Twice homeless and now... a billionaire! The story of John Paul Dejoria
The rags-to-riches tale of an inspirational entrepreneur.Peter Iantorno January 11, 2015
Towards the end of last year we brought you details of 10 famous men who almost failed, and the only reason why John Paul Dejoria didn't feature on that list is because his incredible story is worthy of an article of its own.
The John Paul Dejoria story began on April 13, 1944, when he was born in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles, California, to an Italian immigrant father and Greek immigrant mother. Life did not begin easily for Dejoria, as by the time he was two years old, his father had walked out on the family, leaving Dejoria's mother to look after him and his older brother by herself.
By the age of nine, the first sparks of entrepreneurial genius began to shine in Dejoria, as he joined his older brother's paper round, selling Christmas cards to earn a few extra dollars, which he contributed to the family.
After graduating high school, DeJoria enrolled in the United States Navy where he visited many foreign shores aboard his aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet, and learnt many of the teamwork and management skills that he'd later come to rely on. After two successful years in the navy, DeJoria decided to leave in pursuit of a role that paid better, and was discharged with honours. At first it looked as though this move wasn't going to pay off, as a brief failed marriage left DeJoria a single father struggling to support his young son.
During this testing period of his life, DeJoria took on all kinds of odd jobs in a desperate attempt to make ends meet. He worked as a janitor, repaired bicycles, pumped petrol and sold everything from encyclopedias to life insurance door-to-door.
At times money was so tight DeJoria couldn't afford to pay his rent, so he'd live out of his car until he could scratch together enough cash from any legitimate means necessary (even collecting old Coke bottles and cans to cash them in for a few cents) to pay for a place to stay.
But even at his lowest low, DeJoria stood by his morals and maintained a faith that his big break would be just around the corner. And the seed for that big break was sewn when he managed to secure a job working for haircare brand Redken Laboratories. Although the job didn't last long as he was fired over a disagreement on business strategies, it had given DeJoria the idea that would make him billionaire. In 1980, he joined forces with his friend Paul Mitchell and came up with a collection of revolutionary hair sculpting lotions and styling products. The pair managed to raise $700, which was just about enough to create a few samples and some very basic black-and-white packaging, and DeJoria set out going door-to-door, trying to secure orders for the products.
But even with the perfect product, DeJoria still wasn't out of the woods, as he spent the first two weeks after he started John Paul Mitchell Systems (JPMS) again sleeping in his car, after a possible investor in the company pulled out, leaving him penniless.
However, after wowing salons across the United States with free demonstrations of the products, the orders started to roll in and slowly the wheels of JPMS empire began to turn.
After two years of working seven days a week, the company finally began turning a modest profit, and in the years immediately following, JPMS exploded, with salons up and down the country clamouring for its products. The brand now pulls in a mammoth $900 million per year. By 1989, the success of JPMS meant that DeJoria could live quite comfortably without ever working again, but that was never an option for the ultra-ambitious entrepreneur.
Not content with one wildly successful business, Dejoria partnered with businessman Martin Crowley to found Patrons Spirits Company, turning their brand of tequila, which at the time was considered a cheap spirit, into an ultra-premium product.
While JPMS continued to thieve, Patron dominated the liquor market, becoming the number one top-shelf tequila brand in the United States.
Now, some 26 years after its formation, the company sells more than 2.5 million cases of its premium tequila every year and has helped DeJoria build up a personal net worth of an estimated $4.2 billion, much of which he donates to needy causes as part of his extensive philanthropic work.
Even now at the age of 69, 35 years after first forming JPMS and with a fortune that could buy a small country, DeJoria still isn't resting on his laurels and has this year introduced ROK Mobile, a $50-per-month service aiming to provide both mobile and music to cell phone users across America.
With hair products, spirits, the new mobile business and charity work still filling every minute of every day for DeJoria, he has to be one of the busiest pensioners ever. But with his tireless work ethic, unrelenting desire to succeed and insatiable appetite for business, he wouldn't have it any other way.