“Successful people do all the things unsuccessful people don’t want to do” ~ John Paul DeJoria
John Paul DeJoria’s rags-to-riches story exemplifies the American dream. He has struggled against the odds not only to achieve success, but to share this success with others. He knows firsthand what it’s like to be the ‘underdog,’ and strives to help as many as possible overcome their challenges and achieve their full potential.”
John Paul DeJoria was born in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. This son of immigrant parents from Italy and Greece learned the value of hard work early in life. His mother raised him as a single parent when he reached the age of two. John Paul and his brother would get up at three in the morning to fold and deliver newspapers doing their part to help support the family while they were both still in grammar school.
After high school and service with honors in the U.S. Navy, John Paul did whatever it took to make ends meet. He sold encyclopedias, photocopying machines, dictating equipment, and insurance. Soon thereafter, an early but brief marriage left him a single father with a young son to support. He took on an assortment of odd jobs to make ends meet He also worked as a janitor, pumped gasoline, drove a tow truck, and repaired bicycles.
This was a particularly trying time for John Paul. Still in his early twenties and too proud to ask for help, he found himself homeless on more than one occasion. Those were the days of collecting Coke bottles and cans to cash them in for a few pennies at the corner drugstore to buy potatoes, rice, cereal, macaroni and cheese or canned soup. But, no matter how difficult the challenge, he managed to keep his head above water.
Eventually, his fate changed course when he was offered an entry-level marketing position with Time magazine. It didn’t take long before he became the Los Angeles circulation manager. Then in 1971, he knew he’d met his calling when he accepted a position at Redken Laboratories, the leading professional hair salon product company in the U.S. at the time, on a starting salary of only $650 a month.
The real turning point came when John joined forces with his friend, Paul Mitchell, then one of America’s most influential hair designers. Together they bankrolled the company on the borrowed sum of $750 to introduce their revolutionary sculpting lotions, hair setting and styling methods. Even today’s well-known image of black and white packaging is the result of those early days of not being able to afford colored ink.After Mitchell passed away from pancreatic cancer, in 1989, DeJoria decided to continue building the company alone. He eventually renamed it John Paul Mitchell Systems.
According to John, the company was extremely lucky to make it through that very tough first year. He said the company could have gone bankrupt perhaps 50 times during the first year At one point, it consisted of no more than a post office box with an answering machine using the voice of a female friend with an English accent conveying the message that there was indeed an office out there.
But the partners had a unique and winning strategy. He and his partner Mitchell traveled extensively to conduct no-cost product demonstrations for salon owners. They guaranteed salon owners would sell all products purchased and if they didn’t, they could return any unsold products for a full refund. Such practices represented a first for the hair care industry, and eventually led to John Paul Mitchell Systems becoming one of the fastest growing privately-held companies in the United States.
A dedicated advocate for making the planet a cleaner, safer, more energy efficient place for all, DeJoria was named 2009 Goodwill Ambassador by the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization (IREO) at the United Nations. The highly distinguished and prestigious award recognizes his ongoing effort to develop clean technologies in today’s modern world, and for his vision to preserve natural resources for the people of today and the next generation.
Today DeJoria maintains John Paul Mitchell Systems’s dedication to change. His early struggles shape this mission. Deeply involved in philanthropic projects, he offers time and money to a wide range of causes. Much of DeJoria’s focus goes to Food 4 Africa, which aims to supply children with at least one mineral or vitamin enriched meal a day. DeJoria has also worked with Nelson Mandela to implement programs that contain the spread of pediatric AIDS and provide children in rural areas with proper nutrition. A few years ago, he became involved in the Education for Life Foundation, which offers support to young Thai women in an effort to keep them out of prostitution. For the Mineseeker organization, he has partnered with Richard Branson, Brad Pitt, and Nelson Mandela to come up with strategies for the removal of landmines in different parts of the world. DeJoria has also donated millions of dollars for the creation of a nature preserve in Southern California. He sits on the board of directors of the Waterkeeper Alliance, alongside Bobby Kennedy Jr., to work for clean water systems and healthy ecosystems for communities across the U.S.
Living by his philosophy of “Success unshared is failure,” coupled with his larger-than-life charisma, it is easy to understand why success was bound to come his way. Fortune has given him the opportunity to share his rewards while continuing to challenge and inspire those around him, always keeping in mind that “Nothing in life is worth doing unless you’re having fun doing it.” “What God wants us to do is to do unto other as others do unto you,” he says. “It’s the golden rule…. Knowing that you did something good for someone else … is that incredible high that everyone is looking for.”
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