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Thelma L. Joshua & Ernest P. "Josh" Joshua, Sr.: co-founders, J.M. Products, Inc., Little Rock, Arkansas.

Thelma L. Joshua and the late Ernest P. "Josh" Joshua, Sr. founded one of the largest manufacturers of ethnic hair care products in the United States. J.M. Products is also the largest African American-owned company in the State of Arkansas. The Joshuas overcame financial strife, health problems, natural disasters, and racial discrimination to create a flourishing international business, distributing their products through the world's largest retail organizations.


Ernest was born on November 3, 1928, in Jacksonville, Ark. After his mother's death, he was raised by his grandmother in St. Louis. He said, "Being not only poor, but an orphan, gave me the determination I needed to succeed in life." After graduating from high school, Ernest served in the U.S. Army in World War II and the Korean War. Thelma grew up in Rixie, Ark., and met Ernest in North Little Rock. They married in 1949 and moved to Chicago where Ernest often worked two or more jobs, including bus and taxi driver and waiter. Thelma worked for a furrier and took care of the couple's tour children.

Through his uncle, Ernest met two Arkansans, John H. Johnson, Ebony publisher and ethnic hair products pioneer George Johnson. With these relationships, he became interested in chemistry--mixing, bottling and peddling the products on the bus or in the cab. Ernest's father had been a bootlegger--a career that had much in common with his own career: mixing by hand and selling door-to-door. Ernest believed there was a large untapped market for ethnic hair-care products. He went to work for Fred Luster, founder of Luster Products. He also got a business degree from Cortez Peters Business College and took chemistry courses at the University of Chicago.


Thelma agreed with Ernest's idea to create his own hair care company. In 1971, he started Raval Products. which was acquired by Magnificent Products, Los Angeles. They moved to California. Magnificent Products was sold, and with the profits, the Joshuas started J.M. Products. The stress of the new business caught up with him, and he got cancer in 1975. One day, he looked at a U.S. map and saw Arkansas in the middle. He drew a circle around it and counted millions of potential customers. He told Thelma, "Let's go home."


He opened his first store front on West 14th Street in Little Rock where he developed a good rapport with Southern distributors. After two years, Ernest regained his strength, and the company began to grow. When his cancer returned, Thelma and children joined in the business. In the late 1970s, growth stalled. Ernest put $30,000 in radio advertising and his business took off.

Today, the company has two manufacturing facilities in Little Rock and North Little Rock with over 300,000 square feet of production and warehouse space. Since the early 1990s, the company has formed joint venture operations in Jamaica, West Africa and South Africa to support its international marketing. J.M. Products markets through such outlets as Rite Aid, CVS, Walgreens, Wal-Mart, K-Mart, Kroger Stores, Albertson's, as well as beauty and barber supply, military, beauty, school, salon, and wholesale outlets.

The company's motto is "Fabulous Hair is a Plus ... With ISOPLUS." Today's national ISOPLUS brand includes over 100 products: aerosol hair sprays, shampoos, conditioners, hair mousse, hair relaxers, gels, styling aids and scalp oils. It also manufactures for private labels. It expanded through a chain of five beauty and barber shops and one school, Thelma's Beauty Academy.

J. M. Products is also the largest minority-owned aerosol manufacturing company in the United States and perhaps, the world. However, it leads the way in compliance with California and EPA regulations.

Ernest received the Arkansas Small Business Person of the Year award from the U.S. Small Business Administration in 1986. The next year, he received the Six-State Regional Small Businessman of the Year and was runner-up to the National Small Businessman of the Year. Also, in 1987, Ernest was the first businessman from Arkansas to be honored at the White House for his achievements as a small business by President Ronald Reagan. In 1994, President Bill Clinton invited the Joshuas to participate in the first ever U.S. trade mission to South Africa.

In 1989, the J.M. Products' Little Rock manufacturing facility was destroyed by fire. With the help of the bank, insurance and subcontractors, Ernest restarted manufacturing in less than 30 days. From 1989 thru 2001, the company's facilities were severely damaged by tornados or high winds.

J.M. Products is active in various hair care and trade-related associations and business organizations such as the American Health and Beauty Aids Institute, Southern Aerosol Technical Association, and U.S. Chamber of Commerce.


The Joshuas' involvement in Philander Smith College led to the funding of a new score board and the athletic dressing rooms named for Thelma. Ernest received honorary degrees from Philander Smith College and Shorter College. From 1989 to 1995, Ernest was chairperson of the United Negro College Fund, which earned him the Dr. Frederick D. Patterson Award.

Today J.M. Products continues to contribute to many charitable endeavors, including: Arkansas Children's Hospital (with its annual golf tournament, J.M. has raised over $320,000.00), NAACP, Sickle Cell Anemia Foundation, AHBAI Scholarship Fund, UNCF, YWCA, United Way, and Shorter College.

Thelma took over as CEO of the company in 2005 after Ernest passed away. Their children and grandchildren continue to work diligently to keep their dream alive. Michael is president; Ernie Jr., vice president, manages manufacturing activities; Sandra manages customer service; and Chris, one of the plant managers, handles special projects. The grandchildren are active in purchasing, marketing, customer service and manufacturing.

Ernest said who ever coined that term, "Arkansas--The Land of Opportunity," knew what they were talking about. He told Arkansas Business in 1987, "I want to put as many people to work as possible. If we create jobs, it improves everyone's quality of life. That's the American Dream." Trials of illness, racial discrimination, and financial problems did not keep Ernest and Thelma Joshua from achieving the "American Dream" and helping others to find it.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Business Hall of Fame 2007
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Jan 29, 2007
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Next Article:2007 Arkansas Business Hall of Fame committees.

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