John Paul Mitchell Systems, the professional salon product manufacturing company he co-founded 25 years ago, is an industry leader with annual retail sales of approximately $700 million. But JP, as his friends and colleagues call him, plays by his own rules.
“I believe in having fewer moving parts in an organization and doing more with less,” says the 61-year-old chairman and CEO. “Growth and expansion usually come with increasing layers of management, but not at John Paul Mitchell Systems. I keep things lean intentionally. It helps maintain the sense of family and team spirit that’s part of our corporate culture.
“My 130 employees do the work of 300. And in 25 years, we’ve had very little turnover, replacing only 15 people in all that time.”
How does he attract and retain these dedicated super-achievers?
“Hire the best and treat them well,” he says. “I expect more, give employees more responsibility than their peers in other companies and I pay them more. When I was building this business, I did everything from selling to keeping the books, and now I look for that same versatility in others. I choose people who want a career, not a job, people who want to be part of something.”
He also offers some unusual benefits. Because of his commitment to environmental activism, employees who carpool are reimbursed for their gas expenses. He also provides a meal on the house to those who work at corporate headquarters in Beverly Hills.
“Ever heard the expression, there’s no free lunch?” he asks. “Well, at my company, there is.”
Doing things differently is a DeJoria trademark. He and partner Paul Mitchell, who died in 1989 of pancreatic cancer, started the company in 1980 with a radically innovative hair care product, styling method and marketing concept. Their hair sculpting lotion was sold only to salon owners and stylists.
The partners took it door-to-door, providing free training demos. And they promised that unsold products could be returned for a full refund.
It was an idea, not a business plan. To say that the venture was seriously undercapitalized think a borrowed $750 is an understatement. Their first year, says DeJoria, was all about avoiding bankruptcy and staying afloat.
“We should have gone under. It’s amazing we didn’t,” he says. “Our short-term objective was just to be able to pay our bills and take home a little money for ourselves. Our big dream was to one day have $5 million in sales.”
The man and the business have clearly exceeded those aspirations. DeJoria, who was raised by a single mother, with no silver spoon in his mouth or a college education to give him a leg up, is a self-made multimillionaire and philanthropist. He runs a global beauty empire that is one of the fastest-growing privately held companies in the country not bad for a kid who was voted least likely to succeed in high school.
“I’ve sold everything from encyclopedias to life insurance,” DeJoria says. “The most important thing I discovered is that the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that the successful ones do the tough stuff that others don’t want to. That means after getting a door slammed in your face 10 times, you still go to door No. 11 with just as much enthusiasm and a smile on your face.”
John Paul Mitchell Systems works with distributors in 46 countries who supply approximately 90,000 salons in the United States and another 15,000 worldwide. The company has maintained its commitment to hair care professionals, selling its 90-plus products only to salons. Because John Paul Mitchell System’s financial health is directly linked to the profitability of those who buy from it, it also provides these small businesses with the tools they need to thrive.
“Part of our mission is to educate,” DeJoria says. “We teach everything from how to use our products and display them to how to keep their clients coming back. We offer free in-salon courses and inexpensive advanced classes at seminars and our affiliated schools. We see ourselves as a resource for our customers.”
DeJoria takes a hands-on approach to running the company, visiting the hair care salons that stock his products just as he did in the early years. In fact, he spends only one or two days a week in the home office. The rest of time he’s on the road, or more precisely, in the air, traveling from city to city to meet with regional managers, distributors, sales reps, salon owners and stylists. That’s why he calls his private plane his most important communication tool.
“I’m not a big fan of cell phones, and I don’t do e-mail,” he says. “I prefer face-to-face contact whenever possible.”
DeJoria didn’t get his know-how from an MBA; instead, it comes from his many years at the helm. Here are a few of his fundamentals for how to get the best from the people who work with and for you.
- Reprimand behind closed doors, one on one. Don’t ever talk about what’s wrong without also talking about what’s right
- Praise loudly, publicly and often.
- Don’t act like a boss, imposing your authority and telling others what to do. Include employees as partners, draw them in, get them to see what you see and want what you want.
- Bring your people with you. Never sacrifice others for your own advancement or ego.
- Set the tone. Then give everyone in the organization space to contribute.
- Be accessible. Encourage staff at every level to share ideas and talk about issues with you and other members of management
- Be honest, be direct and be sensitive to the feelings, needs and motivations of others.
- It sounds like a cliche, but always go by the Golden Rule.
DeJoria lives and leads by the motto “Success unshared is failure.”
As a man who has experienced both hunger and homelessness, he is profoundly appreciative of his good fortune and determined to extend it to others. He makes a great many contributions to a wide variety of health care, social service and environmental groups and institutions. And one of his oft-repeated mantras is, “Individuals and corporations have a responsibility to make the world a better place.”
Another is, “Making the world a safer place to live is part of our ‘rent’ for being alive.”
He believes CEOs have an obligation not only to manage but to lead.
“As a company,” he says, “we pursue both financial and ethical goals. In fact, I don’t see them as separate.”
Sometimes referred to as the triple bottom line, this approach places equal value on economic growth, social responsibility and environmental impact. It’s a vision that shapes John Paul Mitchell Systems’ day-to-day operations and long-term strategic planning.
For example, the company does not test its products on animals, packages in 100 percent recyclable containers and voluntarily meets the most stringent VOC (volatile organic compounds) standards for aerosols. It also harvests botanicals in an environmentally responsible manner and uses many organic ingredients.
To offset the impact of carbon emissions associated with the manufacture and distribution of its Tea Tree brand, JPM Systems contributes heavily to reforestation efforts through the nonprofit American Forests and its Global ReLeaf program.
DeJoria believes doing these things adds value to the company’s products and sets a positive example for other corporations.
In 2000, DeJoria was a keynote speaker at a meeting of the Pacific Basin Economic Council. The theme was corporate responsibility, and he advised the audience to remember that giving both time and money should be part of business as usual.
It’s also smart business.
Having meaning within the workplace, he says, is a key to employee satisfaction and thus, customer satisfaction. And, DeJoria says, it’s important for CEOs to be an active and visible philanthropic presence.
“My participation means far more to my employees and to my customers than simply sending someone on my behalf to present a check,” he says.
Which brings us back to that ponytail.
In a typically generous gesture, DeJoria gave up his persona-defining renegade look for a worthy cause. Last January, to raise money for The Red Cross Tsunami Relief Effort, he offered to let Los Angeles radio host Leeza Gibbons cut off his legendary locks, which he’s sported for his entire career, in exchange for a donation of $50,000.
Responding to the call, the 8,000 students of Paul Mitchell The School from all around the country banded together and met that goal, and he got what’s been dubbed the most expensive haircut in the world. But it’s one that makes everybody in his company and the industry look and feel good, while giving them an opportunity to do good by helping others in need.
And that is standard operating procedure for John Paul DeJoria.
HOW TO REACH: John Paul Mitchell Systems, (310) 248-3888 or http://www.paulmitchell.com