Video by Max Whittle
LONDON — It’s 8:30 a.m. Saturday when Shad Khan saunters onto the deck of Kismet, his superyacht, for a morning yoga session. He looks as if he’s just woken up, his hair tussled and messy, his eyes glazed. Khan had hosted a party at a club the night before that lasted until 1 a.m. “If anybody left sober, hey, it was their bad judgment,” he says.
Khan begins to stretch, as Leanne, one of the yacht’s yoga instructors, lights an incense stick. They decide they’re going to do the Sun Salutation, one of the more basic yoga routines. “Make it hard,” Khan asks politely, and Leanne starts walking him through the poses—Downward Dog, Swan Dive, Warrior One. Khan takes deep breaths as he contorts himself. He closes his eyes and tries to meditate, even though he’s surrounded by sounds of the city, cranes and machinery clanging in the distance. The yacht is docked on the Thames, in Canary Wharf, near the East London financial district, which is fitting, considering the boat’s owner.
In the 1970s, Khan developed a new bumper that revolutionized the auto industry. He then bought Flex-N-Gate, an auto parts manufacturer, and turned it into a billion-dollar business. His net worth is now $7.1 billion, which makes him, according to Forbes, the 72nd richest American. He used that wealth to buy two sports teams—the Jacksonville Jaguars and London soccer club Fulham FC—and that’s what’s brought him to town. The Jaguars are playing here on Sunday, in what will be their fifth annual trip to London. Khan agreed to allow The MMQB shadow him this weekend, as part of our “24 Hours” series, as he takes in the festivities.
After 10 minutes, Leanne increases the difficulty, as Khan requested. His breathing is getting labored, his face red and strained. He’s on the mat on all fours, his posterior in the air, with Leann in his ear: “Push your bum right up into the sky!” Then Khan brings his right leg forward and slowly begins to rise with his hands up as if he were signaling a touchdown. “Reach! Reach! Reach! … Beautiful.” Now the finale. Khan stands up, leans back, with his hands high above his head, and then brings them down, clasped as in prayer, his eyes closed. He shakes his head and exhales. “Focus on our intention for the day,” Leanne says to him. “Whatever that may be. It could be anything or nothing—as long you’re happy with it.”
Some people wonder about Khan’s long-term intentions, if maybe he’s planning to move the Jaguars to London full-time someday. The thought alone makes Jaguars fans and the entire city of Jacksonville nervous. His intentions for the day are more or less clear: He’ll host a party on his yacht, mingle with countless business associates and check in on his soccer team. What he doesn’t know yet is that the following day he’ll have a PR crisis on his hands, with the U.S. President making inflammatory remarks toward NFL players, and he’ll join the team in a demonstration during the national anthem. It’ll be an eventful weekend.
But for now, briefly, the city sounds stop, and Khan finds a moment of peace.
Saturday, 10:17 a.m.
28:13 hours until the anthem
After the yoga session, Khan retreats to the Kismet’s gym and spends 30 minutes on the elliptical, 10 in the sauna, and the rest getting ready for the brunch party he’s hosting on his yacht this morning, the third party he’s hosting in three days. Khan emerges from his bedroom looking more put together now. He’s dressed in a black striped shirt and black slacks, his mustache is curled so it’s pointing upward at the ends, and his hair is slicked back.
Khan had just gotten a haircut the previous week; the new look caught the yacht’s work staff by surprise. After he bought the Jaguars’ in 2012, for an estimated $760 million, he’d decided to let his hair grow out. At its longest it went well down his back. It was his own way of rebelling: He had had long hair in college and had cut it to look more professional in the business world. When he bought the Jags, “I said, you know what? I’m at a stage in life where I don’t care,” Khan says. “How many guys at this stage in life have long hair?”
Khan already stood out among his peers. He had just become the first non-white owner in NFL history. He was a Muslim who was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States as a teenager to study engineering at the University of Illinois. One of his first jobs in the States was as a dishwasher. He had quite the backstory. The hair only made him stand out more.
His wife, Ann, his college sweetheart, had made him cut it. But he kept his signature mustache. It’s kind of a family tradition; his father and his grandfather both had one. He points out that Pakistani men typically wear mustaches, and maybe this is one way Khan stays connected to his roots, to his family, to his past. He started growing his in 1972, when he was 22, and he hasn’t gone without it since. He’s so protective of it that he grooms it himself. “I couldn’t recognize myself today without a mustache,” Khan says. “That’s the mojo.”
27:57 hours until the anthem
Down on the dock, buses carrying about 175 party guests arrive. As they approach, they stop and gawk at the boat. The first thing they notice is the 13-foot silver Jaguar statue at the helm. The second thing is its sheer size. The Kismet has five decks and is 312 feet long, the length of a football field, making it the 44th largest yacht in the world. Khan paid Lürssen, the German shipbuilding company, about $200 million to build it.
The guests eventually form a line on the dock and enter a white tent, where they check their shoes and are given a pair of white slippers, apparently normal procedure to protect the yacht’s silk carpets. Guests filing on board are greeted by a staffer playing classical music on a piano in the foyer. Other staffers are standing by to give guided tours. They walk people through Khan’s bedroom and point out its features, as if this were a museum.
The Kismet, to be fair, may be nicer than some museums. The boat has three full bars; two hot tubs; a swimming pool; an exercise room; a barbershop; a full spa complete with a sauna, a steam room and massage table; two helipads; an 18-person dining room table; a sundeck; a band stage; and a four-story elevator. If the mood should strike, the mast can also be converted into a basketball hoop. The 3-point lines are already drawn on the deck, and the staff can set up netting to prevent an errant jump shot from bouncing into the sea.
Anyone can rent the Kismet, and take it anywhere they want, for $1.2 million a week. “Plus expenses,” notes Olav Hinke, one of boat’s captains. That’ll all cover the ship’s 28-person full-time staff, including three chefs, who are there at your beck and call. Bill Gates took the Kismet to Cabo once.
Khan uses the yacht for pleasure, sure, but he also uses it to host business partners and potential new clients, especially those he wouldn’t normally meet in Jacksonville. On Thursday night he hosted a party on the yacht on behalf of the NFL, a celebration kicking off the league’s slate of London games. There were British dignitaries, business people and celebrities in attendance, and Jamie Callum, an English jazz-pop singer, performed.
Here now, for brunch, Khan is hosting a party for Jacksonville movers and shakers, everyone from team employees to city officials to corporate partners. “Once a year, this is a chance for us to make a make a good impression and show our appreciation to our sponsors,” Khan says. “We have a number of prospects here, too, and they need to see a certain standard. It’s got to be a unique experience. Like, hey, this is how we roll.”
27:16 hours until the anthem
Khan grabs a cup of coffee and circles the room, mingling with his guests. People are helping themselves to the “Mimosa Bar,” the “Blood Mary Bar” and the vast assortment of food options. There’s a smoothie station and a pancake station, with nine topping choices and syrups. Servers come by passing out bowls of smoked salmon mac and cheese, bowls of beef with poached egg, bowls of spiced poached plums and French toast.
Lenny Curry, the mayor of Jacksonville, is in the corner chatting with his wife and holding a Bloody Mary. He’s heard the speculation that Khan may move the Jaguars to London someday, and he’s not worried. “Shad loves Jacksonville,” Curry says. “What he says in public is what he says in private. He brags on the city. He loves the people there. He sees the potential.”