You recognize him from his brands that are as unique as his persona. But do you really know what makes billionaire entrepreneur and philanthropist John Paul DeJoria tick from all he has accomplished? Here, Lance Avery Morgan shares a close-up and personal look at the mogul’s approach to his wildly successful life.
[Author’s note: I have enjoyed knowing John Paul DeJoria, his wife Eloise and their family for two decades. He’s been both a friend and mentor and only one of several Horatio Alger Award recipients I have known in my career. That award represents the eponymous author’s approach to living a life of good work while honoring the achievements of outstanding individuals in our society who have succeeded in spite of adversity. Not only is DeJoria a recipient of the esteemed award, but also he is right out of Central Casting for what it represents.]
His signature ponytail, sleek all-black attire and cool essence doesn’t typify the average billionaire. Which is exactly how John Paul DeJoria, who is not your average billionaire, likes it. Even though he’s ranked as #104 in the Forbes 400 billionaire list, and his net worth estimated hovers at $4 billion, he’s publicly stated that he will give away half his fortune in his lifetime in the Giving Pledge along with Warren Buffet, Bill Gates, Ted Turner, and other pals. “If you have a lot and you take care of your family and a few generations to follow, and there is plenty left, why not take care of others on the way and make the world a better place because you were here?” says John Paul DeJoria. Philanthropy is very important to him.
He’s given back his entire life and in 2010 created the Peace Love & Happiness Foundation. It invests in charities that support sustainability, social responsibility, and animal-friendliness with an annual motorcycle ride to raise money for a local children’s shelter and families of police officers and firefighters killed on duty. Then there are his initiatives with Nelson Mandela in 2010 by traveling to sub-Saharan Africa to help feed over 17,000 orphaned children, and in that same year his company Paul Mitchell helped provide over 400,000 life-saving meals for the children. He has also supported Grow Appalachia, a movement that helps restore the relationship between people and the land with non-profit gardens out of Kentucky.
His laundry list of professional and humanitarian efforts in mind, it’s still easy to remember that he’s a normal guy from very humble circumstances, who just happens to be a very high performer. His well-reported achievement theory that he shares is simple: success unshared is failure, which is rooted in his upbringing.
Hard Knocks, Big Payoff
A hard knock life is what John Paul DeJoria was born into, yet he turned it around to represent the hard knocking that he would do on doors that began his successful path to riches and fame, while along the way making the planet a better place through his efforts.
Born on the mean streets of a pan-ethnic east side Los Angeles neighborhood months before D-Day 1944, he and his brother were raised by their single mother when his parents divorced at the age of two (he refers to his mother as his mentor with how she operated her life). “We didn’t know we didn’t have anything, and we had nothing, yet we were happy because we didn’t know any better,” he recalls. He soon learned to make things happen for himself and he began selling Christmas cards at nine, which progressed to selling newspapers. You can tell much about a person when you learn what their first job was. For DeJoria it was a telling set of experiences.
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, “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, he left due to a disagreement with the company on business strategies, and lived in Austin for two years in the 1970s selling the shampoo from his trunk to salons. Tough times followed and he 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,” acknowledges DeJoria.
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 and his model/actress wife Eloise has also 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, and the empire 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. Instead of the company going public, it remains the largest privately held beauty company in the world.
Part of DeJoria’s success is hiring people who can do more than their own job. He also 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, our people 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. Co-founding Patron Tequila in 1989 (he now owns 70) 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 and he was an original investor in the House of Blues restaurant and club venue chain
He invests in what he believes in, plain and simple. Which is why he founded ROK Mobile that launched this summer. DeJoria believes that everyone should have a competitive rate for phone service with access to 10 million songs. At $49 a month, for unlimited data, with no contract, it is a deal that is tough to beat. Obviously DeJoria believes in the future of how smart phones will become a larger part of our lives. As he says, “We’re partnering with the biggest music companies like Sony, Universal, EMI and other two major phone companies, T-Mobile and Sprint. It’s going to revolutionize, I believe, how mobile phones are used.” Usually, DeJoria isn’t wrong with the business endeavors he undertakes. After all, he is in the business of taking care of people who take care of themselves.
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 say do it cause I want you them to do something your kids resent you. 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.