An Interview with John Paul DeJoria, owner of Patrón Spirits and cofounder and CEO of John Paul Mitchell Systems
John Paul DeJoria is one of the great stories of achieving the American Dream. Twenty years after being homeless, he was able to buy a seat on the New York Stock Exchange. Along the way he built two iconic companies — John Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits. Today, DeJoria has a personal net worth of over $4 billion, but perhaps his most significant contribution is his business philosophy, which is at the intersection of helping the world, helping people individually and creating profit — all with a genuine smile on his face. He’s definitely having fun. I recently sat down with DeJoria.
What was your childhood like?
We grew up in downtown LA, in the Echo Park area. 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.”
Talk about the initial visions behind Patrón Spirits and John Paul Mitchell Systems?
With John Paul Mitchell Systems, we wanted to sell only to hairdressers, but we wanted something different. We came up with a shampoo that required only one wash to save time and money, and a conditioner that you left in. This acted as a sculpting lotion for the hairdresser, protected against the heat of a blow dryer, and helped neutralize chemicals on hairdressers’ hands. We knew we wouldn’t do what other companies did; many said they would only be in the professional hairdressing industry, but went full retail when they got big. In fact, today, 31 years later, if you ever see a Paul Mitchell product in the drug store or supermarket, it’s counterfeit or black market. We stayed true to our word.
As for Patrón, we wanted to produce the smoothest tequila people had ever tried; tequila that didn’t get you really sick the next day; something you could sip. That was our vision: to have something that could one day be an ultimate premium tequila. People would treat themselves by having Patrón. Once people in every segment of society are turned on to Patrón, they become hooked, because Patrón is not only an ultra-premium, high-quality tequila, but also it’s one that’s made with a lot of love.
Very different business models. Are there similarities?
If you are involved with Patrón Spirits or Paul Mitchell Salon hair care products, you’ve got to love the product, you’ve got to love your customer, and you’ve got to love the planet: It’s our culture. We hire people with that attitude, because if you don’t love what you do, within three months, you could leave us. At John Paul Mitchell Systems — the older of the two [companies] — we’re 31 years old, and our turnover has been less than 30 people in 31 years!
By loving yourself, you’re going to be a happy person. A lot of people don’t like themselves for whatever reason. Being able to communicate with a loved one that you haven’t talked to in a while because of some communication break makes their life and your life in a much better place. Now you’re getting along, and people are in more harmony.
So the love helps us a lot because, no matter what you do — whether it’s shipping, manufacturing of products, or putting ingredients in — you always make sure you do it the best because you love who your customer is and what you stand for.
What’s your advice to entrepreneurs?
What I’d like to tell everybody is that there are two things. One, be prepared for a lot of rejection, people saying “no” to the service or the product you want to sell. People saying, “Oh, it’s too difficult. I don’t to do it.” If you knock on 100 doors and they all say “no,” on door 101, be just as enthusiastic.
The second thing is that the big difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do all the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Whatever business you’re in, make sure the quality of your product is so good that people will want to reorder or do business with you again. This way you have sustainability, even though you may not have any money for advertising.
What is the role of the American Dream in society?
I see it as very powerful, and I believe it is important that people don’t forget about it. When I listen to the news, I wonder why they are telling people that we’re in the worst economy and society we’ve seen since the Great Depression. In 1980, when we started our company, everything was worse than it is today: Inflation was 12.5%, interest rates were 18% or more, unemployment was 10.5%, our hostages were still held in Iran, and you had to wait in line around the block to get gasoline. People need to realize that regardless of the economy, if you believe in yourself, your service and your product — and tell enough people about it — it will get picked up.
I was unfortunately homeless on two occasions, so when I started John Paul Mitchell systems in 1980, I lived in my car for the first two weeks. At that time I knew things were difficult, but I did believe that what we had was unique and different. A lot of people say 10% to 15% of the economy is off, but what about the 80% to 85% that isn’t?
John Paul DeJoria and Robert Reiss
Has wealth changed you?
Wealth has changed me in a big way, because I no longer go to bed at night and struggle to fall asleep, wondering if I have bills to pay.
Second of all, I can do a lot for people all around the world because of the wealth, and that makes me very, very happy. When we first started John Paul Mitchell Systems, I believed that we had to help inner-city youth. We started the Blazer House in Downtown LA, which became a neutral ground for the gangs, a place to go after school or receive tutoring. Today it’s on a much larger scale. But we believed in those days [that] we can change things, and we did. Whether it’s constructing houses in New Orleans, orphanages and nursing homes in Mexico, or other projects we’re doing on a global basis, we can change society. I think we — and all of our customers and staff — benefit more because we get to know we are doing something that’s making a change. We’re stepping forward with all people in helping their lives to become better. To sum it up: Success unshared is failure.
Special thanks to Allison Collins from Ridgefield High School for her editing insights.
Robert Reiss is Host of The CEO Show, which features leaders who have reinvented industry. The show is nationally syndicated by Business TalkRadio Network, with over 600,000 listeners a week. Click to hear podcasts of this and other CEO Interviews at www.ceoshow.com.