Chatting with John Paul DeJoria

| May 18, 2011
John Paul DeJoria with his wife, Eloise, and their son, John Anthony, at The Julep Ball.

John Paul DeJoria with his wife, Eloise, and their son, John Anthony, at The Julep Ball.

A day or two before Derby, my friend Jo Ross took me down to meet John Paul DeJoria at Union Station. I thought the tracks were long gone, but on the 11th Street side next to the sidewalk is one lonely track that used to run out to the Henry Vogt plant during the war. Parked on it was DeJorias’ private train! I haven’t seen one of those at Union Station since the good old days.

A sleek silver engine was sitting there with three cars behind it. As we climbed aboard, Mayor Greg Fischer and his brother, Mark, were just leaving. DeJoria was the guest of the mayor for the Derby, and he and Mark are partners in a business venture out west.

Who is DeJoria? He was born in Los Angeles, one of two children of immigrant parents (his father came from Italy and his mother’s family from Greece). His mother raised him as a single parent from the age of 2.

He started out selling greeting cards at age 9 and delivering newspapers to help support the family. When he got out of high school, he served with honors in the U.S. Navy. Then he did whatever it took to make ends meet. He sold encyclopedias, insurance, dictating machines, worked as a janitor, pumped gas, drove a tow truck and repaired bicycles. He was even homeless for a time but didn’t give up. He collected bottles for the refunds.

Eventually he got a break with an entry-level marketing position with TIME magazine. From there, he got into the hair-care industry and did well. He then joined his marketing expertise with the hairdressing talents of his friend, Paul Mitchell, to launch their now-famous professional hair-care system.

John Paul Mitchell Systems faced many financial challenges, but the partners had a unique strategy. They 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.

This led John Paul Mitchell Systems to becoming one of the fastest growing privately-held companies in the U.S. Although Paul Mitchell died of pancreatic cancer in 1989, the partners’ dream flourished. Today, the company has annual salon retail sales approaching $900 million.

Along the way, DeJoria discovered Patrón Tequila while on a trip to Mexico. He bought Patrón. While we were visiting, I was served a delicious drink of Patrón and crushed blackberries over ice, and it was divine. Patrón is hot and the first choice of celebrities.

John Paul DeJoria aboard his private train.

John Paul DeJoria aboard his private train.

DeJoria is a businessman, environmentalist and philanthropist. He has served on several U.S. government and United Nations missions. He has donated considerable personal care and money to supporting those who have served in the armed forces, as well as supporting the families of injured servicemen and the widows and orphans of deceased servicemen.

Additionally, he has acted as an adviser to government agencies including the U.S. Navy Seals, the CIA and the Asian-Pacific Economic Forum on issues of management, motivation and global thinking. He also serves on the board for the Creative Coalition and on the board for Robert Kennedy’s Waterkeeper Alliance.

A dedicated advocate for making the planet a cleaner, safer, more energy-efficient place, DeJoria was named 2009 Goodwill Ambassador by the Intergovernmental Renewable Energy Organization at the UN. And there is more, but space is short!

His train cars are vintage, and they are upholstered in luscious, vibrantly-colored oriental rugs – even the walls and ceiling! There are exquisite 300-year-old Indian sandalwood carvings as trim. You can tell he loves the train and its history.

The cars are simply scrumptious and luxurious. The master bedroom has a double bed and a modern bath with shower. The kitchen is a stainless steel wonder with a lovely table that pulls out to seat eight.

DeJoria was curious about life in Louisville, past and present. He asked questions of and about his guests.

He mentioned that his wife and children were flying in the next day. They were going to park the jet and take a small plane up to Berea College. He is giving the school $1 million for a program to teach the students about nutrition and growing vegetables. Each student will get a patch of ground and instructions along with seeds and green plants to grow, harvest and eat. He is trying to break the cycle of poor people eating too many carbs and not having a healthy diet. The plan is that the students will learn to grow their own and then go back to their families and plant a patch of vegetables and introduce them to healthy diets.

DeJoria has the looks of a hippie, the mind of a guardian and the manners of a gentleman. He inspires you. He talks with passion about the earth and our responsibilities.

Among his many charities, he serves as a patron of MINESEEKER, a United Kingdom-based nonprofit devoted to battling the global problem of land mines.

DeJoria also has allied with Paul McCartney’s Adopt-a-Minefield to pool resources and solve the problem more efficiently. Recently, he traveled to sub-Saharan Africa to join Nelson Mandela in helping to feed more than 17,000 orphaned children daily through Food for Africa.
There is not much that benefits mankind that DeJoria has not helped.

His awards would take up a whole page. He says, “CEO’s do have a special responsibility to communicate to employees, to shareholders and to customers that the changing world landscape does not necessarily mean less attention to philanthropy, less attention to the environment and less attention to education.”

I was impressed and honored to meet him. He was charming, interested and interesting, humorous, caring and inspiring.

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Category: Partyline

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Carla Sue
A fixture in Louisville society, Carla Sue Broecker has been writing her weekly column for more than two decades.

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