Cisco Network Setup Scores for 'Magic' Johnson

November 17, 2008

David Needle

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Magic Johnson and Cisco
Magic Johnson discusses his company's use of unified communications tools during a Cisco TelePresence meeting with the press.
Click to enlarge. Source: Cisco
The right and wrong time for video

Being able to better manage his holdings is one key reason Johnson moved so quickly to integrate videoconferencing into MJE's operations. For instance, Johnson said he was particularly happy to be able to conduct business from his home, first thing in the morning, via videoconferencing.

But that's not to say he's ready to move to video for all of his business dealings.

"When you have an initial meeting with a company, you have to do it in person to get the deal done," he said. "That's how you get a better feel for the company. The follow-up meetings, now you don't have to get on a plane anymore."

He also said he would never fire an employee in a video meeting and any disciplinary action by him or his regional managers should be done in person.

"Unless it's a crisis," he said. "I haven't had to use it in that regard."

How "Magic" of an endorsement?

Cisco wouldn't say how much, if anything, MJE spent on the setup. A spokesperson would only say the deal was part of Cisco's larger partnership with the NBA, to which it's a technology supplier. It's also not saying whether Johnson had been compensated for his appearance on Cisco's behalf.

The company issued a press release today touting its relationship with Johnson and MJE, but it also did not confirm whether the basketball great would appear in ads or do other promotional work for the company, nor whether MJE expects to continue investing in its unified communications infrastructure.

The statement did say the two plan to continue working together "to further transform the company's small business operations."

Just how effective Magic Johnson would be as a technology pitchman isn't clear.

"I would imagine the results would be mixed," Phil Taylor, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, told InternetNews.com. "People's tastes in some areas are influenced by athletes, but I'm not sure when it comes to their business, they have a great deal of faith in someone who isn't as well known in that field.

Martin Reynolds, an analyst with Gartner, agreed that small-business owners are looking for proven solutions rather than flashy endorsements.

"What SMB's need is stuff that works," Gartner analyst Martin Reynolds told InternetNews.com. "A Magic Johnson might get their attention, but then it's up to Cisco and its channel partners to show there's a real value to them."

Still, Taylor added that Johnson's growing businesses do make for a compelling story.

"He's one of the few pro athletes that was serious about becoming a businessman when he retired," Taylor said. "Most of them buy into a restaurant or something, but he's become a real business mogul."

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