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The Way I Work

Pay attention to the vital few and ignore the trivial many.” – John Paul Dejoria. Interesting read from INC, June 2013

When John Paul DeJoria and Paul Mitchell launched John Paul Mitchell Systems in 1980, they went door to door pitching their shampoos and conditioners to Los Angeles salons. Mitchell died in 1989, leaving DeJoriahead of the company, which now sells more than 100 products in salons in 87 countries.

But DeJoria, 69, does way more than hair care. In 1989, he and Martin Crowley co-founded Patrón Spirits, which sells more than two million cases of tequila a year. DeJoria also owns many other companies, including pet care line John Paul Pet and jeweler DeJoria Diamonds. Though DeJoria’s empire has grown, he still values door-to-door visits. He spends a lot of his time meeting with the salon owners and distributors. But these days, he uses a private jet to get there. As told by Liz Welch. Photographs by Jeff Wilson. 

I work at home in Austin, but I spend a lot of my time traveling–about two weeks out of every month. I visit Paul Mitchell’s headquarters in Los Angeles once a month, and I go to Patrón’s headquarters in Zurich four to five times a year. I also travel a lot to meet with distributors and salon owners, to do press interviews, and to attend openings of Paul Mitchell schools.

I could not do what I do without a private jet. I travel to at least 20 states a year, sometimes leaving in the morning and returning at night. I save so much time not having to deal with checking in and customs. Plus, I haven’t had a cold in 20 years.

I don’t use e-mail or a computer. I would be so inundated that I wouldn’t be able to get any work done. Instead, I do everything in person or on the phone. I have a phone book that’s 15 years old and filled with whiteout and rewrites. I carry that everywhere.

I chose to live in Austin because Eloise, my wife, is from Texas, and it was a great place to raise my youngest son, John Anthony, who is now 16. Plus, I can get to South America or the East Coast two hours faster from Austin than from Los Angeles.

I usually get up between 7 and 8 a.m. Whether I’m home in Austin or I’m in another part of the world, I like to spend the first five minutes of the day lying in bed and–I just am. I just try to be here and now. I find it helps me be more peaceful.

After a light breakfast, I head to my home office, which is separate from the house. There I have a desk, an exercise ball that I use as a chair, a phone, and a fax machine. The headquarters for Paul Mitchell and Patrón each have a fax machine for one purpose: communicating with me.

I don’t use e-mail or a computer. I would be so inundated that I wouldn’t be able to get any work done. Instead, I do everything in person or on the phone. I have a phone book that’s 15 years old and filled with whiteout and rewrites. I carry that everywhere.

I have three assistants. Kelly Sellers is my executive assistant, and she works out of our home. She’s amazing. She went to high school with my wife and has been with us for 12 years. I also have an assistant at Paul Mitchell and one at Patrón.

Every morning, Kelly gives me a list of all the calls I need to make that day. There are about 10 companies that require my time. Paul Mitchell takes the most time. I talk to someone there at least once a day. And talk to someone at Patrón several times a week. I also own several water companies and a brewery in Germany that I touch base with regularly. My presidents are much smarter than I am. That’s a prerequisite.

I could go insane if I obsessed over every little detail of all of my companies. My management philosophy is to pay attention to the vital few and ignore the trivial many. For instance, with Paul Mitchell, I want to know how the schools are doing, how the manufacturing is going, how sales are doing, what new products we’re launching, what our main advertising campaign is, and if my people are happy. The other little details are just trivia.

I don’t micromanage, but I do care deeply about every product we make. Every one goes through me, and I try most of our products before they go to market, including our John Paul Pet flea and tick shampoo. If I don’t like it, it’s not coming out.

I have a personal chef who makes lunch for me when I’m in Austin. It’s a luxury, but eating well keeps me healthy. Everyone who works at Paul Mitchell and Patrón gets free lunches. I believe that you have to treat your people well. Eating good food is part of that.

When I travel, Kelly coordinates all of my plans and meetings with my other assistants. I like to make the most of every trip, so if I go somewhere for a board meeting, I want to also schedule meetings with my Paul Mitchell distributors and my Patrón sales team.

I meet regularly with my distributors, the independent companies that buy our Paul Mitchell products and sell them to the salons. I like to check in and ask, “What more can I do for you?” I frequently meet with salon owners, too. The hair industry is the only reason we made it. They believed in us, and I want them to know we believe in them. If I happen to be near a salon that carries Paul Mitchell products, whether I’m in New York or Seoul, I stop the car and go inside, thank them for using Paul Mitchell, get back in the car, and go.

I go to New York at least once a month, to meet with distributors and talk to the press. A big part of my job is to be the face of my companies. I’ll usually arrive in the late afternoon and do a television interview that night. And then the next day, I’m booked solid. Sometimes, I’ll start at 5:30 a.m. on CNBC’s morning show and then end at night on Erin Burnett’s show on CNN.

The interviewers usually want me to talk about the economy–beauty salons are a great indicator of how we’re doing. People still go to a salon when times are tough, but instead of every six weeks, they go every two or three months. When the economy’s coming back, more people go on a regular basis, which is what we are seeing lately.

Paul Mitchell has more than 100 schools for hairdressers, and every time we open a new one, I go to the opening. My feeling is, if you’re going to run one of our schools, which represent us, I should be there helping you open it up. Shaking hands, taking pictures with you. I want people to feel they’re part of the John Paul Mitchell Systems world family.

My motto is, Success unshared is failure. At least once a year, I meet with a group called the Giving Pledge. It’s a group of billionaires–including me, Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, and Ted Turner–who have pledged to give away most of their money to charity. We meet for three days to talk about what we’re doing to help make the planet a better place to live.

About once a week, I meet with Constance Dykhuizen, the executive director of my Peace, Love & Happiness Foundation. I created it in 2010 to invest in charities involved in sustainability, social responsibility, and animal-friendliness. In April, we had our annualmotorcycle ride to raise money for a local children’s shelter and families of police officers and firefighters killed on duty.

When I’m in Austin, I ride my motorcycles whenever I get a chance. I have seven customized, really cool bikes. There’s nothing like jumping on one and going out in the hill country. I’ll usually go with a friend. If the weather’s good, maybe once a week.

About once or twice a year, I try to take a couple days and go on a retreat alone–usually up in the mountains. I think about what I did the past year, who is in my life, what I’m doing, what I want to do. There are no people, no phones, no obligations, no nothing. If I want to cook, I’ll cook. If I want to be vegetarian, I’ll be vegetarian.

I’ll sip a little bit of nice red wine, just think, just feel, and just be. That’s when I get my best ideas. And I write a lot. One of my ideas was to just be for a few minutes every morning. Another idea I had: Don’t think about things so much. Let it happen. Sometimes, people spend too much time thinking. If you just let things happen, the universe works.

Companies owned: Paul Mitchell, Patrón Spirits, John Paul Pet, DeJoria Diamonds, and several others.

Estimated net worth: $4 billion, according to Forbes

What’s in his office: A phone, a fax machine, and an exercise ball he uses as a chair

What’s not: A computer

Assistants: Three

Management philosophy: “Pay attention to the vital few and ignore the trivial many.”

Best company perk: Free lunch for every employee

You can join John Paul DeJoria and other like-minded rider-entrepreneurs for two days of hard hitting highly-interactive business sessions and some of the best motorcycling in the world at the Inc. Riders’ Summit, Nov. 12-15, 2013. Click here for more information.