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Marquis brands: A few minutes with Jean Paul DeJoria

During a balmy February evening in Miami, a great crowd milled about the Marquis Yachts display. Passed hors d’oeuvres, premium Patrón tequila, amiable chitchat and the star of the evening—the new Marquis 420 Sport Bridge, the latest born in the Marquis family—attracted all kinds of attention with its ultra-sleek Nuvolari-Lenard design, highlighted just so with proper spotlights and underwater lights.

That evening was also a coming-out of sorts for one of the major investors behind Marquis. He may be perceived as a newcomer in the yachting industry, but this charismatic entrepreneur, with well-groomed goatee, trademark ponytail, frank smile and piercing blue eyes, is a well-known personality in the business world. Everyone loves stories of entrepreneurs who’ve met success after stumbling, and Jean Paul DeJoria fits the bill perfectly.

The co-founder of Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits is today a Forbes-ranked billionaire, but he wasn’t always. One of the rough patches he encountered was in the early 1980s, before he founded two companies that became hugely successful. During an interview, DeJoria obligingly revisited one of the periods in his life when things were not so great. He was on the cusp of starting a new business venture and had received a commitment from an investor for half a million dollars in seed money, but these were troubled times. “I was not getting along very well with my ex-wife then. I gave her the house; I gave whatever money I had. I had just a couple of hundred dollars in my pocket and, to make a long story short, the day the money was coming in, the backer changed his mind,” he said. Looking back, it is no wonder the investor got cold feet. There were lines at gas stations. Inflation was rampant. Unemployment was high—and interest rates higher. “It was unbelievable,” DeJoria said. “My partner Paul [Mitchell] came over from Hawaii. We each came up with $350 and borrowed a few dollars from my mother. And I slept in my car for a few weeks,” he said. A couple of years later, when they were finally able to pay their bills on time, he knew they had turned the corner.

Paul Mitchell started with three products. Today it is a hair-care empire, with 120,000 salons worldwide and 110 beauty schools, with an expected 15,000 graduates this year. In 1989, a few years after the birth of the Paul Mitchell line, DeJoria founded Patrón Spirits with Martin Crowley. The company and its flagship tequila brand, made from the blue agave plant found in Jalisco, Mexico, has brought them considerable success. “It is the number one ultra-premium tequila in the world. We are in 110 countries.” Part of the business model is for these companies to give back, and both Paul Mitchell Systems and Patrón Spirits have active philanthropic programs, which include an orphanage in Mexico and rebuilding homes in Louisiana. “That is a significant way of measuring success,” DeJoria said.

A bad economy discouraged DeJoria’s backer in the 1980s. But DeJoria is not that kind of an entrepreneur, and in 2010 he invested money in the ­boating industry. He already was a low-key investor in a very large company called Genmar, which his friend and business partner Irwin Jacobs founded (see Yachts International, June 2010). Financial turmoil and financing difficulties forced the privately held boating giant into bankruptcy in late 2009. The company assets were divided, but the partners refused to call it quits, seeing an opportunity to rebuild a sound and profitable business, even as the market was still faltering. In early 2010, as equal partners in J&D Acquisitions, they started buying back a few of Genmar’s former assets, including the highly respected Marquis and Carver brands.

DeJoria said it was the right time to invest and the right kind of invest­ment for him. “I am a high-end brand person. Patrón and Paul ­Mitchell are high-end brands. I like to associate myself with quality,” he said. Quality, like philanthropy, is part of his business model. “You should not be in the selling business. You should be in the reorder business. Your product should be so high quality that when people get ready to buy again, they come back to you. That’s how we built Paul Mitchell,” he said.

DeJoria also enjoys boating. He was once a boat owner, albeit ­briefly. In 1986 he bought an Ocean 80 sailing boat but sold it when he found he did not have the time to use it regularly. However, he did not give up on the lifestyle. “When I started making money, every year I would charter a boat; a large one, a small one, you name it. It’s such a nice thing to do.… Boating gets you outdoors and allows you to spend time with your family—all things I believe in. This is a perfect match for me.”

As a proud co-owner of luxury boating brands, DeJoria is a good and polished ambassador. He speaks with genuine pride of the craftsmen, some of them third generation, who build the boats in northeastern Wisconsin. Today there are about 400 of them in an 800,000-square-foot facility on 100 acres with room for expansion.

On the business side of things, he and Jacobs see eye to eye. Their first order of business was retooling and inventories. Another of their priorities was to try to come up with solutions to help dealers, ­badly affected by the tightening in credit, showcase their boat brands. Things have not eased up much in the banking sector, and it’s an area they are still investigating.

They also thought of creative ways to bring dealers and customers together and showcase their boats in three yacht centers in the United States, and one in Monaco. The idea was to create an event in a beautiful location, and give clients the ability to feel and touch the boats they wanted to buy. Recognizing their market as being a global one, the company also opened a sales office in Shanghai. “We have invested millions of dollars, Irwin and I, and we will continue to do so,” DeJoria said.

At the Fort Lauderdale International Boat Show, Marquis will have a complete lineup, from its 420 Sport Coupe to the Marquis 720 Flybridge. And 2012 will see the launch of several new models for both Carver and Marquis. Marquis’ new 630 Sport Yacht will make its debut at the Yacht & Brokerage Show in Miami. It is sure to be a spirited debut, especially if they’re serving a little Patrón tequila again.