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Jaguars owner Shahid Khan built fortune in Illinois from next to nothing

Shahid Khan left Pakistan by himself 16. He arrived University Illinois with $500. Now he’s billionaire. | Getty Images

Shahid Khan left Pakistan by himself at 16. He arrived at the University of Illinois with $500. Now he’s a billionaire. | Getty Images

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Updated: November 19, 2012 3:33PM

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Khan had one goal moments before his team kicked off against the Bears 11 days ago at EverBank Field.

He wanted to brew a cup of coffee.

There were more than a half-dozen servers clad in customary black-and-white uniforms in his private suite, but Khan insisted on making the coffee himself, pushing different silver buttons until he got the desired result.

Casually dressed with his shirt untucked, Khan seemingly knew everyone in the suite by name, and he reveled in treating them to cocktails, both of the shrimp and liquor variety.

For all the grand plans he had when he emigrated from Pakistan by himself at 16, Khan never imagined this.

“Only in America. The point is, every day, only in America can you get up and pinch yourself. ‘Can it get any better? Can it get any better?’ And it does get better,” Khan said. “In my wildest dreams, I never thought so.

“Even five years ago, I didn’t think so. A, the teams have to be for sale. B, teams aren’t exactly listed on Craigslist. So you’ve got to get into the deal flow, which is introduce yourself, get people to know you and keep things confidential. Then look for the opportunities, and there’s a very small amount of debt, under league rules, and you can’t pledge the team to raise any money.”

Owning the Jaguars is validation of his remarkable rise, from arriving at the University of Illinois with $500 to his name to earning an engineering degree and transforming a struggling aftermarket parts company, Flex-N-Gate, into one of the world leaders in supplying bumpers, with annual sales of $3.4 billion.

But that’s not what’s most gratifying to Khan.

In the family

Above all, he’s a family man.

His early days in the United States have been recounted numerous times: Khan, 16, paid $3 to spend his first night in Champaign at a YMCA, and he accepted a job the next morning washing dishes for $1.20 an hour.

Khan’s son, Tony, recently celebrated his 30th birthday, and he recalled what he was doing at 16.

He didn’t need a job. He was focusing on his studies at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School and his extracurricular activities, such as working at the student newspaper and keeping stats for the basketball team.

Tony didn’t stress about where he would eat or sleep. The Khans had a palatial six-bedroom home about five miles from the YMCA.

Fittingly, last year, the family donated more than $1 million to that YMCA.

“It was like everything coming full circle,” Tony said. “It’s one of the more remarkable success stories that I’ve ever heard. It certainly has inspired a lot of people.”

Shahid and his wife, Ann, are well-known around Champaign.

But elsewhere, other than at an automotive company, Khan was largely unrecognized.

Fame in the name

In February 2010, Shahid Khan entered into an agreement to purchase 60 percent of the St. Louis Rams. But minority shareholder Stan Kroenke exercised a clause that allowed him to match any proposed bid and take full ownership.

But in November 2011, Khan agreed to purchase 100 percent of the Jaguars from Wayne Weaver for $760 million.

He has been a rock star ever since.

Not because he’s the league’s first minority owner or because he sports a brilliant mustache.

Khan has been a breath of fresh air, embracing the attention, even if it’s not entirely comfortable to him yet.

“I think it’s a duty to the Jaguar fans and the NFL to participate,” Khan said. “It’s highly flattering, but I think it’s part of the duty. Media is a big part of the responsibilities.

“It’s a lot more public than I thought it was. I’ve lived a very wonderful, below-the-radar life for so many years. Then you’re in the NFL as an owner and ‘Boom!’ ”

But the Jaguars will provide many challenges for Khan.

The fan base is one of the most apathetic in the NFL, and they’re a talent-starved team with a 1-4 record in the suspect AFC South.

Khan isn’t panicking, though. He’ll apply the same methodical approach to the Jaguars that he did with Flex-N-Gate.

“A lot of stuff from the business side, you can make a difference,” Khan said. “Being on the field, you can’t. But you ride that roller coaster.”

He’ll enjoy the ride.

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