John came from very humble beginnings. His parents were divorced when he was just two years old, and by the age of nine he and his brothers were selling Christmas cards and newspapers in order to make ends meet. At first John’s big dream was to simply get a job where he could make $150 a week so that he could make a small house payment and drive a good used car. Here is how John describes his struggles through life:
“I was homeless twice in my life, mainly because I was too proud to ask anybody for help. In my early twenties I was divorced from my first wife. I had my son; I had no place to live. I went out and collected Coke bottles at night. I’d cash them in at the drugstore. You’d only get two or three cents in those days. We lived off a very skimpy diet in those days, rice, potatoes, cereal, macaroni and cheese or canned soup, but we lived.”
Despite his struggles, John persisted. When he left the Navy he started honing his sales skills by selling encyclopedias, then copy machine and then insurance. Eventually he became a circulation manager for Time Inc. In 1971 he stated working for Redken Laboratories, the leading professional salon product company in the U.S. at the time. In 1980 he joined forces with Paul Mitchell, an influential hair designer, and introduced the concept of hair setting and styling as part of their professional hair care system. The company was started with only $700, some of which he had to borrow.
Initially John Paul Michell Systems faced many challenges. Even the famous black and white packaging that became a key part of their brand came out of their lack of funds to use color ink. Initially the company consisted of a post office box and an answering machine. A female friend with a British accent produced the message recording to convey that there was, indeed, an office. Through persistence and hard work John and his partner removed each barrier as they came up:
“We should have gone bankrupt perhaps 50 times during the first year.”
Today John Paul Mitchell Systems is a $800 million business selling more than 90 products that are sold through 25 distributors within the United States to approximately 90,000 hair salons. Internationally, John Paul Mitchell Systems works with distributors in 73 countries that supply thousands of hair salons.
So what is John’s success secret? He explains it succinctly:
“I have said many times, the difference between successful people and unsuccessful people is that successful people do a lot of the things that unsuccessful people don’t want to do. Like when the door is slammed in your face ten times. You go to door number 11 with just as much enthusiasm. It is during the toughest times that you do what others will say, oh my God, this is too tough. As far as doing things differently, I believe that fewer people can do more. Our staff is paid more than others in our industry, but they do a lot more also. My management philosophy is to have fewer moving parts. We have no middle management. Here at John Paul Mitchell Systems, we should probably have five or six hundred employees. We only have about 87, worldwide. It’s fewer people doing more.”
In addition to John Paul Mitchell Systems, John also owns 17 other businesses, including The House of Blues nightclubs, Patron Tequila, GFI, Solar Utility, NRG Natural Gas, Skidmore Energy, a Harley Davidson dealership, and interests in alternative energy, natural gas and solar cars.
All of John’s success was conquered through a set of beliefs that we can all learn from:
“Whatever you do, if you do it better than anyone else, it’s amazing how things just start falling your way. Also, regarding balance, do unto others as you would have others do unto you. It’s amazing, the planet keeps its own order if you keep a balance.”
John’s success story is inspirational indeed.