Every moment spent with John Paul DeJoria is like a masterclass in both business and philanthropy. Here’s Part 2 of Lance Avery Morgan’s insider close-up with the spirits and beauty tycoon on how his early years affected his dynamic future.
After graduating high school where he was in a street gang, then enlisting a four-year stint in the armed forces, DeJoria knew his future would lay in his sales talents. “One thing about the Navy is that it shows you how we ordinary people can work together as a team and achieve extraordinary results, so I credit that a lot with how I work with people,” he says. It also reflects the kind of person he likes to have on his team in his companies, saying, “Those who are enthusiastic about everything they do, and that what they say is positive, is very important.” His personality has driven his fortune and for anyone who knows DeJoria, his positive attitude permeates every room he enters and informs his entire theory to success, which came in handy as the rollercoaster ride of his life ensued.
School Of Life
Working for Redken haircare products he lived in Austin for two years in the 1970s selling the shampoo from his trunk to salons, and then left due to a disagreement with the company on its business strategies. As with any Hollywood-esque rags-to-riches story, tough times followed and DeJoria was briefly homeless. “When you’re so down and out you either stay there and say ‘oh poor me’ or immediately say ‘what do I do to get out of it?’ Then, you immediately start doing whatever you have to do to get out of it,” he acknowledges.
Feeling he could create a better hair product with his friend, hairdresser John Paul Mitchell, they created John Paul Mitchell Systems hair care in 1980 with a loan of $700. He became the face of the brand in ads and TV commercials in the 1980s as well as his model/actress wife Eloise, and together they been the face of the brand in campaigns shot by pop culture reflectors Annie Leibovitz and Norman Jean Roy. The company’s sleek black and white product packaging, rare in the neon-laden Reagan years, was based purely on budget limitation, not the cool factor of less is more. The reason? It was simply cheaper to produce and stood out more on shelves across the world. Shrewd business decisions like that have helped an empire that has come to represent 100 products in over 87 countries, along with over 100 Paul Mitchell schools for hairdressers. That era of big hair created even bigger fortunes for the company and DeJoria, who bought out his partner, Mitchell, when he became ill in 1988 and died in 1989. Instead of the company going public, it remains the largest privately held beauty company in the world.
Also, part of DeJoria’s success is hiring people who can do more than their own job. He admits the presidents of his companies are, in his words, “much smarter than I am.” He continues, “When we started Paul Mitchell, six months into the business, we could only hire one person. That person, Shirley Waugh, became the receptionist, the bookkeeper, the shipper, and the order taker… she did everything so I could get out in the field. She did ten jobs. So, as we hired, we looked for people who had the ability to do more than just one thing. And the result is, we have never laid anybody off in our history.” That is a business feat that would surely qualify to be listed in the Guinness World Book of Records and DeJoria reveals, “Our turnover, due to employees’ life changes, has been less than fifty people in thirty-four years. Less than fifty people,” he restates. “We treat our people the way we would want to be treated. And that’s very important.” Another secret he confides about his success is straightforward advice, “Do your job the way you would do it if the person who owns the company was watching you every minute, but there’s nobody around.”
From the go-go 80s the mogul would climb toward wider success – and recognition. Proving that his success wasn’t limited to the beauty realm, he co-founded Patron Tequila in 1989 (he now owns 70 percent) it has grown to where almost three million cases are sold a year, practically revolutionizing the spirits industry for luxury brands. The company also offers Ultimat Vodka and Pyrat Rum. Then there’s John Paul Pet, conflict-free DeJoria Diamonds, water companies, breweries in Germany, he was an original investor in the House of Blues restaurant and club venue chain and he co-founded ROK Mobile.
Naturally, he and his wife, Eloise strongly believe in family and take pride in their children and how they have raised them. Most of their children are in the family business and his insight about raising his youngest son, teen-aged John Anthony, is timely. “Today is so different from years ago when parents said ‘do it this way’ and you did everything they said,” he recounts. “It’s just not that way anymore. Kids are too smart. My son is too smart. If you want them to do something and if you tell them ‘do it because I want you to do something’ then your kids resent you. I feel that if you ask your kids to do something, let them know why you’re doing it that way. If they say that isn’t the right way to do it, at least listen to them,” DeJoria offers on stewarding the next generation for success, as it learns from the master himself on becoming self-reliant stewards of the globe. As Josh Tickell of Good Fortune shares, “JP isn’t just the subject of our movie, he’s also a role model for us.”