Kinko's founder shares his idea of success with Cal Poly students

clambert@thetribunenews.comJanuary 28, 2013 

A conversation with Kinko's founder Paul Orfelea and professor Jonathan York filled the Spanos Theater at Cal Poly on Monday; more than 500 students came to listen.


Paul Orfalea’s measure of success is simple.

“Do you know what a successful life is?” the founder of Kinko’s asked about 500 Cal Poly students on Monday. “Your children want to be with you when they’re adults.”

During an hourlong talk at the Spanos Theatre at Cal Poly, Orfalea urged the students to maintain a work-life balance, to cultivate their curiosity and take time to reflect on their learning.

Orfalea incorporated such values into his company, believing that to be successful, work, love and play must be in balance.

He bemoaned test-driven education and pushed for people to come up with original questions and ideas, saying there’s too much “people pleasing” in education and not enough innovative, self-sustaining work.

Orfalea, who graduated from the University of Southern California, opened his first Kinko’s shop near UCSB in 1970 with a $5,000 bank loan.

Most of his life was geared toward becoming an entrepreneur, Orfalea said. He was raised in a Lebanese culture, with an extended family of entrepreneurs, and starting a business was the natural course of action.

As a child, he struggled with reading and had trouble sitting still — later he learned he suffered from dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — and learned to rely on support and give back to others who helped him.

He later created a partner-driven business culture at Kinko’s, noting on Monday that “people manage themselves, if you get out of the way.”

Kinko’s grew from a single location to a global enterprise, and was bought by FedEx in 2004 for $2.4 billion.

In 2001, Orfalea and his family donated $15 million in company stock to Cal Poly's College of Business and $1 million to the campus children’s center. The donation was earmarked to enhance the quality and scope of business education for Cal Poly students.

Many business students came to hear him speak as part of the Orfalea College of Business’ Distinguished Speaker Series.

At the end of the talk, he threw out a challenge to all Cal Poly students — to develop a pitch for a product concept based on a nontraditional use of dairy products. The “Milk Your Creativity” challenge offers a $3,000 first-place prize and two $1,000 runner-up prizes.

The discussion was held in a question-and-answer format with Jon York, a professor of entrepreneurship and co-founder of the Cal Poly Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Orfalea’s talk came at a particularly salient time for the university, which has placed more focus on fostering opportunities for entrepreneurship through various programs and projects, said Dave Christy, dean of the Orfalea College of Business.

“Every couple of years we realize we have students who never had the opportunity to hear him,” Christy added.

Fourth-year business student Heather Deagen was struck by Orfalea’s wit and straightforward personality. She enjoyed the reminder of maintaining balance and seeing the big picture.

“I definitely have that busy lifestyle, and I can get caught up in it,” said Deagen, 21. “It was a very good reminder for me to stay true to what life has to offer.”

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