NBA legend Earvin "Magic" Johnson dropped by Dominion Resources Inc.'s Richmond headquarters Wednesday afternoon to talk to employees about life on and off the court.
The 6-foot 8-inch multimillionaire joked, posed for pictures, told stories about teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's on-court demeanor and about asking his wife if it was OK to spend $50 million on the Los Angeles Dodgers.
If the 200 or so who were chosen by lottery to sit in weren't fans before, chances are the five-time NBA champion, 12-time All-Star, Hall of Famer and entrepreneur won them over.
Despite the festive atmosphere and his surprising two audience members with a trip to Los Angeles for a Lakers game, Johnson was on a serious mission: preaching the need for diversity in business.
"We're not looking for a handout, we are looking for an opportunity," Johnson said, talking about the difficulties that minority-owned businesses struggle with as they look to grow their companies.
He is CEO of SodexoMAGIC Inc., Dominion's food service provider. The company is a joint venture between Sodexo Inc. and Magic Johnson Enterprises.
Steven A. Rogers, president and chief administrative officer for Dominion, said about 10 percent of Dominion's contracts are with minority-owned businesses.
Rogers said that contracts are handed out based on merit.
Johnson, who was so poor growing up that "we had the water and the sugar but not the Kool-Aid," said that many businesses looking for a chance to show what they can do need to be qualified and prepared once they get that chance.
"We can get into corporate America and not just deliver, but (we have to) over-deliver," he said.
Johnson, who retired from basketball in 1991 after contracting HIV, said his message comes from his heart.
The Michigan native became a wealthy businessman in large part by serving urban communities.
According to a profile in Forbes magazine, which listed him as the fifth-richest African-American in the country, Johnson made his money by introducing "well-known brands to diverse neighborhoods via Magic Johnson Enterprises."
He worked with companies including Starbucks, T.G.I. Fridays and AMC Theatres, "invested in urban real estate and companies catering to America's underserved markets via his ($1 billion real estate fund) Canyon-Johnson and ($500 million private equity) Yucaipa-Johnson funds," according to Forbes.
After his talk, a much quieter and more serious Johnson sat in a Dominion cafeteria and talked about the challenges many small businesses face, particularly access to capital.
"How can they get loans to grow their business and take on the big contracts?" he asked. "They're still mom-and-pop, and they're small so they can only take on certain size contracts because they don't have the manpower or systems in place or technology in place."
While having the advantages that come with being a world-famous professional athlete, Johnson said he has a responsibility to minority-owned businesses struggling to break through.
He said he constantly talks and works with these business owners — as well as younger athletes — to pass on his experience and be a mentor.
"My role to them is to pave the way, and open doors that they couldn't get through before, and speak for them, which I do every day."