Magic Johnson Enterprises President Christina Francis On Finding A Good Mentor And Learning From Failure

Magic Johnson Enterprises President Christina Francis On Finding A Good Mentor And Learning From Failure

How one woman became indispensable to international powerhouses such as Burger King, Disney, and Magic Johnson Enterprises through her unwavering commitment to continue to learn and meet each opportunity with excellence.

Christina Francis thought she would grow up to become a lawyer. Instead, her unexpected, expansive career path propelled her into nearly every industry except law—with each new opportunity allowing her to elevate her understanding, expand her impact, and exceed external expectations.

Through the relentless teachability and work ethic that her father first instilled in her, Francis found favor with influencers across industries who insisted on infusing her talent into their future ventures. Now, a recognized leader and president of Magic Johnson Enterprises, Francis would tell that younger version of herself one thing: Don’t take life so seriously, because it will all work out.

What about Magic Johnson Enterprises (MJE) initially attracted your interest?

Mr. Johnson started Magic Johnson Enterprises over 30 years ago with the mission to act as a catalyst for fostering community and economic empowerment. It was about serving the underserved in the multicultural community and giving more of an equitable position to people of color. He stays true to that mission in everything he does, and we are focused on ensuring the company continues to evolve, grow, and reflect that mission. Doing so requires constant growth across industries and identifying the opportunities that contribute to a greater good and have a greater impact. My role is to manage and direct the corporation’s day-to-day operations, from the enterprises to each individual business we own, and ensure each element stays true to the Magic Johnson brand, mission and goals. Between that and never being bored—always on your toes, always learning, always growing—there’s just never a dull day.

How did you first meet Magic Johnson, and how has your professional relationship with him evolved and impacted your career path?

I met Mr. Johnson about 15 years ago, when I was working for an advertising agency out of New York with Lincoln-Mercury as an account director. We were developing a commercial for the Lincoln Navigator, which had an overall essence of being strong and agile, but still smooth, and we felt that Mr. Johnson’s brand and personality fit that image. Lincoln not only ended up doing the advertising campaign, but began an overall partnership with Mr. Johnson, sponsoring some of the Magic Johnson Foundation events and getting involved in the community with him. Once we saw how similar our personalities could be when it comes to working hard, staying focused, and being unrelenting, we built a working relationship that has lasted all these years. I’ve moved around into different roles and industries, but he’s always kept in touch and checked in on me to see what I was doing. He became a kind of mentor to me in that way. He’d offered me opportunities in the past to come work for him directly—all of which I’d respectfully declined, either because I was still enjoying what I was doing, or wasn’t done learning in the role I was already in. Six years ago, though, he asked if I was finally ready to move back to Los Angeles and work for MJE as the senior vice president of marketing and communications. I was ready. At the beginning of this year, he sat with me and said he was going to name me president of the organization. It was an exciting time, and probably one of the biggest accomplishments of something I never really knew I wanted.

Tell us about your journey to MJE. How did you identify new companies/industries you were interested in, and how did you prepare for those new roles, teams, and audiences?

There are certain people who just know what they want to do and where they want to be. I was never that person. I was the jack-of-all-trades—a little bit good at everything and probably an expert at none. But I loved to learn, have experiences and take on new challenges. I had a family who taught me that through hard work and constant education, a person could achieve anything. I finished college in three years as valedictorian and entered grad school in my fourth year. I’ve lived in numerous cities and have worked at IBM, Nissan Motor Corporation, Sempra Energy, Disney, UniWorld Group, Burger King, the Orange Bowl Committee, and NFL Players Inc. Most of these roles came from finding great mentors amid great opportunities in which you work hard, and someone pinpoints you for the next great venture. I was very fortunate to be acknowledged so many different times in this way. As for preparing, I was never one who just went through the mechanics. I always tried to have a clear understanding of the task, the objectives, and the bigger picture at hand. Once you have that understanding, you can figure out how to execute anything—by reading, relying on your instincts, listening, and learning from others. I remained a real student of the art and had some great mentors, both in and outside the office, who taught me how to walk into a new setting and maneuver well within that environment.

Speaking of mentors, who would you say has had a profound impact on your life, outlook and career? Were they with you from the start, or did you seek them out with each new undertaking?

I would definitely say my father, Norman Francis, and my five older siblings. I met one of my first real mentors, Jerry Florence, while I worked at Nissan Motor Corporation. Though he is no longer with us, he made a tremendous impact from the beginning of my career. Of course, there’s also Earvin “Magic” Johnson, along with Byron Lewis, Clyde Rucker, and Dale Mason Cochran. I was blessed to have many different people in different companies who were always extremely supportive in guiding me as I grew, and even today—I still want that mentorship, that support, and family around me.

At the Ebony Magazine Women UP Los Angeles brunch in 2017.

It’s evident that you and MJE view empowerment as a core value. Looking to the next generation, what impact do you hope to make?

I didn’t do any of this by myself. All of it came from someone giving me a hand or a bit of guidance. I value that so much, and I really try my best to give it back as much as possible. Specifically, to people who look like me—young women of color. Young people, in general. I want to see them succeed, I want to help guide them, and I want them to have a really healthy view of how to be successful and grow. I want to tell them, ‘Don’t get down on yourself, but don’t take the easy route. Stay focused, learn from your mistakes and just keep moving. It’ll be okay. Don’t take life so seriously. Really try to enjoy every obstacle and every success, because there’s always going to be another day.’ When you ask about specific challenges and obstacles I’ve faced, I don’t remember them. Failures happen every day for me. I learn from them, I figure out what I can do differently, but I don’t hold onto those failures to remember them specifically anymore. That’s what I think I would tell my younger self, ‘You’re not going to remember this. A year from now, five months from now. So learn from it, and keep going.’ I hope my legacy is one that continues to serve the community and instill these truths within the next generation of leaders. It’s all about making sure that at the end of the day, when they are finished, they can say that they grew and developed into their best self while they enjoyed life throughout the process.

Behind-the-scenes at the Lakers practice facility.

As someone who doesn’t hold on too tightly to those tipping points, are there any specific tactics you use to overcome an especially difficult day? What brings you joy outside of work?

Yes. I call it ‘the noise,’ and I try to shut ‘the noise’ out. If my desk is messy, it’s noisy to me. If I’m having a rough day, I’ll stop, sit quietly, close the door, and process—perhaps even pray. I ask myself, honestly, how bad this moment actually is, and then push through. Because tomorrow is another day, and again, I may not remember this stress the following week. So, I just put things in perspective, get the work done, grow, and keep moving. As for what makes me happy, I cannot help but smile when I watch my Maltipoo puppy bounce around at the end of the day. And I’m from New Orleans, so I love good eating and watching the Saints play at game time. Surrounding myself with loved ones, going out dancing, playing sports, those are the simple things that can free the mind and brighten a dark day.

Christina M. Francis

Christina M. Francis

President | Magic Johnson Enterprises

Age
51

Hometown
New Orleans, LA

Residence
Los Angeles

Education
BA, Spanish and Political Science, Xavier University of Lousiana; MBA, University of New Orleans

First Job
IBM Marketing Rep


Magic Johnson Enterprises

Founded
1987

Employees
1000+