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Dr. Joe Dudley, Sr.

I Am, I Can, I Will...Walking In Faith

The late S.B. Fuller

Dr. Joe Louis Dudley, Sr.
Founder and
CEO, Dudley Beauty Corporation (Dudley Products)

 I Am, I  Can and I Will by Joe Dudley's Book

S.B. Fuller, Mr. Dudley's mentor and founder of Fuller Products. He was the richest Black man of his time.


Dr. Joe 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 them wrong!"

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.

Named for 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 states.

Determined 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.

While 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 administration.

Once college 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.

Five years 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."

And with 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."

Determined 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." 

With that 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.

After doing 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."

An astute 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. Fuller.

Joe Louis 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.

For his 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.

Today, the 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. 

"I took 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.



This excerpt first appeared in Success Strategies For African Americans by Beatryce Nivens. Copyright Nivens 1998. All rights reserved.

All content contained within this site is protected by copyright Nivens 2001-2010. Site material part of Not Your Mother's Job Search. Unauthorized use of our material is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. Ms. Whitley's photo by Dwayne_with__name. Nikki Giovanni's pictures courtesy her web Thanks to CUNY Media for the video on Darryl Warner, a true 9/11 hero.

All content contained within this site is protected by copyright Nivens 2001-2010. Site material part of Not Your Mother's Job Search. Unauthorized use of our material is strictly prohibited. All rights reserved. Ms. Whitley's photo by Dwayne_with__name. Nikki Giovanni's pictures courtesy her web Thanks to CUNY Media for the video on Darryl Warner, a true 9/11 hero.