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John Paul DeJoria: Living The American Dream
John Paul DeJoria, billionaire co-founder of Paul Mitchell hair care products, is known around the world for his philanthropy and humanitarian activities. But DeJoria is even better known as the self-made entrepreneur who exemplifies the American Dream — a man who rose from being broke and homeless, to someone worth $4 billion and ranked #65 on the list of Forbes 400 Richest Americans.
DeJoria was born in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, the second son of an Italian immigrant father and Greek immigrant mother. Echo Park, southeast of Hollywood and just northwest of downtown, is today an upwardly mobile neighborhood that is attracting artists and all sorts of yuppies. In 2008, it was named one of the “Top 10 Great Neighborhoods” The American Planning Association because of its “historic architecture, breathtaking hillside topography and pedestrian-friendly streets.”
When DeJoria was growing up there in the 1940s and ‘50s, no one would have suggested the streets were particularly “pedestrian friendly”. While he was still in school, DeJoria was mixed up with an East L.A. gang, one of the many which ruthlessly rule L.A. streets. And back then, the family had a tough time getting by. While still in grammar school, DeJoria and his brother were up at 3 a.m. every morning, folding and delivering newspapers to help out financially.
But DeJoria points out that they weren’t the only family in trouble, and it didn’t seem like trouble. “We didn’t know that we were really going through tough times because everybody was going through the same thing. I remember once in junior high school, on a Friday, my mom came home from work and said to my brother and I, ‘You know, between us, we have only 27 cents, but we have food in the refrigerator, we have our little garden out back, and we’re happy, so we are rich.’”
This attitude yields valuable insight into how DeJoria, later in life, managed to overcome the many challenges he faced on his road to financial, and personal, success. His optimism that ‘something can be done about it’, that persistence in pursuit of one’s goals will get you through, has been evident in everything he does.
While still in high school, DeJoria enrolled in the U.S. Naval Reserve. After graduation, in 1962, he joined the Navy and planned to attend dental college when he mustered out. He received his honorable discharge two years later, but dental school turned out to be financially impossible. An early marriage soon failed, leaving DeJoria with a young son to support and no viable career in place.
He worked all sorts of odd jobs to get by – one biographic article says he pumped gas, repaired bicycles, worked as a janitor, and sold encyclopedias, photocopying machines, dictating equipment and even life insurance. The skills developed on those sales jobs turned out to be invaluable later on, when he and partner Paul Mitchell came up with a new idea for professional hair care products.
But before that period, DeJoria was still a single father in his early 20s. Too proud to ask family members for help, he was homeless on several occasions, living in his car. He collected bottles and cans to cash in for food. But no matter how tough things got, he says he always managed to keep his head just above water.
The lessons learned in childhood of staying positive and being self-reliant began to pay off.
First, he landed an entry-level marketing job with Time magazine, and before too long was made circulation manager for the L.A. area. Obviously, this man had some smarts and could use them when opportunity came knocking. In 1971, he moved to Redken Laboratories, makers of hair care products for professional salons. He rose through the ranks, but eventually, he says, he was fired over disagreements about certain business strategies.
Through his connections with Redken, DeJoria had met and befriended a leading hair stylist, Paul Mitchell. The British stylist had moved to the U.S. in the late 1960s, where he opened several successful salons. In the mid-70s, Mitchell sold his businesses and moved with his family to Hawaii.
In 1980, DeJoria and his friend Paul Mitchell joined forces and bankrolled a new company, John Paul Mitchell Systems, to manufacture and sell a new idea in professional hair care products. Their investment: a borrowed $750. The now-famous black-and-white “Paul Mitchell” labels on the new sculpting lotions and styling products actually came about because they couldn’t afford color printing.
According to DeJoria, they were lucky to make it through the first year. DeJoria and Mitchell went door-to-door, crisscrossing the country and personally visiting salons. They pitched their new products with an unheard-of sales strategy – free demonstrations that guarantee to sell the product, or they’d take it all back at no cost to the salon. The products were amazing, answered a whole list of stylists’ needs, and the Paul Mitchell brand took off like a rocket.
Paul Mitchell himself became ill with pancreatic cancer a few years later, and died in 1989. His son Angus replaced him as company co-owner, and became DeJoria’s new partner. As of 2011, John Paul Mitchell Systems had revenues of $900 million annually, doing business in more than 45 countries of the world. DeJoria, it should be noted, went on to start, or partner-up in, numerous other business ventures, the most famous of which is Patrón Spirits Company, co-founded in 1989 with partner Martin Crowley. He was a founding partner of the House of Blues nightclub chain (sold to Live Nation for $350 million in 2006), and has interests in Pyrat Rum, Ultimat Vodka, Solar Utility, Sun King Solar, Touchstone Natural Gas, Three Star Energy, Diamond Audio, a Harley Davidson dealership, a diamond company (DeJoria), mobile technology developer ROK AMERICAS and the John Paul Pet company, which does hair and personal grooming for animals.
DeJoria says he is blessed in his personal life, as well as financially. Happily married, he is the father of six, with four grandchildren. And if memories of being homeless should ever arise, DeJoria can comfort himself at one of his homes in Las Vegas, NV, Austin, TX, New York City, Rhode Island, Aspen, CO, two homes on the Big Island of Hawaii, another in Beverly Hills, and a beach home in Malibu, CA.
DeJoria has donated countless millions to charities. He has been a guest at the White House Conference on Philanthropy in Washington, D.C., and has received numerous awards for contributions to such causes as cancer, autism, diabetes, AIDS, leukemia, multiple sclerosis, inner city children’s foundations, animal rescue and ecological organizations – the lists seem endless. He recently provided food, blankets, plows and seeds to save a tribe of 2,000 Native Americans from extinction. There are photos of DeJoria in the media personally blocking club-wielding hunters who bludgeon baby Harp seals to death for their fur. DeJoria, along with Nelson Mandela, Richard Branson and Queen Noor, is a spokesperson for Mine Seekers, the organization devoted to removing land mines in war torn regions. The late Princess Diana was a spokesperson for the group.
DeJoria often repeats a favorite phrase, “Success unshared is failure”. This philosophy nicely sums up his personal record of helping wherever it’s needed. He also likes to say that, “Nothing in life is worth doing unless you’re having fun doing it.”
“I have said many times that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do a lot of the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do,” DeJoria says. “When the door is slammed in your face 10 times, you go to door number 11 with just as much enthusiasm.”
Here at Novus Medical Detox Center, we are devoted to helping our clients maintain the strength of purpose to “go to door number 11” when it’s needed. Getting through detox and overcoming substance abuse is no fun, but it’s what must be done to get back the kind of life where fun is possible again.
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