Lessons from Self-Made Billionaire John Paul DeJoria
Success has many definitions. Entrepreneur John Paul DeJoria helped build two billion dollar brands: John Paul Mitchell Systems and The Patrón Spirits Company. This alone could be viewed as success, but John Paul’s personal story includes a few more facets. He’s had to live in his car and collect soda pop bottles to feed his son, but he continued to knock on doors and find his niche in order to achieve material success. His definition of success has to do with more than a balance sheet, it includes giving back and staying centered. In addition, creating positive corporate culture, environmental integrity and sustainability have long been his core values.
While he is one of today’s most noteworthy entrepreneurs, I have long known him as a member of my extended family. Growing up, I visited his home in Beverly Hills and what I remember most was how he was unfailingly kind and positive. I never heard him speak negatively about anyone; he was always pushing towards the future with a great vision of success to share.
John Paul is someone who has turned adversity into fuel for greatness; giving back and working mindfully have always been part of his ethos. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk to him about how his spiritual practice feeds his work.
Psalm Isadora: Twice in your life you were homeless and even living in your car yet you were not crushed by these experiences. Can you describe one of those low points?
John Paul DeJoria: At 20, I was married with a young child. I came home one day and my wife was walking out with the car keys. Our two-year-old-boy was sitting in the middle of the living room with all kinds of clothes torn up around him and a note that said, “I can’t handle being a mom anymore, do the best you can. By the way there’s nothing in the bank account.” The little we had she took. She took the car. What I didn’t know is she also hadn’t paid the rent or the electrical bills for three months, all pre-planned. I didn’t have a check coming in for another week. We were kicked out two days later.
PI: How did you transform that moment into fuel for change?
JPD: Instead of saying, “Poor us,” I used my imagination and asked myself, “What can I do? How can I get food and shelter?” I called her mother, who was one of the sweetest human beings on the planet. She had a 1952 Cadillac with a broken water pump, I had to replace the water every three hours, but at least I had transportation. I started picking up Coke bottles, two cents for a little one and five cents for a big one. A short time a later a dear friend of mine found us and gave us a place to stay.
What fueled me was needing food and a place to stay. Over the next 10 years I went through a lot of jobs trying to figure out my niche. Did I have any idea I’d be where I am today? No.
PI: How did you keep dreaming big in difficult times?
JPD: I often tell people that if you’re starting a business, if you want to do something different, or if you want to practice anything new, you have to be prepared for a lot of rejection. If you realize that you’re going to experience a lot of rejection, whether it’s from yourself or from others, you can be prepared for it and not let rejection affect you.
PI: You’ve had your share of rejection. Would you share the story of the high school teacher who told you that you would never amount to anything?
JPD: When I was in 11th grade I was in a business class taught by Mr. Wex. My friend Michelle Gilliam and I would pass notes back and forth. Notes like, “I’ll see you at Winchell’s Donuts after school.” Mr. Wex catches us, makes us stand up in front of the class, reads the note, and then says, “See these two, they are going to amount to absolutely nothing.”
After high school I joined the Navy and when I got out a friend told me that Michelle had joined one of the biggest rock groups at the time, the Mamas and the Papas. When I turned 50, Michelle invited Mr. Wex to my birthday party and it was a shock for him.
PI: You recently climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. What drove you to try something so challenging?
JPD: My son was about to turn 18 and wanted to do it. We organized a seven-day climb to the top. We had porters carrying everything since you’ve got to take your food, your water, everything. We were so positive every day even though it got harder every day. And every day our guide asked us, “Are you sure you want to go to the top?”
After we made it the guide told us he asked every day because, “I just didn’t want to tell you [the difficulty] – you were too positive. An average of 10 people per year die and thousands are evacuated on Mt Kilimanjaro. Since you’re computer illiterate by choice, you never bothered to look it up.” I thought, “Wow I’m glad we never looked it up. We had a positive mental attitude; we said we’re going to make it up there and we did.”
PI: It sounds like a meaningful bonding experience.
JPD: I was ecstatic that we were able to spend that much time together and accomplish that much. He turned 18 at 6:30am when we reached the summit. It was 15 or 20 degrees below freezing with a wind chill factor, it was cold in the morning even with the sun coming up. But we did it.
PI: Climbing a mountain sounds like a metaphor for how you have overcome obstacles in your life.
JPD: In life, you can make your dreams or your fantasies come true. You just have to be willing to take the steps in that direction no matter what people say. One step at a time.
PI: Can you talk about the importance of giving back in relationship to success?
JPD: Success unshared is failure. Many people think, “How can I be a philanthropist when I don’t have any money?” It doesn’t take money to give back.
I will give you an example, when I was six years old, my mother took my brother and me to downtown LA at Christmas to see all the lights and decorations. She gave each of us a dime and said, “Give it to that guy with the red bucket ringing a bell.” We gave the guy the money but then we asked her, “Mom, that’s two soda pops, why are we giving that guy our dimes?” She said, “That’s the Salvation Army guy, they take care of people with absolutely nothing. Even though we have very little, we are happy. We have food, we have a place to live. Remember in life that there is always someone worse off than you are. We can only afford a dime, but we are giving something.”
What my mom said stuck with me throughout my life. I have a lot of charities and I give back. The person who benefits the most from giving back is yourself. When you give back, ask nothing in return, not even “Thank you.” If you don’t have money, you can give of your time, like feeding people on Thanksgiving.
PI: What are your daily rituals to meditate and connect to your spiritual practice?
JPD: Every morning I get up and I take at least five minutes and just “Be.” I look around the room at the ceiling, whatever is in front of me, and just be in the present without any thoughts about my problems. I don’t think about anything good or bad during the day or what I am going to do next. I just try and be in the here and now, which is difficult to do.
I have a one sentence mantra, “Creator of souls, thank you for the life you have given me, let me see the truth and share what I have and make the world better off because I am here.” I do this morning ritual 90% of the time.
PI: How has meditation has contributed to your business success?
JPD: Meditation helps you be clear in the morning when you wake up, regardless of what happens during the day. When you start with a clear mind you can think a little more clearly, and maybe instead of three things running through your mind you can slow down to one or two things at a time. It contributes to being much more of a business person. But when we talk about success, we have to talk about what kind of success.
PI: How do you define success?
JPD: Many people think success is just when you have a lot of money. You can be successful with your health and exercise. You can be successful with your meditation.
When I was in high school, I had a job as the janitor at Stuart’s Cleaners. One day Stuart came to me and said, “Johnny I got to talk to you.” I thought, “Oh boy, what did I do?” He said, “Last night I worked late and I put my watch on the coffee table so I could take a nap for a few minutes, and it dropped on the floor. I went to pick it up and I noticed under the cot, there was no dust. I moved it and there was no dust. I moved the cabinet and there was no dust. You move things, you do stuff that no one is even going to look at. You are doing the most amazing job as a janitor.” Stuart gave me a raise, I was probably the highest paid kid in my high school. It’s because I did what I was supposed to do as if someone were watching me every single minute.
Success is not how much you have, but how well you do with what you have when nobody is looking.
PI: That brings us to work ethic.
JPD: Successful people do all the things unsuccessful people aren’t willing to do. Like yoga and meditation, you have to show up and do it. If things don’t go right for you, you got to keep on doing it until it goes right. If 50 doors are slammed in your face, you have to be just as enthusiastic at door number 51 as you were for the first 50 doors.
John Paul DeJoria’s is the cofounder of Paul Mitchell Systems (paulmitchell.com) and cofounder of the Patron Spirits Company (patrontequila.com). His newest company is ready to change the lives of the 3.7 people with the cold sore virus with a botanically-based, made in the USA cold sore/fever blister over the counter treatment balm: aubio.com
Psalm Isadora is a sex and relationship expert who specializes in women’s health and empowerment and modern sexual education for adults. She is the star of Playboy TV’s reality show Cougar Club (Premiers March 2016), featured in Buzzfeed’s Modern Sex, Creator of OYoga and founder of global Tantra Sexu- al Mastery. Watch her free Tantra video trainings at: psalmisadora.com.