When Shad first got off the plane in Chicago, he had never seen snow. He’d been traveling for days from his home in Pakistan to attend college in Illinois, and arrived in the middle of one of the worst storms in Midwest history. He was sixteen years old, had five hundred dollars in his pocket, and as he walked through the city that night looking for a place to stay, his shoes were literally melting off his feet from the snow seeping through them. It was his first time in America.
As a child in Lahore, Pakistan’s second-largest city, Shad received a solid upbringing of humility and frugality from his father. The local cricket stadium was Shad's childhood equivalent of Yankee Stadium, but his family couldn’t afford to buy tickets. However, Shad’s father knew it was free to attend if you entered halfway through a match, so that’s what they did, and he proudly never paid for a single ticket.
Young Shad tinkered with and built radios, which he then sold. He was very entrepreneurial, even charging his friends to borrow his comic books. Shad wanted to attend college in the United States, enticed by dreams of success there. All the familiar sayings about the American dream leading to fame and fortune were very real influences to him, so when he was accepted at the University of Illinois to study mechanical engineering, there was no hesitation. He went.
That first night in Chicago, Shad rented a cheap room at the YMCA. It was two dollars per night, a cost he found exorbitant by the standards of what he would pay back home. His concern over how long his savings would last motivated him to immediately go looking for a job the next day. He was elated to quickly find one, though, working as a dishwasher. And although it may be viewed as one of the least glamorous jobs by many standards today, the wage he was paid was more money than 99% of the people in Pakistan were earning. Shad realized that he could make back what he was spending to live and eat every day, and felt confident that he was going to not only make it in America, but had control of his own destiny.
As he began college, Shad was already earning more as a dishwasher than he had dreamed possible, and wondered if school was even necessary. But as he joined a fraternity and learned about life in America, he set his goals higher. He worked hard in school, even getting a second job to save up money for future opportunities.
While still attending college, Shad went business to business with his resumé in search of a job that fit his education. A small truck parts company hired him and, when he graduated, he became their engineering director. But it wasn’t long before he was dreaming bigger.
Just a few years later, Shad left to start his own company, financed with a small business loan and all of his own savings. That company introduced Shad’s design of the world’s first single-piece bumper for pickup trucks, an engineering breakthrough because it was lightweight and had no seams that could rust. It had an immediate impact on the automobile industry. By the end of its first decade in business, Shad’s company, Flex-N-Gate, was the sole supplier for the entire Toyota line in the United States, and provided bumpers for all the major American carmakers as well.
Shad’s company would eventually be responsible for one third of all bumpers on US cars, but he’s very specific to point to the opportunity that dishwashing job presented as the beginning of his success. He believes that even if a glass is only one percent full, you have to focus on that, and not on the ninety-nine percent that’s empty.
Today, Shahid “Shad” Khan is one of the 400 richest individuals in the United States, and the energetic and charismatic owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He is the first person of ethnic minority to own an NFL football team, and the details for his purchase of the team were drawn up on a restaurant napkin that he keeps framed in his office.
No matter where you are in life’s journey, the path to fulfilling your dreams begins with setting higher expectations, appreciating what you have and taking action towards what you want. That’s where the rubber meets the road to success.
Until next week...