October 25, 2006

Former Kinko's CEO Gary Kusin Stresses Leadership Principals in Lessons Learned


 More often than not, the right kind of leadership can make or break a company, pointed out Gary Kusin, the first speaker for the 2006-07 Tandy Executive Speaker Series hosted by the Neeley School. Kusin highlighted lessons he has learned in business, focusing mainly on his time at Kinko's.

Kinko's began with very humble beginnings (Trivia Alert #1: Kinko's was the nickname of the curly-red-haired hippie-ish founder). When Kusin joined in 2001, the company was facing a $11 million loss.

"My challenge was bringing order out of chaos," he said.

Kusin's accomplishments at Kinko's include starting cultural integration, re-branding retail locations, launching new services and formats, and introducing dramatic expansion plans. Two years later, the negative $11 million had turned into $240 million in profit, which is when FedEx approached to purchase the company for $2.4 billion in cash.

"There are several leadership principles that I've picked up along the way that I think make sense in any business and any business environment," Kusin said, outlining alignment, accountability, continuous improvement, quality and service, honesty and integrity, and respect for others.

"Alignment is the most important thing anyone can bring to a business" he stated. "If everyone in the company is not aligned with a common set of objectives and goals, if everyone is not buying into them, it will be a failure."

As for accountability, Kusin said it means "the buck stops with you. It also means being able to say 'I'm sorry,' 'I did it wrong,' 'I did it poorly,'" learning from your mistakes and not pointing fingers.

"When things are running well is when I get the most nervous," he said of his emphasis on continuous improvement. "Any organization that becomes complacent is just sewing the seeds of its own defeat at some future date."

Quality and service, honesty and integrity are all important factors in success. And especially respect for others.

"There is no place in the business world for disrespecting others" Kusin said, adding that he thinks there is more of that going on in the world than should be. "Business is not the place for belittling other people and certainly not in front of others."

Kusin wrapped up his presentation saying that he has learned from some of the best: Ross Perot, Jack Welch, Bill Gates and Fred Smith, and that there is no one path to the podium.

"Everyone's life and business experience takes them in a myriad different ways. If you focus on these leadership principals, I think you'll be okay."

Kusin is currently a partner with Texas Pacific Group in Fort Worth. Before joining Kinko's in 2001, he was chief executive officer of HQ Global Workplaces, the world leader in office solutions. In 1995, he co-founded Laura Mercier Cosmetics. Prior to that, he was president and co-founder of Babbage's Inc., the first consumer software specialty store chain in the U.S., which now operates under the name Game Stop. (Trivia Alert #2: Babbages is the name of one of the founding fathers of computers.) Earlier in his career, he was vice president and general merchandise manager for the Sanger-Harris division of Federated Department Stores.

The Tandy Executive Speaker Series hosts exceptional business professionals who share their stories with members of the Metroplex business community.


Elaine Cole
PR/Events Manager
Neeley School of Business