Shahid Khan used to be known for being unknown.
It seems like he's getting over his shyness.
Khan owns one of the biggest injection molding companies in the world, Flex-N-Gate Corp. The Urbana, Ill.-based company is No. 26 in our most recent ranking of North American molders, with estimated sales of $320 million.
The company does a lot more than injection molding. Flex-N-Gate makes a variety of body and chassis structural assemblies, full bumper and fascia systems, brackets and other products for automakers. Automotive News puts the company at No. 10 in its ranking of North American automotive suppliers, with sales of $5.58 billion.
Not bad for a guy who emigrated from Pakistan with $500 at age 16 to study engineering at the University of Illinois. That was in 1967.
In the past year, Flex-N-Gate has made some big headlines. On May 11, the company announced it would lease a 288,000-square-foot warehouse on the South Side of Chicago and add nearly 300 manufacturing jobs.
Just two weeks later, Flex-N-Gate said it is investing $95 million to build a factory on a vacant parcel in Detroit.
But his business success isn't the only thing that's brought Khan out of his shell. A lot of it seems to be related to his other, higher-profile business.
We're talking football.
You may recall that Khan tried to buy the NFL's St. Louis Rams (now Los Angeles Rams) back in 2010, but his bid was blocked by part-owner Stan Kroenke. But Khan didn't give up, and in 2012, he bought the Jacksonville Jaguars, joining the exclusive fraternity of NFL franchise owners.
If you haven't been paying attention, the past year has been big for the NFL, too. So at Plastics News, we were amused to read reports from our sister newspaper Crain's Chicago Business last week about a speech Khan gave at an executive conference for Crain's Who's Who in Chicago Business.
Of course he had to address the controversy about players standing for the national anthem. Khan didn't pull any punches, especially from President Donald Trump.
"You have to give Trump credit, people are confused on the First Amendment vs. patriotism, that if you exercise your First Amendment, you're not a patriot, which is crazy. ... People are confused on it, [Trump] knew he could hit on it and take advantage. I think what we're seeing is the great divider overcoming the great uniter," Crain's reported.
Lest you think Khan is a flaming liberal, keep in mind that he donated $1 million to Trump's inauguration. So his criticism also sounds a little like admiration.
"What [Trump] has done is shown leadership as the great divider, not uniter. We are used to being warm and fuzzy and cuddled. Well, it's a different time," he said.
My favorite line from Khan's speech was his description of what it was like becoming the first non-white owner of an NFL team.
"You've got a bunch of 85-year-old guys who don't think they're racist, but they are racist," he joked. (Let's hope his pal Bill Ford, who also has investments in football — his mom owns the Detroit Lions — and the auto industry, got the joke.)
Khan addressed topics related to manufacturers, too. He said well-paying jobs that don't a require a college degree are important to places like Chicago and Detroit, where he's making big investments.
"The root cause [of urban issues like gun violence] is there aren't good jobs. We focus on 40-year-old and 50-year-old white guys that are unemployed, [but] these are minority kids in inner cities, and Trump has hit on this. That is a hot-button issue for us, our politicians haven't addressed," he said. "Unless that is addressed and we create jobs, we're going to have all this unrest."
Khan said he supports a $20-per-hour minimum wage. He also talked about how automation can help companies like his become more inclusive. He gave an example: In a recent visit to one of his factories, in Dallas, he saw two pregnant women operating machinery.
"We didn't have an excuse why a woman couldn't work on the line or why a small, Hispanic person couldn't work on the line, and it was really good for us because we were producing the highest-quality parts, paying people well because tech and evolution have taken us there," he said.
"So whenever you get down to it, [diversity is] good business. And if you haven't looked at all the candidates, you haven't found the best candidate, and it shouldn't be reverse discrimination either. If I can get it out to a simple point: Diversity is better business."
Khan himself knows something about bringing diversity to a business, and he's enjoyed plenty of success. His investments in Chicago and Detroit show he's committed to the concept, and he's putting his own money where his mouth is.
Loepp is editor of Plastics News and author of The Plastics Blog. Follow him on Twitter @donloepp.