Famous Folk with ADHD – Kinko’s Paul Orfalea

I have to credit my Mom with the wonderful idea of Famous Folk with ADHD  as my theme for the month of February. Thanks, Mom!  Each week on the blog, I will focus on one famous person who haven’t allowed the struggles of ADHD to stop them, but rather propel them into success.  My hope is that my reader’s will find encouragement, hope and maybe a little push in the right direction.

After gathering my list, I begin digging deeper into a few of the names.  One thing that stood out to me is how the famous folk behind these ADHD success stories, learned to focus on their strengths, using the unique qualities of this neurobiological disorder to work in their favor.  We could all learn a thing or two from each of them.  Let’s begin with the founder of Kinko’s, Paul Orfalea.

We all know Kinko’s and have probably used their services a time or two.  Kinko’s was worth $2.4 billion in 2004 when it’s founder, Paul Orfalea retired at the age of 56.  Orfalea, who has a diagnosis of  ADHD and  Dyslexia, flunked two grades, was expelled from four high schools, and made C’s and D’s in college.  In several different interviews, Orfalea states what gave him the advantageous edge in the business world, especially since he took a very non-traditional approach.  (Hmm…non-traditional approach for an ADDer!)

Orfalea feels ADHD was an advantage for him because he was able to live in the moment and quickly spot opportunities others may miss; being able to see the overall vision.  He was curious and willing to take risks.  He also credits his ADHD symptom of restlessness in allowing him to be on the front lines of his business.  He didn’t like to be cooped up in an office, so he traveled from store to store, always noticing what employees were doing right and taking that to other stores.  He didn’t get bogged down in the details.  (What?  An ADDer not attending to details?  LOL)  Instead, he hired someone to do that for him.  His dyslexia made him a terrible letter writer, so he hired someone to write his correspondence for him.  He claims he can’t even operate a machine in Kinkos, much less fix one; so he hired employees for that.  One of Orfelela’s strengths and many ADDers, is one of intuition and being a good judge of character.  This became vital when choosing employees.  By choosing to turn what others saw as his learning disabilities into opportunities and strengths, and to rely on others to help in his areas of weakness,  Orfalea learned to value team work, an essential to the success of a growing business, claims Orfalea.

In 1970, a student at the University of California in Santa Barbara, this young man with a head full of curly red hair (his nickname was Kinko), noticed the line of students waiting to make copies at the library’s copy machine for 10 cents each.  Quickly spotting an opportunity and willing to take a risk, Orfalea  borrowed $5000 and opened the very first Kinko’s.  The store was located just walking distance from the school and housed one Xerox copy machine.  He recalls selling pencils and pens from his back pack while chatting with those passing by and offering them specials to give his store a try.  People told Orfalea the store would never work, but he didn’t listen.  (What?  An ADDer not listening!)  Orfalea continued to use his unique “strengths” of ADHD to see opportunities.  When customers began coming into the store looking to work on a computer rather than copy a document, he added a computer.  When students suggested the store be open later for copies, Orfalea instituted the open 24 hour policy.

Although Orfalea sold Kinko’s to FedEx, he continues to use his unique strengths in the business world and beyond.  He started the Orfalea Family Foundation to support education initiatives, and teaches business classes at the University of California.

Watch this interview of Paul Orfalea on Youtube

Sources: “Career Advice from the Corner Office”, Additude Magazine Dec/Jan. 2005Ability Magazine.



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