Louis Dudley grew up in a three room farm house in Aurora, North
Carolina with thirteen other people including his parents, ten
sisters and brothers and grandfather. He was held back in the
first grade, labeled "mentally retarded" and had a
speech impediment. People thought, "Now, here's a kid who'll
never amount to anything in life." But his mother Clara had
high expectations of her son and encouraged him to "prove
He did more
than that. Joe Dudley, Sr. founded Dudley Products, a company that
distributes 400 professional and retail ethnic hair care products and
personal care cosmetics directly to cosmetologists, barbers and
beauty schools in the United States and foreign countries
including Europe, Zimbabwe, South Africa and Brazil. The company's
empire includes: Dudley Cosmetology University, Dudley Beauty
School System and the Dudley Brand. Recently, the Dudley products
were featured in "Good Hair," Chris Rock's comedy film.
Joe Louis, the prizefighter, Dr. Dudley's climb to this successful
plateau wouldn't be an easy one or hard to forget. His trek to
becoming an entrepreneur began early. He remembers that his
father, a farmer never wanted any of his children to be beholden
to other people for their livelihoods. "We believed in
working for ourselves. My daddy worked for himself. My granddaddy
worked for himself. And of the eight boys in our family, we all
became self-employed in some form or fashion," he proudly
to fulfill his parents' dream that all of their children become
educated, Dudley enrolled in North Carolina A&T State
University as a poultry science major with a future eye on owning
a farm. Working his way through school, he used the skills learned
from his family's farm to collect eggs and feed chickens on the
college's grounds for fifty cents an hour.
pursuing his studies, fate intervened and changed his life
forever. It was around that time that he learned about Fuller
Products, a prosperous company run by the late S.B. Fuller who was
one of the richest African Americans of his time. Seeking out an
opportunity with the renowned entrepreneur by journeying to New
York, Dr. Dudley became inspired by Fuller's philosophy. He paid
the initial sum of ten dollars to join the organization and began
working as a door-to-door sales person. "I started working
for them in 1957. They talked about being self-sufficient and that
meant a great deal to me," he remembers. "On my first
day, I made about one dollar and ten cents. My first week, I made
twenty seven dollars." However, his sales and confidence soon
skyrocketed and he began making $100 a week, which helped him
comfortably pay for his tuition. Realizing his success and newly
found love of selling, he readily switched his major to business
was completed, Dudley returned to New York to join Fuller Products
on a full-time basis and rapidly rose up the company's ladder to
success becoming a team member. Along the way, he gained the respect
of Fuller who became his mentor and guiding light.
later, Dudley returned to North Carolina and started a Fuller
distributorship. However, there were difficulties during this time
with getting those products for his sales force. He bought a small
cosmetics company as well as set his sights on owning a much
larger business. "I was already selling products and knew
what customers wanted. So, that wasn't a big problem. And Mr.
Fuller gave his blessings."
that important support, he was on his way to starting Dudley
Products. "The problem was that I had to learn how to
manufacture and formulate products. But Mr. Fuller had shared some
of his technology with me. And I just remembered how he did it. I
went to the library to research and also bought some formulations
from other companies."
to make it despite the overwhelming odds, the struggling
entrepreneur began an inspirational journey to making Dudley
Products a reality. And it's the kind of story of which successes
are made. He explains those modest company beginnings: " I
started making the products on my kitchen stove. I didn't have the
money so I went to beauty salons and they gave me their old
containers. Then I would take old milk jugs and make shampoo. We
just took what we had. My wife Dr. Eunice Mosley Dudley would type
the labels. My kids would put the tops on the containers. I would
make the products by night and sell them during the day."
kind of drive and determination, his company mushroomed to one
with almost 500 employees, a chain of beauty salons and the
college. But just when he was having the most successful year, Joe
Dudley put his life on hold and rushed to the side of S.B. Fuller,
whose company was experiencing financial difficulties. In 1976,
sales at Fuller Products had plummeted from 1962 sales of $10
million to $1.5 million. Answering his mentor's call for help, the
enterprising Dudley packed up everything and relocated to Chicago.
Using his expertise and business savvy, he helped boost Fuller
Products' sales to $2 million, was glad to do what was necessary
to help his old friend, mentor and inspirational leader.
"Everything I know came from that man. There's no question
that he changed my life. He is gone now but I still follow his
program," he says.
what he could to resurrect Fuller Products, Dudley returned home
to continue building his own company. And that success is due in
part to a unique philosophy of marketing and selling his products
directly to the cosmetologists and eliminating the middleman.
"We had several beauty salons and I decided to make some
great products for my own shops. And the people liked them and
they kind of caught on."
businessman who strives to help others, he always seeks out ways
too motivate people in his own company. Like a true leader, he
gives his sales managers the latitude to operate, as if running
their own organizations. He inspires his other employees with an
incredible, catching team spirit slogans like "We are Job
Makers, Not Job Takers!"
Besides being a business entrepreneur, Joe Dudley is a
humanitarian who is very generous with his time and money. He has
regularly sent about forty students to college at North Carolina
A&T and Bennett College. For many years, his Dudley Fellows
Program has been renowned for helping high school students learn
leadership and life skills. And he launched the ComPass
program to help college-bound students prepare for careers in
accounting and at the same time help to increase the number of
African American professionals in the field. In the future, Dr.
Dudley plans to make 250 millionaires which was the dream of S.B.
Dudley, Sr. not only started a business, he helped other African
Americans in their ventures. "I made an early decision to
strengthen the revenues of African American beauty salons: "
I decided that we would do a lot with the cosmetologist. The
manufacturers would use them to introduce the products. Then after
the items caught on, they would take the products and put them in
the retail stores. So, I wanted to help the cosmetologists to
become more successful, create a line exclusively for them and
make a better quality product. In this way, they wouldn't have to
compete with the drug stores." And thousands of
cosmetologists are thankful to him for doing this.
business acumen and humanitarian work, Dr. Joe Louis Dudley has
many impressive honors and awards. In 1991, President Bush honored
him with the 467th "Point of Light" for his Dudley
Fellows Program, a mentoring program for high school students. He
is the recipient of the prestigious "Horatio Alger
Award", an honorary doctorate from Edward Waters College in
Florida, the "North Carolina Master Entrepreneur of The
Year" award presented by Inc. Magazine, Ernst and Young, and
Merrill Lynch, "The Maya Angelou Tribute To Achievement
Award", "the National Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion
Award" and "Award for Excellence" from Minorities
and Women in Business, the Direct Sales Association's "Vision
For Tomorrow Award", a "Non-Merchandise Supplier Grant
Award" from J.C. Penny and an induction into the National
Black College Award Hall of Fame and many, many other awards.
Dudley family members who helped him in the early, unpredictable
days are still involved with the business. Ursula Dudley Oglesby,
a Harvard Law School graduate has taken over the company's
day-to-day operations as president.
a little bag of ten dollars. I didn't have to borrow money and it
kept on growing," Dr. Dudley says of his initial
investment in Fuller Products. And I know that if S.B.
Fuller as well as Dudley's parents and grandparents are looking
down from heaven, they have to be proud of the man who people
thought would never make it.
Dr. Dudley's book is
entitled I Am, I Can, I Will: Walking By Faith. I encourage
each of you to get it.