John Paul DeJoria, known as JP by everyone he knows, seamlessly makes time to do more than serve as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of John Paul Mitchell Systems, a company with almost $1 billion in global sales (according to industry sources), a big job in itself. Here, JP discusses his other businesses (he owns Patron Spirits), his passions (philanthropy) and how he juggles family, business and charitable work, while also making time for dinner or chats with friends Warren Buffett and Nelson Mandela.
BI: I know you have your hands in many businesses. Tell us what we may be surprised to know you’re involved in.
JP: I’m the co-founder and chairman of John Paul Pet, a high-end pet grooming company. I’m the co-founder for ROK Entertainment, a mobile technology company that designs and develops technology to deliver audio-visual content to mobile phones. I’m the co-founder of JP Selects.com, a website that offers socially aware and eco-friendly brands an e-commerce platform to sell goods, as well as provide them with the business support to succeed. I’m the proud owner and Chairman of the Board of Patron Spirits, the world’s largest seller of high-end tequila. I’m also in the oil and gas trade with the world’s only ecologically-friendly oil and gas exploration company, Vapor Solutions.
BI: Well, that’s different. What is it?
JP: It means if you’re an oil company, and you have a hundred thousand acres, and you want to lay seismic lines to find out where the oil and gas is, our company has the technology—we fly over it back and forth—to spot every anomaly of gas and oil in the ground. Now developers know where to look instead of exploring the whole area. The only thing is we can’t tell you if it’s commercially viable. We only know where to find it.
BI: You’re heavily involved in philanthropy. What’s the latest with your charity in the Appalachian region?
JP: I started Grow Appalachia with Berea College in Eastern Kentucky two years ago. It serves the people of The Appalachian Mountains where there’s approximately 150,000 families on unemployment and food stamps. My goal is that in 5 to 7 years, half of those families will be taking care of their own groceries. To do this we buy them seeds, equipment, fertilizer, a great staff and volunteers, everything it takes to grow a garden. The goal for Phase 1 is to get them to feed themselves, can food for the winter and have them feed any destitute families around them. Phase 2 is having the families go into the agricultural business by selling their excess produce to farmer’s markets and grocery stores. We’re exactly on target right now.
BI: How do you find the time to do everything?
JP: It becomes a way of life with me. I’ll give you an example. A few years ago I went to South Africa. I did a photo shoot in the wild with my wife and son with top photographers for a Paul Mitchell photo shoot. When we did the photo shoot we invited some of the orphans we help feed through Food 4 Africa [with money raised from students at our Paul Mitchell schools] to participate in the shoot. Then, I go to Johannesburg and do a big beauty show for my Paul Mitchell distributor there. Then I go down the street and I do an event the next day for my Patron distributor. Then I fly to Durban and I do another program with a Paul Mitchell distributor. On the way back I meet with Nelson Mandela, and we talk about a couple of events we’re doing to help curb the AIDS epidemic in Africa and to remove mines from fields. Now I’ve just been philanthropic, I’ve spent time with my family, I’ve represented two companies and I got to meet with my buddy Nelson for a little bit.
BI: It’s a pretty powerful position to be able to change lives by picking who you want to help and then implement a charity. That must be an amazing way to live.
JP: It’s incredible! My God, you talk about an impact, I’ll drive around the homeless sites in Austin [the city where I live], as well as Los Angeles, and I’ll find an adult with a child, pull over, talk to them a bit and hand them $5,000-$10,000 and say, “You’re going to make it out of this, this is all you needed, I know it. It’s a gift. It’s just a gift.” They don’t know my name—some of them recognize me, but very few—and I get in my car and I leave. I was homeless before. I was living in my car when I founded Paul Mitchell products.
BI: John Paul Mitchell Systems is still one of the few independently-owned salon companies, and I guess we’re not going to see that change?
JP: No, that’ll never change. In fact, it’ll so never change that I own actually more than 51% of the company so I have full controlling interest. Everyone says they’ll stay in the beauty industry and they don’t. They sell out. People know I’ve had more money offered to me for my company than anyone in the history of the professional beauty industry. And they say: “JP, that’s good, you kept your promise, no one else ever did, you love us, but what if you die?” Well, my controlling interest of the company was put into a 360-year trust and no one can ever take it out. That was done in 2004.
BI: How was John Paul Mitchell Systems able to ride the economic storm, especially since the salon industry was particularly hit? Your company actually did well.
JP: Yep, we saw double-digit growth. And the reason why is we had little to no increases in prices. Very few. We ate the price until we had to increase them, and we’d only do a little increase instead of a big one. But when we did come out with new lines, they were a little more expensive. With Awapuhi Wild Ginger, we went sulfate-free, which is very expensive, but the quality of the results were there and once people used it, they believed it was okay to treat themself. Even though the client maybe didn’t come every 5 weeks, they came every 6 or 7 weeks because of the economy, hairstylists had more unique things to offer them in order to bring their clients in more often.
BI: What’s your favorite thing to tell entrepreneurs?
JP: America still works. You can still start a business with very little money and succeed in America. And bear in mind, when we started Paul Mitchell products in 1980 with $700, the economy was worse than it is today. Inflation was 12.5% in 1980 and 1981. Unemployment was 10.5%. Interest rates were 18%. And you had to wait in a line that went around the block to get gasoline. So I show them how to have an office when you have no money, how to use a P.O. Box, how to use an answering machine, how to just live off of $2.50 a day if you have no money. That’s how we started Paul Mitchell products.
BI: How are you with technology? Are you an Apple or a PC guy?
JP: Ha, good question. My companies are all state-of-the-art. I even have an interest in some very technologically advanced companies. However, no e-mail. By choice. I would be inundated. Just a telephone and text. All I have is a telephone. That’s it. So by eliminating all e-mail, I’m not in that world, so people can’t cc me on everything. And that’s the only way I’m able to do what I do.
BI: Do you have a philosophy?
JP: Pay attention to the vital few, ignore the trivial many. Also: Success unshared is failure.
BI: What are your faults?
JP: I’m not a detail man. If it wasn’t for accountants and assistants, I’d be lost. But I have the best assistants in the world, the best accountants, the best PR companies, so they do all this super stuff, so I can just show up.
BI: Who’s your mentor? Do you have one?
JP: I wish I had one. It would have been a lot easier. The closest I can get to was my Mom. She always encouraged me. My Mom let me have a paper route at 11 years old. I sold Christmas cards one year because she said I would be good at it.
BI: You are so passionate about philanthropy. Where does this stem from?
JP: My mom, she got me into philanthropy. I never forgot my Mom saying to me, “Always remember that in life no matter how bad off you think you may be, there’s always someone that’s worse-off than you, and try and do a little something for them.”
BI: What’s your next week like?
JP: Tonight I’m doing a surprise birthday party for [John Paul Mitchell Systems Global Artistic Director] Robert Cromeans in New York. I’ll fly out tonight, land about midnight in Austin, and tomorrow morning I’m shooting a film with Kris Kristofferson called “The Road to Austin” about how a lot of musicians and people like me end up there. I’ll do some work for Paul Mitchell from home, fly for a day to San Jose, CA for the big West Coast Beauty Show. Then I’ll be at the Paul Mitchell office for a day. I’ll take one day and plan my year out, and then I’ll go back home in Austin and that weekend fly to Houston to watch my daughter, Alexis DeJoria, race for team Patron in Top Fuel Funny Cars. The following week I’ll be with Ranchero Vistadores in the mountains and come down the hill to join Warren Buffett, Bill Gates and our Giving Pledge Group in Santa Barbara. [The Giving Pledge is a group that invites the wealthiest individuals to commit to giving a majority of their wealth to philanthropy]. I’ll be one of the guest speakers there.