Modern Original People: Winn Claybaugh

Like the Energizer Bunny, Winn Claybaugh just keeps going and going and going. High-energy doesn’t begin to describe the Co-Founder, Co-owner and Dean of Paul Mitchell Schools, whose busy schedule includes speaking engagements all over the country where he spreads a philosophy of business that has inspired generations of beauty professionals. Claybaugh had always sought out mentors for advice, but when he “added a microphone to the equation” 20 years ago, the MASTERS Audio Club was born. Since then the subscription-based monthly audio series has featured 325 top leaders and icons both in and out of the beauty industry. 

Claybaugh’s first guest was the legendary Vidal Sassoon. “I figured if Vidal said yes to me, who would say no?” says Claybaugh, whose gambit paid off. Reflecting on some of his most memorable interviews, he mentions day spa pioneer Noel de Caprio, who lost her battle with breast cancer in December, 1998. “I interviewed her a month before she passed away, and I think she knew this would be her final message to the beauty industry, so it was a profound experience.” 

In 2003 Claybaugh decided to write a book because, well, why not? He’s Winn Claybaugh. Be Nice, Or Else! (CNN’s Larry King wrote the Foreword) now in its 17th printing, may be more relevant today in our polarized political climate than ever before. “You would think that with the knowledge we have today that we’d have a solution for things like racism and poverty, but it seems like we’re going backwards,” he says. “So, 15 years later I’m proud to stand on stages outside the beauty industry to talk about this topic. Because of what their employees are exposed to at home or on social media today, companies have a responsibility to create a safe environment in the workplace where people feel like they have a purpose. Most people show up at work for a paycheck, but that’s not what you want. People need to be engaged with their passion, their talent and their creativity.”

For Claybaugh, being nice is the road to a life full of joy. “Be nice or be a horrible leader. Be nice or get divorced. Be nice or have your kids abandon you. Be nice or live a horrible life,” he says. “How can you be a good parent or lover if you’re so angry all the time? Anger is the emotion that fuels a lot of posts we see online. It’s not about having a debate or a conversation. Why can’t we completely disagree and then hug each other?”

Giving back is so important to Claybaugh that students at Paul Mitchell Schools all over the country participate in the annual FUNraising campaign. Partnering with celebrities like Marie Osmond, Gary Sinise, Fran Drescher and Leeza Gibbons, these events have raised more than $20 million for a host of charities, including Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, Gary Sinise Foundation, Cancer Schmancer Movement, Leeza’s Care Connection and Food 4 Africa. What’s impressive about Claybaugh’s philanthropy—he calls himself a “good steward of your money”—is that only 4% of funds generated go to overhead.

For Claybaugh, the true beneficiaries of the FUNraising campaign are his students because these events change them as people. “If they’re going to spend a year of their lives in school with me, I’m going to take it seriously,” he says. “I’m not there just to teach them how to cut and color hair or do great facials. I want to make sure they leave the school as better human beings, that they fixed their relationship with mom and dad, that they received the tools they need to be drug-free, that they learned how to stand up for themselves so they’re no longer a victim of domestic violence, that they know how to ask a client to support a cause they’re passionate about.”

In 2017 Claybaugh received the prestigious Ellis Island Medal of Honor for making it his mission to share his wealth of knowledge, indomitable courage, boundless passion and selfless generosity with those less fortunate. Fellow honorees that year included former astronaut and Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who won the Nobel Peace Prize after being shot in her native country for championing a girl’s right to education.  

“I am my mother’s son,” says Claybaugh. “She taught me that you take care of those around you and that charity begins at home, which means that you have to take care of people in your own neighborhood.” Claybaugh and his husband wanted to make sure that their six-year-old daughter Sofia got an early start in the world of giving back so they created a charity for her called Sofia’s Kind Heart, an online donation campaign to benefit the charity of her choice. In June, 2018, Sofia raised $5,300 for the Fred Jordan Mission, which serves thousands of homeless families and individuals in the Skid Row area of Los Angeles.

“There are two powers that rule this planet—love and fear,” says Claybaugh, referencing A Course in Miracles. “Most people think that the opposite of love is hate, but it’s not; it’s fear, and one of the faces of fear is hate. If you’re not coming from a place of love, you’re coming from another place.” Claybaugh’s solution to the discord in contemporary society? “We can all hold different beliefs, but we should approach each other from a place of love.” Fear, he says, will never take you down the path to a life well-lived.