Kinko's founder explains how 'business is an art'

Idea for Kinko’s came to Orfalea while he was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California

· November 9, 2012, 1:34 am

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Meredith Stern | DP

Last night in Huntsman Hall, Paul Orfalea, former CEO of Kinko’s, spoke to students and professionals about how his ADHD has affected his business.


In 1970, Paul Orfalea, a self-identified hyperactive dyslexic, founded Kinko’s copy chain with a $5,000 bank loan co-signed by both his parents.

Thirty-four years later, Kinko’s was sold to FedEx for $2.4 billion.

Last night in Huntsman Hall, as part of Wharton Leadership Lectures, more than 60 people, gathered to hear Orfalea speak.

During his hour-long speech, Orfalea spoke of how he overcame his attention deficit hyperactivity disorder by acknowledging his weaknesses and focusing on his strengths.

“I’m not good at being at work,” he said. “I’m good at getting out of work.”

According to Orfalea, one of his weaknesses was his inability to stay in an office for a long period of time.

So he turned this weakness into a strength. He made it his job to go from store to store and build positive, working relationships with his employees.

The idea for Kinko’s came to Orfalea while he was an undergraduate at the University of Southern California.

Orfalea was often mystified after observing long lines of students waiting for the Xerox machine in USC’s library — not to mention paying 10 cents per photocopy. He thought that was an inflated price and saw a huge market opportunity.

Orfalea then proceeded to set up his first store, selling stationary and offering copying machine services at only 4 cents per page.

Within 10 years, his company rapidly expanded to 80 stores.

Becoming an entrepreneur was natural for Orfalea. Born in Los Angeles, but raised Lebanese, Orfalea grew up in an extended family of entrepreneurs.

“Do you know anyone who’s Lebanese who has a job?” Orfalea asked. “We’ve always had our own businesses and went to school truly to learn the traits of business.”

Orfalea claimed that business is not as complicated as most people make it out to be. “I know a lot of you like to do cash flows on Excel sheets and all that nonsense but business is an art, not a science.”

Aside from talking about his business, Orfalea also gave his audience some personal advice.

He told them to do something most college students don’t do — sleep.

“If you look at the world, it’s full of opportunities. You get all these subtle images from subtle areas and if you pay attention, you’ll get it,” Orfalea said. “But you can’t learn unless you sleep. Moreover, who wants to follow a leader that is tired, haggard and miserable?”

Among the event’s attendees was Wharton freshman Christopher Zeoli.

Zeoli said he frequently attends the Leadership Lectures. “I’ve heard of how Paul started Kinko’s while he was still in college and I think I can relate to that,” he said. “I find that very inspiring.”

The event attracted not only students, but also working professionals.

Giorgio Mosconi, president of Formula Pharmaceuticals, a biotechnology company, chose to attend the lecture to gain some business insights.

“Similar to Kinko’s, there are thousands of biotechnological companies in the world but few succeed,” Mosconi said. “I want to learn how Paul made a difference in the marketplace.”

Orfalea did offer his audience an insight to success. “There is only one definition of success — that children want to be with you when they’re adults because that means that they enjoy your company. Isn’t that cool?”

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