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How I Overcame Homelessness Twice to Become a Billionaire | John Paul DeJoria

John Paul Dejoria has had a rough ride to the top. Yet being homeless twice and being abandoned by his wife early on didn’t shake his drive to make it in this word, and he’s managed to turn an admittedly difficult hand into a royal flush. These days he’s a billionaire several times over with a successful Paul Mitchell haircare line and even a founding stake in Patron tequila brand. So how did he maintain motivation? He remembered giving two dimes to the Salvation Army as a boy, and how his mother told him that those dimes add up and can really help people. This lesson directly helped him overcome a period early in his career where he was collecting bottle caps to get money to eat.

John Paul’s latest venture is a documentary on his life called Good Fortune.

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Transcript: A lot of people ask how I got into donating to various causes, and how I got involved in even homelessness along the way, and popped out of it—well it’s a very interesting story. My mom has a lot to do with it.

At six years old we didn’t have any money; there was my mother, my brother and I. We had a deadbeat dad; left us before we were two, but she took us at Christmas-time to downtown Los Angeles. We had little cars going around in circles, it was pretty cool, and decorations in the window.

She gave my brother and I a dime and told us, “Boys whole half of it each, give it to the man ringing the bell in the bucket.” We put it in this bucket, we said, “Mom, why did we give that man a dime? That’s like two soda pops.” This is 1951, two soda pops, three candy bars.

And mom said, “Boys, that’s the Salvation Army. They take care of people that have no place to live and no food. And we don’t have a lot of money, but we can afford a dime this year. Boys, always remember in life: give a little something to those in need, they’ll always be somebody that’s not as well-off as you are. No matter where you are or how far down you are, try and help someone along the way.” It stuck with me.

The first time I was homeless I was 22-and-a-half years older and I had a two-and-a-half year old son. I was working as the Master of Ceremonies at the Second Annual Sports Vacation Recreational Vehicle Show and I had a check coming in at the end of the week.

Well, I came home and I drove our one car up to where we lived and as I was getting out of the car and going up towards our apartment door my wife—we were very young, we got married at 20 and 19 years old—my wife was coming down the stairs and she said, “I’m going to storage,” and she took the keys. By the time I got through the door I saw my little boy, two and a half years old, kind of just sitting there on top of a pile of clothes with a note that basically said, “I can’t handle being a mom anymore. He’ll be much better off with you. Good luck.”

Now, what I didn’t know also was that she had planned this for a few months. She had not paid the rent for a few months and kept the money and I didn’t know that. She wiped out what little we had in the savings account in the bank and took the only car we had. So unbeknownst to me, two days later I was evicted—completely evicted, power shut off, the landlord—she just really timed this one. And I had this little kid with me, two-and-a-half years old, and now I had to be mom and dad and that was really a bummer, I had no car! So I ended up borrowing a 1951 Cadillac with a broken water pump from someone that was very, very dear, had to put water in it every four hours, and that’s kind of how we got going.

Second time I was homeless is when I started John Paul Mitchell Systems. I knew I needed $500,000 to start John Paul Mitchell Systems, had to have that. So we had the backer lined up, I had a good job at the time, lived in a nice house, and I left everything I had because $500,000 was coming down the street, I was going to start a company. So I left it all behind. I left what money I had with my wife—we weren’t getting along well at all—and the best car. And I took the older car—it was a good one but an older car, it ran good—down the hill to get my money.

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