Paul Orfalea

Paul Orfalea

'Can you copy this?' Kinko's founder shares secrets of his success

Delivering the keynote address to a crowd of more than 470 people at the fifth annual Sebo Series in Entrepreneurship, Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, listed the qualities he possesses that make him a great entrepreneur. He said, “I’m a terrible reader, I don’t have any mechanical ability whatsoever, I am extremely restless and was raised by parents who didn’t worry about school.

“Not quite what you would expect for a winning entrepreneurial formula, is it?” Orfalea joked with the audience.

Yet, he managed to grow a tiny California copy shop into a global company that was sold to FedEx for more than $2 billion. With a candid and irreverent style, he went on to explain that his first three difficulties propelled him to think about problems differently and to develop a team-based approach to business.

Most important, though, he said, was the fourth quality—his parents’ emphasis on learning rather than school. “This is an important distinction too many people fail to make,” emphasized Orfalea. He looked at the numerous conference tables filled with students frantically taking notes and said, “Stop taking notes! Why are you taking notes? So you can get a good grade?”

Grades aren’t what matters, according to Orfalea. “If my parents had focused on high grades, they would have defeated me. Instead, they taught me to always ask ‘why?’” Similarly, he asked the audience why they attended the conference, what they hoped to learn and why the information mattered to them. He then urged participants to take a walk after the conference to think about what they had heard and find a way to apply the knowledge to their own dreams and aspirations.

“Orfalea just turned traditional business-school theory on its head,” exclaimed Bill Dallas, CEO of Fox Sports Grill and a conference panelist. “He challenged all of us to move past rote teaching and learning to find deeper meanings and connections, and in so doing, open the door to satisfying careers and lives.”

Jeff Twyman, former owner of ready-to-eat vegetable producer GreenLine, was also impressed. “Throughout the conference, aspiring entrepreneurs learned that they didn’t have to reinvent the wheel as they developed a company. The opening presentation and the four panel sessions showed how specific business strategies were used to grow a variety of businesses. Then Orfalea challenged everyone to take the information and think of new applications and ideas.”

After Orfalea’s keynote speech, he spent time talking with audience members, including a number of students from BGSU and area high schools. Deb Kelly, a Bowling Green High School marketing teacher, said, “It was an incredible experience for the region’s students to talk with Paul Orfalea and the other inspiring entrepreneurs at this conference. Not only does this opportunity have obvious value to students with entrepreneurial dreams, but far-reaching value as students with ties to this area are encouraged to create and grow companies that provide jobs in the region.”

J. Robert Sebo, a BGSU trustee, was principal sponsor of the conference, which is hosted by the College of Business Administration and the Dallas-Hamilton Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership. The center was established in 2004 with a $3 million gift from Dallas, a BGSU graduate, and Olympic gold-medal figure skater Scott Hamilton, a Bowling Green native and honorary alumnus.

April 21, 2008