in Jacksonville had heard of Khan — Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown says he didn’t learn of the deal until just before it was announced.

Massive media coverage followed, with stories in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes magazine and on cable networks. All the attention was a big change for Khan. Flex-N-Gate was so low profile it didn’t even have a media liaison on staff. He adapted quickly. “It’s been fabulous. It’s a parallel world I didn’t know existed. It’s been part of the package and it’s wonderful.”

Jacksonville Jaguars
Khan’s 223-foot yacht, docked on the St. Johns River, is for sale. Asking price: $112 million. [Photo: AP/Bruce Lipsky]

Flex-N-Gate
Khan is not a newcomer to Florida. Before buying the team, he paid $6.6 million for a home in Naples last year and is a Florida resident. He used to visit Jacksonville a few times a month since Southeast Toyota, a Flex-N-Gate customer, uses the port to ship cars. Since the deal was announced, Khan has divided his time between Illinois, where his “day job” is, and Jacksonville. He has spent about three weeks each month in the city, staying at either the Hyatt or on his 223-foot yacht, Kismet, which he keeps docked on the St. Johns River and has listed for sale at $112 million.

Khan’s rise has generated relatively few controversies. One wrinkle: A dispute with the Internal Revenue Service over the validity of tax shelters that reduced Khan’s taxes by $85 million. The New York Times reported Khan and the IRS reached a settlement. The dispute apparently didn’t bother the other NFL owners, who approved the sale two weeks after it was first announced.

Khan also has faced criticism from some workers and residents who live near a now-closed Flex-N-Gate bumper plant in Michigan about the company’s use of the carcinogenic chemical chromium-6, which they claim is causing a rise in cancer in nearby neighborhoods. Michigan is conducting soil samples to determine if the site is contaminated. Meanwhile, civic and labor groups say they want the NFL to investigate Khan.

Tags: Northeast

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