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Doug Robinson: From the Mailman to a businessman, Karl Malone still delivers the goods

Published: Tuesday, June 26 2012 8:58 p.m. MDT

Former NBA player Karl Malone does his radio show at ESPN 700 studios Wednesday, June 20, 2012.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Should we be surprised that Karl Malone, who once aspired to be a cop and a bodybuilder and governor and a hunting guide and a long-haul trucker and a radio personality and a pitchman and an actor and a pilot and a car salesman and a pro wrestler — and tried almost all of them while starring as a power forward for the Utah Jazz — has remade himself into a successful entrepreneur? Years ago, his late brother once told Malone, "If I had your money, I wouldn't do anything."

Instead, Malone does everything. Life is one big sampler box for The Mailman. Malone is still doing many of the things he dabbled with as a player except now they are connected to his growing collection of businesses, which focus largely on commercial development, restaurants and timberland operations, all under the umbrella of Malone Properties.

Are you sitting down? Malone will turn 50 next year and has been retired from basketball since 2004, but he's not exactly spending his retirement years on the golf course or lounging by the pool. If you ask him how he occupies his time these days, you'd better take a seat. This is going to take a while.

A list of Malone's businesses and properties:

A Texaco/Arby's in Ruston.

A Teriyaki Grill franchise in Ruston, purchased from founder Mike Keim, a Draper resident and former BYU/NFL football player.

A 230-acre cattle ranch.

Three Jiffy Lube franchises in Utah.

Two Burger King franchises (part owner), one in Utah, one in Idaho.

Karl Malone Used Car Outlet in Sandy, which includes 22 acres.

Karl Malone Toyota in Draper, which is undergoing a major expansion.

M&M Automotive, an accessories shop located in his used-car store in Sandy.

A body shop/collision center, which is being constructed adjacent to his car dealership.

Two condos at Green Valley Resort in St. George.

A "few thousand acres" of Louisiana timberland property, which he continues to acquire. He harvests trees on the property. He also owns the oil, gas and mineral rights. (Malone said he had spent the previous two days hauling timber with his truck. "He loves trucking," says one associate. "That's his way to do something he loves. He's in the truck by himself. It gives him time to think.")

A commercial development business whose current project is a 37-acre outdoor mall in Ruston — North Village Plaza. It includes "pad sites, restaurants, in-line retail and big box stores." Malone is selling sites to retail stores and businesses. He also built a 12,000-square-foot retail building on the property that he is trying to lease to as many as six businesses.

A deer-raising venture. For years Malone has raised white-tail and axis deer on 300 acres of fenced property. "It's fun to ride around with him looking at the deer," says friend and business partner Rob Ariotti. "He loves to watch these deer grow. He's not all hunter." Hold that thought because …

Malone recently created Malone Outfitters. As a licensed guide, he will take clients hunting on his deer property. He will guide his first hunt this year.

If that isn't enough, Malone says he is negotiating an outdoor show with a couple of TV networks — he says he can't say any more about it except, "I'm working on something pretty big" — and recently signed on as a radio host with ESPN 700 in Salt Lake City, but more on that later.

Malone peppers his conversation with talk of appreciating and depreciating assets, working capital and long-term value. He says he learned about business from Larry Miller, the late entrepreneur, car dealer and owner of the Jazz.

"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."

Why anyone would be interested in what Malone has to say about things beyond basketball is a question for potential listeners and the curious to consider. But if you're willing to listen, he's willing to talk, and he's got the forum to do it, such being the power of celebrity. He begins one show by saying, "We all over the board. We just gonna let it ride."

Malone approached the local ESPN affiliate about the show and signed on for a year with no pay (and Larry Miller just groaned). Maybe you'll recall that in 1998, Malone did a regular radio show in Los Angeles and was wounded that nobody from Salt Lake City had asked him to do the same thing.

At the time he said, "I've been in Utah 13 years, (and) these people (in L.A.) are the first to ever say, 'You want to do this with us?' They stepped up to the plate."

Now, 14 years later, he has his show in Salt Lake City. Malone, who lives in Ruston, La., does some of the shows from his home while Bill Riley and Hans Olsen co-host from Salt Lake City, but he also frequently does the show from the Salt Lake studio.

In case you're wondering, Malone, only 10 pounds over his playing weight, still looks like he could suit up for the Jazz. He begins most days with two hours of weight lifting, combined with cardio exercise — biking, Stairmaster, or elliptical — in his home gym.

"That's when I do my best thinking is when I'm training," he says. "I can really focus."

He spends the rest of the day checking on his various business enterprises, either by phone or in person.

"Yeah, my brother told me he wouldn't do anything if he had my money, but you'd be broke if you did that," says Malone. "You have to make your money work for you. You can't just put it in the bank. That doesn't work anymore."

Sounds like a topic for another radio show.

Keeping busy

Karl Malone has become a successful entrepreneur since retiring from professional basketball. A list of Malone's businesses and properties:

Full or part ownership in four restaurants, in Louisiana, Idaho and Utah.

A new-car dealership in Draper.

A used-car dealership in Sandy.

A car accessories business in Sandy.

A body shop and collision center, now under construction in Draper.

Three oil change-service stores.

A cattle ranch in Louisiana.

Two condos at Green Valley Resort in St. George.

A "few thousand acres" of Louisiana property, which he uses for a tree-harvesting business as well as mineral rights.

A commercial development business, currently focused primarily on developing a large mall in Ruston, La.

A 12,000-square foot building in the aforementioned mall, which Malone is trying to fill with retail stores

A deer-raising venture.

A hunting guide business.

email: drob@desnews.com

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