Doug Robinson: From the Mailman to a businessman, Karl Malone still delivers the goods
"Larry and I talked about everything," says Malone. "One of the things he told me is to have a passion for whatever you do, not doing business just to do it. You do it to make a profit. You've got to ask questions."
He has only a couple of close, longtime trusted associates — Ariotti and Andy Madsen — to help him oversee Malone Properties. "You get in trouble when you let a lot of people close to you," Malone explains. He sounds a lot like Miller when he says, "I've made my share of mistakes. You've got to learn from them. I try to get the right people and then let them do their jobs. And when I ask questions, they give me answers."
Ariotti is vice president of Malone Properties charged with running the day-to-day operations of everything but the automobile businesses, and Madsen manages the auto enterprises.
"As hard as Karl worked on the basketball court, he works just as hard at his other passions and that includes business," says Ariotti. "He learned as he grew up, and Larry (Miller) taught him a whole lot. Karl's got his own shrewd business sense. He likes to find other ways to do things and employ people."
Before going to work for Malone, Ariotti worked security at concerts "because I loved music and doing security work allowed me to see whomever while getting paid." He struck up a friendship with Malone while doing security work at the Salt Palace.
"I'm real low key, but Karl and I talk everyday," he says.
Madsen was working in Miller's Toyota store in Murray when Karl entered the car business. The way Malone tells it, Miller repeatedly coaxed him to do a joint venture in a car dealership, but Malone ignored him.
Miller finally got Malone's attention by throwing a bucket of cold water on Malone as he showered following a Jazz game. A few days later they bought a dealership in Albuquerque and sent Madsen there to manage it. In 2010, Malone traded his equity in the store to take full ownership of Karl Malone Toyota in Salt Lake City and brought back Madsen to run it and serve as chief operating officer of his car businesses.
"Karl and Larry influenced each other a lot," says Madsen. "Karl is a very good businessman, and Larry was a genius. Karl definitely makes good decisions. He has made it through a tough recession and molded his ideas. He always remembers where he came from … a single mom raising a bunch of kids on a hairdresser's salary."
Malone, who was a passive owner in the car business until he retired from basketball, has added some unique touches to his car dealership, including a 100-foot high sign with three 20-foot Jumbotron screens to communicate with passers-by on the freeway, and a museum on the second floor that supposedly includes the only complete collection of jerseys and shoes worn by the Dream Teams of 1992 and 1996, all of them autographed.
"Our guys enjoy it when Karl comes to town," says Madsen. "We call him Disneyland Dad. He's out there having fun and doing nice things for our employees. He talks to them about their families and their lives and helps them with things. One Christmas Eve he showed up and gave $500 to everyone in our group. He goes in the back and visits with the techs. He goes out and closes deals with customers. He has fun."
Malone flies to Salt Lake City a couple of times a month to check on his businesses and, lately, to do his radio show. He hosts "Through My Eyes" every Wednesday afternoon on ESPN 700. Remember how Malone's interviews during his playing days were streams of consciousness? This is much the same.
"The neat thing about this is I talk about everything, not just sports," Malone says of his new radio gig.
That includes politics, coyotes, deer, fish and game issues, wrestling, whaling. His guests have included fish and game officials, his kids, wrestlers Bill Goldberg and Rulon Gardner, and an Alaskan whaler. He talks about anything that pops into his head — fishing, hunting, border patrols, military, police issues, Bryce Harper, hockey, his favorite hockey players.
"We didn't do the show to talk about sports," Malone says. "It's what I want to talk about. Really, it's what I feel. We discuss all kinds of things."
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