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John Paul DeJoria

John Paul DeJoria

Master of the Art of Sharing Peace, Love, and Happiness

Written by Deborah Hamilton-Lynne
Photography by Leslie Hodge and Weston Carls
Podcast interview by Dan Dillard

You may know John Paul DeJoria as the gifted businessman behind the Patron and Paul Mitchell empires. You may know John Paul DeJoria as the billionaire member of the elite Giving Pledge—joining founders Warren Buffett and Melinda and Bill Gates, as well as Central Texas notables Robert Smith, Red and Charline McCombs, and Charles Butt in committing to give away half of their wealth to philanthropic causes. You may know John Paul DeJoria as the iconic figure dressed in black, sporting a long signature ponytail who is forever smiling while giving the peace sign. You may know that John Paul DeJoria is gifted, that he considers his wealth to be a gift to be shared, and that when he flashes that smile and peace sign at you he genuinely means it. But what you may not know is the story of how John Paul DeJoria defined relational giving and conscious capitalism through his open-hearted belief that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do and the right thing to do is to put people and the planet above profit.

The secret of John Paul’s authenticity, empathy, and open-hearted desire to help others began in Echo Park, Los Angeles, where his mother struggled to make ends meet to support her two sons after their father left the family when John Paul was only two years old. Although his mother had a job, she was unable to care for her young sons while she worked, and the boys were sent to foster care. They were in foster care during the week but always spent the weekends with their mother. Even though they were poor, John Paul says the family was strong and happy, and he credits his mother with instilling in him a sense that he could be more than his circumstances. 

John Paul likes to tell a story of a defining moment in his childhood, “One Christmas my mother gave my brother and me a dime and told us to each hold half of the dime and take it to put in a bucket where a man was ringing a bell. We couldn’t believe it. And we said to Mom, ‘Mom, why did we give away a dime?’ Because, in those days, it was two Coca-Colas or three candy bars. And Mom said, ‘Boys, that's the Salvation Army, and they take care of people who don't have a house to live in or any food to eat, and even though we don't have a lot of money—we could only afford a dime—we're at least gonna give that.’ She said, ‘No matter how little we have, there will always be someone who has less. We should help when we can.’ I never forgot it.”

There were many lessons along the way that John Paul never forgot: what life was like where he came from when a gang looked like the best way out; what life was like when he found himself homeless and living in his car first with a two-and-a-half-year-old-son and then again after he lost everything just before starting Paul Mitchell Hair Care; and what it was like to lose loved ones, first a beloved brother in a motorcycle accident and then a beloved partner, Paul Mitchell, to pancreatic cancer. He never forgot his life in the Navy where he developed a passion for the ocean and learned that a team of ordinary people pulling together could achieve extraordinary results. He also never forgot the people who were kind to him, believed in him, gave him a break and sometimes a home when he needed it most. 

Some life lessons took longer to learn than others, and JP (as his friends call him) says he regrets that he was ill prepared and too immature to make his first marriages last but that he learned from his mistakes and now shares a blended family with his wife of 25 years, Eloise. Raised with the Greek traditions by a feisty mother that he adored, John Paul carries her legacy of giving unconditional love and support to his family. Having the strong core that came from his mother’s love has also enabled him to see others as extended family—as brothers and sisters that he can connect with, relate to, and help. His attitude extends to his businesses as well as his philanthropic endeavors. “I have always said that when you are down, there is no where to go but up and that one of my greatest joys is having the ability to help others,” DeJoria says. “One of the best things about owning your own business is that you can treat people as you would have wanted to be treated.” 

John Paul signed The Giving Pledge in 2011 as a formal promise to continue giving back. That same year, he founded JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation with his family to invest in charities that share the core values of his companies—sustainability, social responsibility and animal-friendliness. Together, the DeJorias are committed to contributing to a sustainable planet through investing in people, protecting animals and conserving the environment. Today JP’s Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation contributes to more than 160 organizations, initiatives, and nonprofits. The family is involved with the work of the foundation, especially his wife Eloise, who is the patron of several organizations that empower women. Both John Paul and Eloise are passionate about the environment, the arts, education, nutrition and sustainable farming, and programs that support job training and building community for the homeless. 

FoundingAUSTIN Editor-in-Chief Deborah Hamilton-Lynne sat down with John Paul in his home in Austin for a one-on-one conversation about his gifts, the gifts he has been given, and his philosophy and practice of giving back through his unique interactive and relational brand of philanthropy.

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DHL  |  "Give" can mean many things: giving in, I give, and also the philanthropy part of it. Looking back on your life, what does the word "give" mean to you?

JPD  |  "Give," to me, means you're presenting something, a gift. That's "give," like I'm giving you something, you're giving something to somebody else, and once you release it, it's theirs. They can do anything they want with it.

DHL  |  Oh wow, okay. I hadn't thought about that. So even from the time you were young, you had in your mind the fact that, even if you don't have much to give, you still give. You still help other people. It doesn’t take a lot to give something that really might help.

JPD  |  Yeah. I'm not a big hamburger guy, but someone gave me this idea years ago, and it works. You go to McDonald’s—and it could be four, five, 10 dollars—you buy these gift cards, keep them with you in your car, and if you run across somebody on the corner saying, "Can I have some money? I want to eat," you just hand them the gift card. Because for four dollars you could buy a meal there.

DHL  |  What a great idea. I will remember that.

JPD  |  Mainly, I don't believe in giving something away. If it's for philanthropy, okay, I will give money to something, but the money is not a giveaway, the money is way of helping. I will not give money where it's just used one time and it's over, unless someone's starving. Other than that, whatever I try to invest in has long-term effects, like Mobile Loaves & Fishes here in Austin, when I put together Eloise House with SafePlace here in Austin. It's things that have long-term effects. When we have a motorcycle ride, we give it to 100 Club of Central Texas. It's for people that are first responders: firemen, paramedics, police officers.

DHL  |  That's a way of  having fun while doing good, too.

JPD  |  Exactly. We're doing good while we're having fun. Anyone can join in. It's the Peace* Love* Happiness Ride. Myself and my friend Gary Spellman underwrite the entire ride. Every dollar that is raised goes directly to the charity, and this last year it was more 100 Club for first responders. We're helping the families of the first-responders who are injured or have died, and we help their families, but it's a long-term thing. 

DHL  |  Well, your philosophy for philanthropy—which is hard to say—is that you believe in giving people jobs, you believe in giving people respect while you are helping them build sustainable lives. 

So talk to me about your experience of giving ... not only you having to find a way to have respect but giving people respect and helping them with jobs. We talked about Chrysalis, I believe, in Los Angeles.

JPD  |  Exactly, exactly, yeah. In Los Angeles, we have Chrysalis, which helps homeless people get jobs. Back in 2010, about 3,000 people, all homeless, came to Chrysalis to try to find a job, to learn. And at Chrysalis, we give them clothes to wear, give them tokens to go on interviews with, on buses, and teach them how to fill out a resume, how to do an interview. We work with them every day. In a little over a year, out of 3,000 that were homeless that came for a job, where people couldn't find jobs, 1,600 got jobs. And here in Austin, Texas, we have a bigger thing going. I've been a resident for about 18 years. We have a bigger thing going here. It's Mobile Loaves & Fishes, where we really give the homeless respect. When you go [to Mobile Loaves & Fishes’ Community First! Village], you have to pay a reasonable amount for rent. That's it. Now, what if you're a homeless person and have no little check from the government or anybody else? You have no money. That's okay. We'll help you make that money. So you feel respected because you're paying rent for being there. 

DHL  |  Exactly.

JPD  |  Now we have gardens there and eggs and everything else to eat, so your food's gonna be okay. But we help you make money. We have a Community Forge and Woodshop, art shop, we have an animal project, all kinds of stuff there so the people can get involved. Alan Graham came to me a couple months ago, said, "JP, our first tenant is leaving us." I said, "Why?" He says, "That's what I asked him. I said, ‘My God, you have a home here, you don't pay very much money.'" Our only rules are no drugs, no drinking, and no fighting. No fighting, no drugs, no drinking. Period. That's the price you pay to be there. And what happened was this: He said, "I came here as a drunk. I became sober," because you have to be sober to be here. No fighting, no drinking, no drugs. He says, "I now have a job, I'm making money, I can afford an apartment. I can never pay you guys back for giving me my life back, because I was on a downward throw of the dice. Could never pay it back. So the way I'm gonna pay it back is, I'm giving up my home, which I could have forever." He could have that home forever if you play by the rules. "Forever, I could have my home here. But I'm gonna give it to someone else. That's my way of paying back, so they have a place to stay, they have the same chance I get."

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DHL  |  Paying it forward.

JPD  |  Paying it forward. Works really well. That means being a hero with a heart. 

DHL  |  Talk to me about how your personal story has informed your philanthropy.

JPD  |  Starting out in life, we started out with absolutely nothing. My mom got us into philanthropy, which I never forgot. So even in my late teenage years, early 20s, when I had no money, I would go to Griffith Park in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving and on Christmas, where they would have turkey dinners to feed to the homeless, and I'd volunteer my time and I'd go there and serve them. I didn't have any money, but I would serve the people on that day. That was my way of giving back, so it really affected me. And of course in business when I started making a little bit of money, I never forgot lending a helping hand to people. I know when I worked for other people, there were times when I had no money. Can't buy a lot for a dollar for lunch. So I knew that, when I started Paul Mitchell, I wanted everyone to have free lunch. It was about three, four years in business where I had enough money to afford it. Still today, if you're working for John Paul Mitchell Systems, it's free lunch, and you order off menus, so no one ever has to have not enough money to have lunch with.

DHL  |  Grow Appalachia. Talk to me about it. You support a lot of organizations that encourage people to grow their own food and also have good nutrition.

JPD  |  Grow Appalachia was right around 2010. Our government, no disrespect, was doing little to nothing as far as homelessness was concerned and people were out of jobs. So I was looking around, how could I help our nation, not just Africa and the rest of the world. What can I do right now, for the people of our nation? And Tommy Callahan who worked for me that was from Appalachia. He said, "JP, check into Appalachia." So I flew there and talked to a few charities there and found out there were more than 150,000 people in Appalachia on food stamps. Some of them lost their jobs in the coal mining industry—good, hardworking people, but no jobs in all those areas. That's about seven states, the Appalachian Mountains. So I got with Berea College, which is in eastern Kentucky, I worked with them, and we started something called Grow Appalachia. And what Grow Appalachia did was this: I paid for it all through community centers, and we started in Lincoln County in eastern Kentucky. I would provide people with seeds, fertilizer, irrigation, tools, everything you need to garden with. David Cooke from Berea College went full time with me on the project and we taught them how to grow their own vegetables.

So phase 1 was this: Here's how to grow your own vegetables in your own yard to feed yourself, your family and can for the winter. We'll teach you how to do all this. You have vegetables year-round. Phase 2: What we'd like you to do is the same thing, but grow a little more. The extra you grow ...

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DHL  |  And you also become an entrepreneur.

JPD  |  Exactly. Become an entrepreneur. The second phase would be, when you grow a little bit more, you sell it at farmers markets or at local grocery stores as organically grown, local produce. Now you have income. Then we introduced chicken and eggs. So now you have eggs. You got protein! And then some of them went for bees. You have bees now to make things out of honey. All of a sudden, they became minimum entrepreneurs, minimum, at least a good portion of them.

And then what's happening, too, as we're evolving, I just found out this last year, there's about 40,000 people now eating off those gardens. 40,000!

DHL  |  Well, and that's the whole point, is being able to give back in the way that you can. I'm sure you think about how blessed you are, not just because you've worked hard, you've been brilliant, you've done all that, but I thought about it this morning when I was thinking about coming to interview you, and I thought, "I want to ask John Paul how he feels every day that he's able to do this." To be able to give like this, it has to be a dream.

JPD  |  Very blessed. A dream beyond a dream. I would say 95 percent plus of every morning when I wake up, I say, "Thank you Creator of Souls for this blessing upon me, and let me do what's right in life, and show me the truth." Almost every morning when I get up, I do that.

DHL  |  That's amazing. I was inspired by your giving heart the last time we talked.

JPD  |  When I walk in this house, when I drive a car that's not 20 years old—half my cars are 10 or 12 years old, by the way—I feel just so special. I feel like the greatest thing in the world. I'm very blessed.

DHL  |  For a lot of people it's a dream to have a foundation. Whenever someone asks the question, "What if you won the lottery?" I always say, "I'd start a foundation." It's not that I wouldn’t do anything else, that's what I would do, it's what I would love to do. So when you thought ... I know you signed The Giving Pledge in 2011, and you established the foundation in 2011. Tell me what was in your mind as far as a mission and as far as how you were going to run it?

JPD  |  I think my mission is that while I'm on this planet Earth—I've been so blessed—I want to make sure that I do enough things on the planet to make the planet better off. The environment, as well as the people. So we're big-time in the environment and also big-time into people. I wanted to make sure that I did that. It was my way of paying a little bit of rent for being on the planet Earth and for being so blessed that I could help lots of people to have a better life because I'm here.

DHL  |  It's a living legacy for your mother.

JPD  |  Oh, it's a living legacy for me and my mom, for all of us and generations to come. And my kids do the same thing. Most of my kids have learned how to give back. My two daughters are involved in more charitable things than you could ever imagine. Alexis the race car driver, Michaeline the executive, and my son John Anthony, the same thing. They're all into giving a helping hand.

DHL  |  In 2004, you won the Horatio Alger Award, and you said that award was one of the things that you were most proud of as a first-generation American. The award is given to individuals who have shown “perseverance, integrity and excellence.” Talk to me a little bit about what it meant to win that award, and what it means to you to give back.

JPD  |  The Horatio Alger Award is the only award given in the United States of America Supreme Court, and it's given to Americans who started with nothing, had all kinds of adversity in their life, but made the American Dream come true and gave back at the same time. It's given to from two people to a maximum of 10 a year. It was a great honor.

DHL  |  I loved that in your acceptance you said something that has become your mantra: “Success unshared is failure.” I also love that you emphasize the power of giving of your time as well as your resources. If every person would volunteer once a week, three hours, can you imagine the difference it would make?

JPD  |  It would change the world. And what people should know is … if I want to leave a message and a closing statement, it is this: Why is success unshared failure? When you give to somebody else and ask nothing in return, it's the greatest high you will ever have in your life. You'll never get a greater high in your life. You gave to someone else, asked nothing in return. And if you think you're successful in life, and you make millions of dollars or maybe more, or hundreds of thousands of dollars, well, that's nice for you, but what'd you do to make the world a little better place to live because you're here? If you made all of that, did you give a little back to help somebody else out that was really in need? Success unshared is failure.

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