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Fast and Furious with Finesse

Keyshawn Johnson, once one of the NFL's premier wide receivers, has moved on with a flourish to his next life as a broadcaster and businessman.
Marshall Fine
From the Print Edition:
Arnon Milchan, September/October 2008

It's a typical day at the office for Keyshawn Johnson—which means he's behind the wheel of his gunmetal Porsche Cayenne Turbo SUV, hurtling west on Los Angeles's Ventura Freeway, alternately talking and text-messaging on the Blackberry that's never far from his hand.

"My car, my cell phone—that's my office," he says, shifting lanes with the panache that marked his moves on the football field in college and the National Football League. He pauses to ponder and says, "Really, do you need an office—or do you just need storage?"

He's on his way to the Panera Bread franchise that his holding company, First Picks Management, runs in Thousand Oaks. There, Johnson, the CEO, will have a few words with Glenn Mah, the chief operating officer of the company, which owns franchise rights to Panera for California's Central Coast from Westlake Village to San Luis Obispo (First Pick has three stores open, with another nine in development). "I'm more the finance guy and the real estate guy," Johnson says. "[Mah does] the day-to-day operations."

Johnson will then take a spin by the 15,000-square-foot house he's building in a gated community in Calabasas (home to comedian D. L. Hughley and Los Angeles Dodgers center fielder Andruw Jones, among others) to check on construction progress. Afterward he'll head home, a condo where Beverly Hills meets Westwood that he shares with two dogs (a Vizsla named Charlotte and a Shih Tzu named Gizmo) and his two kids, Maia, 12, and Keyshawn, 9, who spend every other weekend with him and live with his ex-wife.

As he drives, texts and talks, the Cayenne whizzes by a glass-skinned office building hunkered into the hillside somewhere near Calabasas. "Now that's a building I'd like to buy," Johnson, 36, says, craning his neck to get a look. "What I want is a cute little eight-story building that we can manage and take care of and have our offices there."

He catches a seam in traffic and gets loose in the open field—a solid half mile of a freeway lane with no cars in front of him. When his passenger observes that Johnson drives the same way he ran with the football, Johnson grins and says, "Fast?"

Well, yes—but also with an aggressive finesse that reflects the confidence that Johnson brings to every endeavor in his life. Whether it's football, broadcasting or business, Johnson makes no room for even the thought of failure. That was true when he played wide receiver for the University of Southern California—and when the New York Jets made him the NFL's No. 1 draft pick in 1996. It's also true as he glides through the transition to his post-NFL career, after retiring before the start of the 2007 NFL season.

"If someone had said to me, 'Hey, we want you to run up and down a football field for 11 years and get hit upside the head a few times—but then you'll have all this when you're 35,' I wouldn't have thought twice about it," Johnson says. "For me, football was a great jump start to catapult me into another arena of life."

"Keyshawn always had a vision of what was next," says John Robinson, who coached Johnson at USC, when the Trojans won the Cotton Bowl and the Rose Bowl. "He's always two or three years ahead in his mind. He's probably got the next 10 years mapped out."

Adds Jerome Stanley, his longtime agent, "It was always in his mind to have a big post-athletic career."

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