Julie Tucker
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From rags to riches: Homeless to billionnaire

If you like a proper rags to riches story, you can’t beat John Paul DeJoria’s rise from homelessness to self-made billionaire.

Today, DeJoria is best known as the co-founder of global haircare brand, John Paul Mitchell Systems. Yet, his charitable endeavours make him as much a philanthropist as a businessman.

Humble beginnings
Born in LA in 1944, DeJoria’s early life wasn’t easy. He sold Christmas cards and newspapers to earn money for his struggling parents. When they later divorced, poverty meant he was ushered off to a foster home.

After a number of dead-end jobs, including door-to-door salesperson and janitor, DeJoria secured a job as a rep at a haircare company. Although the job didn’t last, it was the starting point for a successful career in this industry.

Birth of a global brand
Despite being a single dad, homeless and living in a clapped out car, DeJoria teamed up with hairdresser pal Paul Mitchell in 1980. Securing a loan of $700, the pair went on to form John Paul Mitchell Systems, selling two types of shampoo and one conditioner to salons. The first couple of years were rocky, but by the third year, the pair broke the $1 million barrier – and the rest is history!

Although Paul Mitchell died not long after the business started to blossom, DeJoria went on to steer the brand to global stardom – it’s now one of the most profitable haircare companies on the planet. The enterprise sells over 300 products at over 100,000 salons worldwide, netting a healthy $1 billion annual income.

Other ventures
Haircare is just part of the story for DeJoria, however. With fingers in many pies, he has established other ventures. Notably, he co-founded the Patrón Spirits Company in 1989, selling sustainable, upmarket tequila, providing jobs to over 1,000 locals in Mexico. With sales topping $800 million, DeJoria has since sold a share of this business to Bacardi Ltd.

With his various other business interests, including shares in telecom and life sciences industries, DeJoria is said to be currently worth around $3.1 billion.

Giving back
DeJoria’s rise to riches from living out of a car has earned him a philanthropic perspective on life. Despite his billions, he knows what life is like at rock bottom. He argues that success isn’t about money, but giving back to those in need.

To reiterate this conviction, DeJoria signed The Giving Pledge campaign in 2011, set up by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett. This means that half of his earnings are given to help improve the world.

With his part purchase of Barbuda, DeJoria also plans to provide locals with jobs and homes, whilst focusing on sustainability.

Charitable work
DeJoria supports over 160 charities throughout the world, through his JP’s Peace Love & Happiness Foundation. This aims to protect animal rights, safeguard the environment and give to the poor.

In particular, DeJoria founded the Grow Appalachia programme in 2010, which gives seeds and tools to struggling families in central Appalachia, so they can learn to grow nutritious food.

DeJoria is also a staunch supporter of Sea Shepherd. This marine wildlife conservation charity helps to stop illegal wildlife poaching.

Alongside the likes of Brad Pitt, DeJoria is also a patron of landmine charity, Mineseeker.

As someone who has experienced homelessness first hand, DeJoria also supports others who find themselves in this situation, encouraging them to learn new skills.

Recipe for success
It’s not just having a great head for business that has contributed to DeJoria’s success. The fact that he stands by his beliefs has earned him untold respect in the industries he operates in. With every new venture, DeJoria’s not just motivated by financial gains but ponders how it can help others and the planet.

DeJoria adopts a positive attitude and is ardent about learning from mistakes and failures. He believes that if you want to be successful, you also need to handle rejection, be the best you can be, and recognise that by helping others, you’re doing good for you and your business.

With these philosophies on board, it’s no wonder that since the inception of Paul Mitchell in 1980, just less than 100 employees have left the company.

DeJoria’s story is an inspiration for anyone starting out in business.

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© UPI / Alamy Stock Photo

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