Kinko's Founder Paul Orfalea Fires Back

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Paul Orfalea, who founded Kinko's in 1970, released a statement to the press on Friday about FedEx's decision earlier this month to drop Kinko's name from its stores. For $696 million, FedEx Kinko's will be renamed FedEx Office--a move the corporation says will help recruit larger clients and rebrand the stores as a back office for small businesses. In 1996, Orfalea (nicknamed Kinko for his full mop of curly black hair) sold a large stake of his company to a private equity firm Clayton, Dubilier & Rice. Then, in 2003, FedEx acquired Kinko's from Clayton for $2.4 billion in order to access its customer base: small shippers who pay higher prices.

"Friends, acquaintances and journalists have been asking me for comments on FedEx's recent decision to drop the Kinko's name from their copy and print centers. Although I sold my financial interest in Kinko's several years ago, this news hit me hard. I have mixed emotions, because Kinko's as I knew it has been gone for a very long time.

For thirty years, I worked with tens of thousands of fellow Kinko's co-workers to grow an innovative customer-driven business. Every stage of life required Kinko's — being a student, business owner, bride, job-seeker, sales person, event planner, soccer parent and much more. We took pride in helping customers achieve their goals and always put customers first.

Those of us who built the company from a single site in a hamburger stand near the campus of UCSB in 1970 to an international network at the millennium assumed our grandchildren would know what it meant when we said we created Kinko's. Sadly, they won't. At Kinko's our motto was "In Ideas We Trust." Those ideas, expressed in the way we shared power, shared profits, and shared knowledge, touched tens of thousands of coworkers and millions of customers from 1970 to 2000. The signs may be coming off the building, but when you next meet a former Kinko's coworker and he or she brightens up to tell you how it used to be, take note of the fire in their eyes. That's the Kinko's I'll remember.

A former coworker and I are writing a book called Kamelot: Kinko's Brief Shining Moment in American Business History. We want more entrepreneurs to know how Kinko's became so successful with its unconventional partnership structure, why the corporate culture was unique, how we listened to our counter folks to focus on customers, and ultimately how the remarkable in-store and corporate culture and innovation was lost.

In 1977, the press approached John Lennon for a comment on the death of Elvis Presley. Lennon remarked, "Elvis died when he went in the army." As music historians note, Presley entered the army as a rock and roller, but returned as a crooner and movie star. The rebellious independence Lennon loved in Elvis was gone long before the King died."

What do you think of Orfalea's response to FedEx's decision?

Last updated: Jun 17, 2008




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