It's a Guy Thing


John Paul Jones DeJoria 

The story of the American Dream is often told through fictional stories, a romanticized ideal that anyone can make it in the land of the free. There are multiple books written about this ideal, movies squarely based around characters gunning for that dream, yet one person that has fully experienced the ups and downs of living the American Dream is John Paul DeJoria. A man who was twice homeless and went on to become a multi-billionaire, a man who suffered loss and utilized that pain and turned it into success. Much like the storybooks and movies based on the American Dream, it’s the journey that is the most fascinating and the story of a once-homeless single father becoming a world-renowned entrepreneur and philanthropist is what makes John Paul DeJoria a true trailblazer.

A Dime A Dozen

John Paul Jones DeJoria was born the second son of an Italian immigrant father and a Greek immigrant mother on April 13, 1944 in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. By the time he was 2 years old, his parents got divorced and the financial and emotional pressure of raising fell squarely on his mother. Yet it was at that early age where his mother instilled the now-famous ethos of “Success Unshared is Failure” when John Paul and his brother learned a valuable lesson. In a recent CNBC interview John Paul tells the story “When I was a little boy around six years old, we didn’t have any money. It was my mother, my brother and I and we would go to downtown Los Angeles – they had streetcars at the time – on a streetcar. And one time at Christmas, my mom gave us a dime and told my brother to hold half the dime each and walk over to that person with the bucket ringing the bell and put the dime in. So we held it half each, walked over and popped the dime in. And then, uh, we said to mom, “Mom, that’s a lot of money.” And it was in those days. Ten cents. That could buy, you know, three donuts in those days. It could buy so much stuff. She says, and I said, “Mom, don’t we need that money?” She says, “Yes, we do. But that person needs it more than we do because they represent a lot of people that are worse off than we are. And just remember this, boys. That in life, there will always be people that are worse off than you. So no matter what you have, try and share a little bit with people.” Well, that’s always stuck with me. Success unshared is failure.”

However, success would still be a long way off for the young boy from California as the financial pressures on his single mother became too much and she had to send her two boys off to East Los Angeles to live in a foster home. As with most foster home children from that time, DeJoria got involved in street gang activity during his high school years and was heading down a much darker path. Fortunately, DeJoria saw the error of his ways when a math teacher he greatly respected approached him and warned him that he would never succeed at anything in life if he continued on this journey. DeJoria listened and cleaned up his act. Graduating from high school in 1962 and with no real life goals , a 17-year-old DeJoria joined the United States Navy on the USS Hornet and served for two years. In 1964 he returned to civilian life but without the required funds to attend college he had to revert to various odds jobs to make ends meet. From caretaker to insurance salesman, to door-to-door shampoo salesman. In that time DeJoria married and had a son of his own but in 1966 his wife left him and their two-year-old son. She took all the money they had, as well as the only car they owned. As a result, DeJoria couldn’t pay rent on his apartment, and was forced to vacate it and live on the street with his infant son. What to many may seem like a down and out situation, DeJoria reflects back on as something that shaped him into the man he is today and in a very candid interview with CNBC he reflects on his past struggles.

“Well, it’s not that often these days that I run across someone who doesn’t know a little bit about my background. But when I do and they say, “You were actually living in your car? You were homeless on two occasions? Even collecting soda pop bottles so you and your two-and-a-half-year-old son at the time could live?” I said, “Yes, I did.” And it shows you that you could do whatever you have to do in life – don’t have to steal from anybody, don’t have to knock anybody over the head, you could do whatever you have to in life to make it happen and along the way, if you don’t give up, things will get better. And at your very, very bottom, the only place you can go is up anyways.” 

A Time for Change

Fast forward a few years later and a 26-year-old DeJoria now had a steady job at Time Inc working as a circulations manager for the Lifetime, Fortune and Sports Illustrated divisions, yet DeJoria felt it was a dead-end job and soon resigned from the position. A good friend suggested to him to perhaps make the leap over to the professional beauty industry, an industry many considered to be quite open at the time. DeJoria flourished in this new environment and quickly moved up from a sales representative to the national manager of two divisions, the Scientific Schools and Jane Salons. A year later DeJoria would be at a large convention in Florida when he was introduced to Paul Mitchell, who at the time was a flourishing hairdresser. The two hit it off immediately and nine years later the two, tired of irking their way in various jobs, decided to launch their own company, John Paul Mitchell Systems. Of course neither of them had any start-up capital and when their financial backer pulled out things looked bleak. In the now-famous CNBC interview, DeJoria fondly looks back at the humble beginnings of the now multi-billion-dollar company. 

“Well, we had a backer for five hundred thousand dollars to start John Paul Mitchell Systems but our backer pulled out in 1980 because our hostages were still in Iran, oil was through the ceiling, unemployment in the United States was over ten percent. Inflation was twelve percent and interest rates were twenty percent. He said, “Nope, can’t go into any new business.” Paul was in Los Angeles at the time. I had everything all set up. I said, “Paul, how much do you have?” He says, “I don’t have a lot. I can spare three hundred and fifty dollars.” I got three hundred and fifty dollars. That was seven hundred dollars. The first thing we had to do was to go to our, uh, artist who did our artwork and say, “Hey, your artwork, these three products. Our first three products are a thousand dollars. We only have seven hundred dollars, that’s it. Can we give you three or four hundred [CHUCKLES] and give you the rest later?” He says, “Nope. Your bill’s a thousand dollars, but I’ll take the seven hundred dollars from you right now cause I’ll never see another penny.” He took the seven hundred dollars, so when I called the bottle man and the silk screener, we had no money. But I did have a thirty-day credit line set up. So it took two weeks from the time the bottles left the bottle company to the silk screener to the filling company, and then we had a product. I went knocking on doors, visiting beauty salons and going door-to-door selling our product and Paul did the same thing off the stage when he did beauty shows. And we kind of worked together at the grassroots level. Finally when the bill was due – the first bill was due in two weeks. We didn’t have enough to pay the bill, so it was, “The check’s in the mail.” Two days later, we had just enough to pay the bill and we ran behind for two years. We knew we made it at John Paul Mitchell Systems two years after we were in business. And that’s because after two years, we had enough money to pay our bill on time. Not pay it off, but pay all of our bills on time and have an extra couple thousand dollars in the bank. Then we knew we really made it.”

Tragedy and Tequila

With John Paul Mitchel Systems steadily growing into a professional beauty powerhouse, tragedy struck in 1989 as DeJoria’s business partner, co-founder and friend Paul Mitchell sadly lost his battle with cancer leaving DeJoria as the sole owner of the booming business. It was emotionally tough on DeJoria, but once again the man who used to sell pop caps to support himself and his infant son, he soldiered on to make sure that the company grew even more in the memory of his dear friend. Yet his next business venture would not be in the beauty industry but instead his focus would turn to tequila.

“In 1989, I was with a friend of mine – Martin. And we were sipping the normal tequilas of the day. And we decided there had to be a better tequila because you have to hold your breath with most of them or mix them with something or just do a shot and go [SIGHS]. We were in the architectural business – so on his next buying trip down to Mexico to buy pavers and furniture to sell the architects, he went down there with my builder Jack who was building a house for me at the time, and came back with these two great bottles of tequila. They were really good. Smoother than anything we tasted. He said, “You know, JP? I could go down there and change this formula to be even smoother. And by the way, look at this great bottle I found down there. And I can make a great label.” Martin was a fabulous designer so he did it and I said, “Well, let’s go and make an ecological product.” He said, “JP? How about recycled bottles?” So we came up with a product where every single bottle was recycled of Patrone. All the paper and cardboard used was recycled. And what we would do with our product line is present it and introduce it. But it was very expensive to make. We introduced it in 1989 at thirty-seven dollars a bottle. Very expensive. Normal tequila was ten dollars a bottle, five dollars a bottle. And it took a while to take off. And my feeling was this – it was so good that if we didn’t sell one bottle and I bought one thousand cases, twelve thousand bottles. If we didn’t sell one bottle for the next ten years, everybody I knew – Christmas – anything. You had a holiday, you got a bottle of Patrone. Christening for a child, whatever it was, you know, “Happy Birthday, here’s Patrone” because I would be proud of it.”

The expensive tequila brand took a while to take off but today it is a global brand and considerably larger than Paul Mitchell. Once again DeJoria proved to be a shrewd businessman but with a clear goal and values attached to smart business decisions. He is also the founder of more than a dozen other businesses from the House of Blues to DeJoria Diamonds. He is interested in a range of industries like life sciences, telecoms and yachts. DeJoria, as a philanthropist, has signed a ‘Giving Pledge’ along with 150 billionaires to give 50% of his earnings for the improvement of the world. He supports over 160 charities worldwide. An avid animal lover, he vowed never to test his products on animals, and instead opted to test on himself. Today, he lives in a $50 million estate in Malibu, California, with all the luxuries one can think of. Even though he is in his 70s, he still works hard, and gives back as much as he can. All his business decisions are always in line with philanthropic aspects. He believes that “in the end, everything will be ok, and, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end.” He also believes that when you do something to help somebody, that’s what real success is all about. Reflecting back on how two bottles of shampoo forever changed this DeJoria says “The great thing is to know that I was able to start out with a few bottles of shampoo and because of all the money I made off of that, help change the world and make it a better place to live and make money off of that to start these other businesses. It’s one of the most wonderful feelings you could ever imagine especially when you’re able to give back and know as you succeed, the world succeeds with you. When I start new businesses, what I have to keep in mind is whoever the people I’m involved with must be happy people, must be exciting people, but more important theyy must be people that as we grow our business, they treat everyone involved with them the way that we want to be treated ourselves, that they take care of their staff and then as we progress, they help take care of the entire world. That’s a prerequisite.”

John Paul DeJoria is a true example of the American Dream and that hard work and passion pays off. He is, one of the most inspirational billionaires around and on top of that a caring and thoughtful person. A billionaire with heart is indeed a rare animal these days.

*Interview Excerpts Taken from The CNBC Interview “I Am American Business” on