Neil's Heroes: Paul Orfalea

This is a partial transcript from "Your World with Neil Cavuto," June 2, 2004, that was edited for clarity.

Click here to watch the interview

NEIL CAVUTO, HOST: For those who have been watching this show, I have been profiling modern day heroes from my book "More Than Money," which is out in bookstores everywhere. It brings me to my next guest, who couldn’t read or spell as a kid.

He had trouble with virtually every subject in school. He was eighth at the bottom of his class out of some 1,500 students, all while coping with a pretty serious illness. He went on to create a multibillion-dollar business named Kinko’s (search). Earlier, I spoke with Paul Orfalea and asked him how hard it was when he started out in school.


PAUL ORFALEA, FOUNDER OF KINKO’S: I took school for what it was. And, you know, my mother used to say, "All five fingers are different for a reason. School wants to make you like this." And I’ll tell you an interesting story about my parents.

All of us children went to college. One time my brother was studying at 9:30 at night and my dad walked in and said, "What are you doing?" He said, "Well, I’m studying for a test." And my dad said, "Why study? You won’t remember it." So I think we went to school to learn, not necessarily to get good grades or please others.

CAVUTO: But I think in your case, Paul, you had a sense of humor early on. I think you graduated 8th from the bottom of your high school class, maybe 1,500, 1,600 kids in the class, and you said later you were surprised there were seven below you.

ORFALEA: Yes. Yes. I was a wood shop major. And the only thing I liked to do, you know, was lathe.

CAVUTO: Right. Right. Right.

ORFALEA: I just liked to stick things — a chisel in it and see it go back and forth. I never made anything. I just liked to do that.

CAVUTO: You just liked to do that, right.


CAVUTO: Did you find, though, that kids, they knew you were funny, they knew you had a good sense of humor. Did you find you were more popular than you were, let’s say, the smartest kid in the class?

ORFALEA: No, I wasn’t too popular.

CAVUTO: Really?

ORFALEA: It is kind of surprising. Nowadays, you would think I was real popular with all the phone calls. But I wouldn’t consider myself...

CAVUTO: Well, once you get money, you get to be very popular, Paul.

ORFALEA: It is surprising, everybody who was my close friend at school, they wouldn’t even look at me.

CAVUTO: Yes. Yes. Do you look at now — I mean, obviously you made this a cause. I think I have seen or heard of you saying you do make a point of reaching out to those that essentially society tends to forget or dismiss. Is that because of your experiences?

ORFALEA: Oh, I don’t know. I think to be a good businessperson you have to empathize, you have to understand your customers and what motivates your workers.

Our big cause, my wife and I, are single parents, particularly single mothers. I mean, just look at them. We pay them next to nothing. How they have any sanity, how difficult a child is, it is real hard. And I don’t think anybody really has their interests at heart.

CAVUTO: Does it bug you, Paul, that a lot of people think of — and one of the inspirations for this book for me was to show that not all CEOs are rich guys or bad guys. Does it bug you a lot of people lump success with bad?

ORFALEA: Well, not — I think people are a little bit envious. You know, there is a word called "arrogance," and I have always wondered if people who were really arrogant, where they had something you admired and they were a little shy, and so they might have a fancy car, be good looking with the girls. But they were a little shy and you considered them arrogant.

But I think people are a little bit envious. And in society, we have to remember that the center of the Earth is all molten lava. There’s only a thin layer on the Earth that you can live on. And that is really the difference between rich and poor.

And the whole history of mankind is that lava overflowing, and taking out the power and the rich people. So when society has excesses of opulence, the lava overflows.

CAVUTO: Do you feel as challenged now that you have made it, and all this money, all this success — I mean, Kinko’s became a brand name — that it is hard for you to feel as challenged?

ORFALEA: Oh, no. The world is more interesting now than it ever has been. No. No. I find it much more interesting.

CAVUTO: How so?

ORFALEA: Well, you know what is nice about — I started working at Kinko’s 35 years ago. I retired four years ago. And now I get to think about what I like thinking about, and the world is so interesting that I just love waking up every day and thinking about something I don’t — to be honest with you, I got tired of thinking of Xerox copies and the burden of all that.

CAVUTO: But do you find that maybe — you know for those with Attention Deficit Disorder, for those with dyslexia, a lot of these other common ailments for people such a success who have come back from that, they find their attention span is compromised? Does it help or hurt you in doing what you do now? That it helps that you can look at a lot of things simultaneously?

ORFALEA: I think it helps. And I don’t think there is anything wrong with admitting you are bored.

I look at these people at these board of directors meetings and you have got to think that 80 percent of the time they are daydreaming. And at least I admit that I’m bored and fidgety. And I don’t believe in ADD. I think sometimes the world is just boring.

CAVUTO: That is a good one. When you had your board meetings, how did you avoid slipping away?

ORFALEA: I couldn’t. I think if I could relive my life, I would have never gone to a board meeting.

CAVUTO: Even your own?

ORFALEA: Even my own.

CAVUTO: Even your own.

ORFALEA: I don’t think they are really all that effective. Usually, from what I have seen, the only thing a board does is fire the CEO. I mean, other than that, they’re just spoon-fed by management.

CAVUTO: What do you think of most CEOs today, most boards today?

ORFALEA: It might have changed with all these scandals. But from my predilection of these boards, they are just a country club. And you get in these little ivory towers and you don’t know what it is really like at the lower trenches.

I have a theory that what happens in school is we have these allegedly gifted students, and we separate them from the normal people. And they go to their little elitist classrooms, they go to their elitist high school, they go to elitist colleges, and they sit in their elitist boardrooms and they really don’t know what it is like where the rubber hits the road and the cash register.

For me, I always knew the rubber hit the road with my customers and my workers. And I knew I was an idiot and the guys here were smarter than me. I always found the guys in the boardroom the most disconnected a lot of times from what is really going on.


CAVUTO: Not your typical CEO, Paul Orfalea.

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