Artist Stories: Winn Claybaugh, Dean of Paul Mitchell Schools

I first met Winn Claybaugh about 30 years or so ago, when I was a young beauty school director in Utah and he had just opened his first cosmetology school, a seemingly formidable competitor who I just had to meet face-to-face. 

Keep in mind that these were the olden days of beauty school life—the shampoo set ladies ruled the landscape and “retail” was seen mostly as a crazy idea meant only to cost school owners money.  The collective old-school wisdom of most owners in the area was, “This kid was sure to fail”: Winn put his school on the second floor of a building with little parking. You entered by way of a steep, not so easy to navigate staircase leading to a school put together in a way that shamed most salons of the day. P.S. It was across the street from a very big university (filled with college students “who would never go to a beauty school for services”). 


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I reached out to Winn and he enthusiastically invited me to meet at the school, something we did from time to time in the two years that followed, before my leaving Utah for my first big job (with Pivot Point in Chicago, a story I will save for another blog post). Curiosity got the best of me so I flat out asked him, “Why the second floor; why this location?”

At the time, his answer screamed brilliance to me (and scared the bejesus out of my competing school director-self). It was something along the lines of, “I love the old ladies but those stairs will keep them away. We want students learning by working with model clients, those in their late teens, 20s and 30s, just like they will have in the salon. With our location, we have a captured audience of potential clients not far from our front door, who don’t need parking!”

Fast-forward three decades and Winn Claybaugh is a recognized leader in cosmetology school education, having co-founded Paul Mitchell Schools with John Paul DeJoria. He has changed not only the image of schools but raised the bar in most aspects of school management, marketing and curriculum. He has also helped to change the language of the industry, introducing the proactive term “future professional,” and has added community service and fundraising for good causes (or FUNraising) to his school culture in a massive effort to elevate the term “service”—an effort that has impacted the entire industry (not to mention the recipients of the results of his good work). 

Like me, Winn in not a hairdresser. Unlike me (and yeah, I’m jealous!), he is an artist, in my book, evidenced in the way he inspires future professionals, educators and salon pros during his time on stages and on platforms around the country.  Check out the video to learn more. 

About: Gordon is Senior Director of Digital at American Salon where he works with the entire editorial team as well as with the considerable resources of parent company Questex to bring you stories, resources and more, 24/7. 

Gordon can be found online at or as @gordnm on Instagram. In real-time, you can find Gordon at major beauty events where he often teaches classes on business and career development as well as best practices in digital and social media.  Email Gordon at [email protected]