On their surface Paul Mitchell Systems and The Patrón Spirits Company have little in common, but these billion dollar companies are both run by 71-year-old John Paul Dejoria. To learn more about his unique leadership, Farnoosh Torabi spent 48 hours with him as he manages his companies and works to launch what could be his third billion dollar business – Aubio.
Farnoosh first meets John Paul at the Paul Mitchell Headquarters in Los Angeles. This company was started by John Paul and his friend Paul Mitchell in 1980. After selling this product line door to door, John Paul began selling directly to hair salons with the belief that if the professionals used the Paul Mitchell System, the consumers would follow. It was a sales approach that worked and turned Paul Mitchell into a billion dollar company. John Paul found success again in 1989 when he tasted the best Mexican tequila he’s ever had and co-founded Patrón.
At the Paul Mitchell Headquarters Farnoosh sits in on a Paul Mitchell executive distribution meeting. In addition to John Paul, the meeting includes Luke Jacobellis (Paul Mitchell President), Michaeline DeJoria (Paul Mitchell Vice Chairman and one of John Paul’s daughters), and Jason Yates (Paul Mitchell VP Sales and Marketing). When talking about a new hairbrush line, John Paul reminds his team that quality is key by stating “What we want is the best quality available so that we’re in the reorder business, not the sale business.”
Farnoosh finds that the meeting is oddly positive and wants to know how they deliver bad news to John Paul. Everyone agrees they always let Luke break it to him. Luke builds off of this by sharing that while he does bring bad news to John Paul, John Paul has a way of turning a negative into an opportunity. It’s an insight consistent with John Paul’s reputation for constant optimism.
Directly talking to John Paul about his relentless positivity, he explains that if you have a mental attitude of looking at the positive you are more willing to accept things will correct themselves. He summarizes this by sharing the phrase, “In the end, everything will be okay. If it’s not okay, it’s not the end.” John Paul explains he’s been a positive person for the majority of his life. He’s just wired that way.
As the head of his companies, John Paul doesn’t view himself as a boss. Due to working with the same people for thirty years John Paul views himself and his team as associates he can trust. This work environment has lead to a turnover of less than a hundred people worldwide. After dealing with bosses who were hostile just because they could be, John Paul wants to treat his employees the way he wishes his bosses would have treated him. John Paul continues to explain that he enjoys giving back and if he makes more he gives more. This belief is exemplified by the fact he is part of Warren Buffett’s Giving Pledge in which wealthy individuals have pledged to give half their wealth to charity once they die.
The insight this discussion gives Farnoosh about John Paul is he wants a corporate culture built on kindness and respect. “In other words,” as Farnoosh states, “being good is good for you and the bottom line.” It is one of the many reasons that John Paul has been involved in a wide array of charities.
John Paul does also enjoy his wealth. In addition to several cars, he has his own yacht, a private train, and three planes. Farnoosh gets to spend time on one of these planes when she joins John Paul and his wife, Eloise, on a trip to Arizona. The trip will allow John Paul to meet the marketing and executives for Aubio – a new company that has developed a gel which treats cold sores and John Paul has significantly invested in.
John Paul’s schedule is often so busy that while he is able to fly to a city he may not be able to leave his plane. When this happens he will have a meeting on his plane. Though this seems unorthodox, Farnoosh sees John Paul values the personal touch so much that he wants to communicate face to face. As such, he travels thousands of miles a year to meet with his management teams in person. It’s a tactic that allows him to know his associates better, which in turn builds loyalty.
Speaking to Scott Wooley (Aubio Executive Operations Director) and Rachel Wagner (Aubio Executive Director of Business Development), John Paul goes over how 90% of people who tried Aubio claimed it worked. However, Scott reminds him they can’t claim it as a treatment in their marketing but they can state it is effective. Scott also wants John Paul to be the face of the Aubio brand. Given how important John Paul’s name and image are to himself, he wants to make sure he never dilutes his personal brand. So while Scott and Rachel need an answer soon, John Paul holds off for a few days to consult with the people he trusts.
Farnoosh is also blown away by the fact Aubio is not only expected to be a billion dollar company, it is expected to be bigger than Paul Mitchell and Patrón. John Paul explains this is a product that two-thirds of the world’s population needs, and at $39.95 it is affordable to many.
In addition to only needing a relatively small number of consumers, Aubio will also benefit from John Paul’s pre-existing partnerships with salons. And with over 100k Paul Mitchell Retailers worldwide, it means Aubio can easily be added to these distribution networks that John Paul has already built. It is another reason why John Paul is successful – instead of having to reinvent production and distribution systems for each new product, he can rely on the networks his other businesses have built.
Visiting John Paul at his house in Austin, TX, Farnoosh explains that John Paul’s house is his de facto global headquarters. Farnoosh is immediately taken aback by the fact that John Paul doesn’t have a computer in his office. He explains that if he did, he’d be inundated with emails. Moreover, while he does text message sometimes John Paul would much rather communicate by phone or in person. Seeing how people get sucked into their devices, John Paul’s success has been built off of engaging people not screens. Farnoosh also explains that John Paul’s office set up is a sign of his power – he can reach you, but you may not be able to reach him.
Working with his personal assistant, Kelly, John Paul uses 411 to get the contact information of someone he needs to talk to. While many would be frustrated by a lack of modern technology, Farnoosh sees John Paul benefits from this because it minimizes distractions. Farnoosh also witnesses John Paul getting frustrated after he reads an article that misquoted him. John Paul stays cool and quickly steers towards a solution. Farnoosh sees John Paul’s equanimity as a big reason behind his success because he never lets a difficult situation undermine his focus.
John Paul then takes Farnoosh to meet one of his other daughters, Alexis. Alexis is a professional racecar driver Patrón sponsors. In addition to checking out the new paint job she selected for her car to highlight Patrón, he also wants to ask her about him being the face of Aubio. John Paul shares that he likes her feedback because she doesn’t hold back and is always honest. John Paul explains that when it comes to big decisions he’s always relied on feedback from those closest to him.
After talking to Alexis about the new design for her race care, John Paul talks to her about him becoming the face of Aubio. Alexis doesn’t think he should become the face of Aubio because she doesn’t believe he wants to become the face of cold sores. John Paul immediately agrees with her. One of the reasons why John Paul pursues feedback from others is that he acknowledges he can be wrong at times and is willing to change his mind when he gets good advice. Based on Alexis’s feedback, John Paul immediately calls Scott and explains that while he doesn’t mind having his named used in the marketing literature or doing press interviews on behalf of Aubio, he does not want his face and name used on the products.
After spending some time with John Paul, Farnoosh understands why he’s such a success. He has turned positivity into his most important business strategy and his genuine positive attitude creates a space people want to work in. John Paul also has a knack for exploiting emerging markets by focusing on feel good products. More importantly, his positive outlook on life motivates John Paul to still work tirelessly to help improve the world.