Former NBA star views telepresence as magic

NBA legend Magic Johnson says the technology saves his off-the-court business millions

Former pro basketball superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson recently gave a ringing testimonial on the value of high-definition videoconferencing technology to his business and charitable work.

Speaking from Los Angeles on Friday in a live videoconferencing session sponsored by Cisco Systems, Johnson, 49, talked with reporters in New York, Boston and San Jose and said that he has used Cisco's high-end telepresence videoconferencing technology in hundreds of meetings during the past eight months.

Over the coming years, Johnson predicted, telepresence systems will save his various Magic Johnson Enterprises business ventures millions of dollars and millions of worker hours. He said he will calculate the annual savings when he has used the Cisco technologies for a full year.

"I can't measure [the value] now, but yes it has saved us a lot of money, a lot of plane flights and a lot of hotels, and on and on," he said. "I'm very happy and I'm seeing it and feeling it."

The biggest value might be the ways that telepresence and related technologies have improved working conditions for the 45 employees at his Los Angeles headquarters and the many thousands of people employed at partner ventures in 22 states. "We have very happy employees now," he said. "Never underestimate a happy employee."

Magic Johnson Enterprises is focused on a wide array of urban development initiatives, including sports centers, coffee shops and restaurants that Johnson said were hard to find in inner-city neighborhoods until his organization formed partnerships and urged companies to open businesses there. Sales per customer are higher at Starbucks stores where his organization is involved than at an average Starbucks, Johnson said. He also said his organization controls $1 billion in cash that can be used in various investments.

Cisco said the telepresence systems that Magic Johnson Enterprises uses were provided as part of the company's philanthropic outreach programs, but officials would not place a value on the gear.

After eights months of using telepresence systems, Johnson said he has found the technology useful for many types of business meetings and for groups involved with the Magic Johnson Foundation. But he has ruled out using the technology to meet a potential partner for the first time, saying he prefers the initial meeting to be in person. Also, he said he would not use the technology as a venue for disciplining an employee, even though it is high-definition and offers an intimate environment for communication.

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