ADD in the corner office: Five top executives discovered that an LD can be a capitalist tool
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By Lois Gilman, ADDitude Magazine
He flunked second grade, did poorly in high school, and got C's and D's in college. But that didn't stop Orfalea, who is dyslexic and has "ADD to the max," from becoming an entrepreneur. Instead, it motivated the curly, red-haired executive (nicknamed Kinko) to exceed everyone's expectations.
The idea for Kinko's came to Orfalea in 1970, while he was a student at the University of California at Santa Barbara. He noticed all the people lined up to pay 10 cents a page to use the library photocopier. He decided he could provide the service cheaper. Orfalea borrowed $5,000 and opened his first Kinko's in a converted hamburger stand near the university. It was equipped with a lone Xerox machine. Today, his copying empire, which FedEX now owns, is worth $2.4 billion, and Orfalea, 56, has retired.
"My learning disability gave me certain advantages, because I was able to live in the moment and capitalize on the opportunities I spotted," says Orfalea, as he looks back on his career. "With ADD, you're curious. Your eyes believe what they see. Your ears believe what others say. I learned to trust my eyes." So when customers came into his store looking to use a computer — not to copy documents — Orfalea saw an opportunity. He expanded Kinko's to include computers. As a result, the company captured many small business owners as customers, as well as the self-employed.
His ADD provided him with the right temperament on which to build the business. "Because I have a tendency to wander," he explains, "I never spent much time in my office. My job was going store to store, noticing what people were doing right. If I had stayed in my office all the time, I would not have discovered all those wonderful ideas to help expand the business." A Kinko's that remained open for 24 hours was an idea he picked up from his steady customers.
"I can't write a letter and I can't fix a machine," says Orfalea. "My biggest advantage is that I don't get bogged down in the details, because of my ADD. I hire capable people to handle that."
Looking back on his own education, Orfalea believes that different children have different learning styles, and that the education system needs to recognize that fact before more children are left behind. "If the President's No Child Left Behind had been around when I was in school," says Orfalea, "I would still be in third grade, because that's how bad a speller I am." And we would all be without our neighborhood Kinko's.