Brad Johns, artistic director of Avon Salon & Spa, discusses the unique aspects of a mentor relationship and the impact it can have on your career.

As a haircolorist, I love what I do. I'm as excited today about my art as I was when I first started out in the business almost 30 years ago. One reason is because I was fortunate enough to learn from the very best: people who inspired me artistically, technically and spiritually. This is the very essence of what mentoring is, and for me, two people in particular—one with whom I worked very closely, and the other someone I never actually met—had a tremendous impact on my career.

Brad Johns
Brad Johns

Don Matthews is someone I'll never forget. He was the color director at the Clive Summers Salon when I worked there in the early '80s, and he turned my whole color world around. Don worked in the Clairol laboratory before becoming a colorist; he knew what was in every bottle, and he treated color as an art. He was a funny, sweet man, who taught me everything he knew, and I couldn't learn enough from him. I hounded him to the point where Clive finally took me aside and told me to leave him alone, that people would think I was after his job! Of course that wasn't the case at all. I didn't want to be Don; I wanted to be like him.

Don had a unique "you can't take it with you" attitude about sharing what he knew. He truly believed that the more knowledge you gave away, the more both of you benefited. From him I got the basics of what was in the color bottles, but also the spiritual and emotional inspiration only a true mentor can provide. I'll never forget a card he once sent to my parents in which he had written, "I guess I have to pass the baton on to Brad." That's the kind of person he was.

Even though I never met Leslie Blanchard, he was another one of my idols. As a kid fresh out of beauty school, I showed up at Leslie's salon one day and told them I absolutely had to work there. But they weren't hiring, and I was devastated. Leslie was an amazing businessperson, and he did beautiful blondes. Just as I consider Don, with whom I worked very closely, my spiritual and mental mentor, I have always regarded Leslie, whom I never met, as my business mentor.

Over the years, I've had the privilege to train many talented assistants who have gone on to do great work, including Rita Hazan, who owns her own salon, and Kyle White, who's with Oscar Blandi. I hope the most important thing I've taught them is how to be the best they can be, not at coloring hair the way I do, but at the way they color hair. Their personal success started with their own passion for their art, and I tried to be there for them every step of the way.

If an assistant were to show up at my salon saying, "I'm here, and I want to make a lot of money," I probably would never hire him or her. But if they showed up and said, "I am going to work with you. I want to learn," that's the kind of artistic, passionate person I want to mentor. I learn every day from my assistants, giving them the space to grow and remembering what Don showed me: Give your knowledge away, and you get back what you don't have. One of the things I got back was the realization that doing haircolor is exactly what I was meant to do. This give-and-take is the most important component in a great mentor relationship.

E-mail Brad at [email protected]