Orfalea, Paul 1947–

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Orfalea, Paul 1947–

PERSONAL: Surname pronounced "OR-fah-la"; born 1947, in Los Angeles, CA; married; wife's name, Natalie; children: two. Education: University of Southern California, B.S., 1971.

ADDRESSES: Office—Orfalea Foundations, 1283 Coast Village Cir., Santa Barbara, CA 93108.

CAREER: Founder and chairman emeritus, Kinko's, Inc. Teaches classes at University of Southern California, and University of California Santa Barbara. Has taught at New York University, University of California Davis, Princeton, Harvard, University of California Los Angeles, and Wharton School of Business, among other institutions.

AWARDS, HONORS: Entrepreneur of the Year Award, University of Southern California's Marshall School of Business, 1998; Philanthropist of the Year Award, 2000; Conrad Hilton Entrepreneur Award, 2001; Recognition of Outstanding Support for Education Award, University of Southern California, 2003; Friend of the California Community Colleges award, 2003; Ellis Island Medal of Honor, 2004; Beta Gamma Sigma Medallion for Entrepreneurship; CEO Hall of Fame award; Sally Award, Salvation Army; Hello Friend Award, Ennis William Cosby Foundation; honorary degree, Babson College; AFP Philanthropist of the Year, 2005.


(With Ann Marsh) Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic Who Turned a Bright Idea into One of America's Best Companies, Workman (New York, NY), 2005.

SIDELIGHTS: Prominent business leader Paul Orfalea is the founder of the business-services company and photocopying giant Kinko's. His story has been held up as an example of how determination, a good idea, and a fundamental kindness and humanity can overcome disabilities, disadvantages, and lack of confidence in others. In Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic Who Turned a Bright Idea into One of America's Best Companies, written with Ann Marsh, Orfalea recounts how he conquered early obstacles that seemed destined to hinder him. He also tells how he refused to be defeated by his problems and how he harnessed personal impairments to build his business into a towering success.

The son of Lebanese parents who owned and operated a factory in the garment district of Los Angeles, Orfalea's childhood was generally happy, but he was constantly tormented by his inability to learn how to read and write. He was unable to recite the alphabet in second grade, which caused him to be held back. Even when he repeated the grade the next year, he still could not master the alphabet or read. Several physical conditions were suggested by doctors as possible causes of Orfalea's difficulties, including weak eye muscles, which resulted in his being forced to perform unnecessary eye exercises, and a lazy tongue. The battery of clinics and specialists that examined the young Orfalea were unable to help, until his remedial reading teacher diagnosed Orfalea's dyslexia. Still, his school performance did not improve, and he again failed a grade in school, this time the ninth. However, by his mid-teens, Orfalea had gained enough experience that he could cope with reading, even though his spelling did not improve. A high-school counselor suggested to his mother that Orfalea's future prospects would never rise beyond trade school and menial labor. His parents refused to accept this prognosis, however, and continued to encourage and support him. "My parents never made me feel stupid," Orfalea commented for Learning Disabilities Online. "They were very nurturing and didn't emphasize grades. To them, it was important that I knew something about a subject, could apply this knowledge, and could discuss it intelligently."

Orfalea did finally graduate high school, and he attended a community college before transfering to the University of Southern California. There, in 1970, he had the epiphany that would eventually lead to a two-billion-dollar business. He noticed that students were quite willing to pay ten cents a copy at the photocopier in the university library. He figured he could charge four cents a copy, undercutting the university, and still make a profit. With a five-thousand-dollar loan, he leased a photocopier, an offset printing press, and photograph processing equipment, and rented a vacated hamburger stand in a small building adjacent to the University of California, Santa Barbara, campus. Orfalea also sold pens, notebooks, and other school supplies to a willing market under the banner Kinko's, so named for the nickname he earned for his unruly shock of curly red hair.

It quickly became apparent that the photocopying element was the most popular service his tiny shop offered, and Orfalea focused on developing that idea into a larger business model. As the concept expanded, he sent out coworkers as agents looking for other large collegiate towns that would support a photocopy business. He did not franchise Kinko's, but instead assumed half-ownership of newly opened stores. This partnership left his co-owners with half of a lucrative market segment, and it encouraged true cooperation and the benefits of ownership of new stories. "The fifty-fifty split was symbolic and practical: It showed we were in this together, sink or swim," Orfalea commented in an interview in Fast Company.

By 2000 there were 1,100 Kinko's stores and more than 23,000 employees (or, to use Orfalea's term, coworkers) nationwide, with annual sales of more than two billion dollars, noted Brian Deagon in the Investor's Business Daily. In 1996, Orfalea and his 125 partners sold a twenty-seven-percent controlling interest to equity investment firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. He remained the company's chairman during this transition, but eventually retired in 2000, selling his final shares of the company for approximately 116 million dollars. In late 2003, Kinko's was sold to overnight package delivery giant Federal Express for 2.4 billion dollars.

Copy This! is an "effervescent memoir," remarked Starr E. Smith in School Library Journal, concluding: "Written with wit and style, this book offers much to inspire readers with obstacles to overcome or who march to a different drummer." Susan Hurst, writing in Library Journal, commented, "The text, which is easygoing and eminently readable, abounds with interesting anecdotes." Orfalea "mixes autobiographical anecdote with large doses of business advice in this candid, conversational account," commented a Publishers Weekly reviewer.



Orfalea, Paul, and Ann Marsh, Copy This!: Lessons from a Hyperactive Dyslexic Who Turned a Bright Idea into One of America's Best Companies, Workman Publishing (New York, NY), 2005.


Business Wire, March 8, 2000, "Paul Orfalea to Assume Chairperson Emeritus at Kinko's; Visionary Helped Establish International Chain of Business Service Centers," p. 0443.

Fast Company, May 1, 1999, "The Brains behind Kinko's: How a Hippie Turned Global Magnate Built a Chain of Office Centers for the Free-Agent Crowd that Vastly Changed the Landscape of Small Business," p. 624.

Forbes, July 17, 1995, Zina Moukheiber, "'I'm Just a Peddler,'" profile of Paul Orfalea, p. 42; December 1, 1997, Ann Marsh, "Kinko's Grows Up—Almost," profile of Paul Orfalea, p. 270.

Fortune, November 13, 2000, "Heroes of Small Business: From Apple's Steve Jobs to Kinko's Founder Paul Orfalea to Earl Graves of Black Enterprise Magazine, Meet Some of the Most Influential Entrepreneurs of the Past Two Decades in Our First Hall of Fame," p. F384.

Investor's Business Daily, March 27, 2003, Brian Deagon, "Copy This! Man's Work Ethic Perseveres: Kinko's Creator Paul Orfalea Sees Opportunity, Not Obstacles," p. A4.

Library Journal, August 1, 2005, Susan Hurst, review of Copy This!, p. 98.

Los Angeles Business Journal, January 5, 2004, RiShawn Biddle, "Original Thinker: Kinko's Founder Paul Orfalea Wasn't Good in School, and Doesn't Like to Work Hard—But He Listens to His Customers and Employees," interview with Orfalea, p. 17.

People, October 30, 2000, "Heavy Mettle: They May Have Trouble Reading and Spelling, but Those with the Grit to Overcome Learning Disabilities like Dyslexia Emerge Fortified for Life," p. 56.

Publishers Weekly, July 11, 2005, review of Copy This!, p. 73.

School Library Journal, September 2005, Starr E. Smith, review of Copy This!, p. 247.


International Speakers Web site, http://www.internationalspeakers.com/ (November 28, 2005), biography of Paul Orfalea.

Kinko's Web site, http://www.kinkos.com/ (November 28, 2005).

Learning Disabilities Online, http://www.ldonline.org/ (November 28, 2005), interview with Paul Orfalea.

Orfalea Family Foundation Web site, http://www.orfaleafamilyfoundation.org/ (November 28, 2005), biography of Paul Orfalea.

Paul Orfalea Home Page, http://www.paulorfalea.com (November 28, 2005).

University of Southern California Web site, http://www.usc.edu/ (December 21, 2005), "Kinko's Founder to Endow Chair in Entrepreneurship."