Paul Folino was born to a family that struggled to make ends meet.
He overcame those challenges and went on to lead Orange County’s top-performing public company in the 1990s, Costa Mesa-based networking equipment firm Emulex Corp., as well as serve as chairman of several OC boards.
As Folino’s wealth grew, he never forgot his roots. He contributed to causes and nonprofits that served underprivileged children like himself.
He led fundraisers for South Coast Repertory, California State University, Fullerton and Chapman University and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Prop 49—an initiative to increase state grants for after-school programs.
Under his direction, those campaigns saw immense growth.
“He had the Midas touch,” Peterson Capital Group co-founder and former Microsemi CEO James Peterson, better known as Jimmy P, told the Business Journal.
A man with sharp business acumen and a gentle soul, Folino “will be missed dearly,” said Anil Puri, CSUF director of the Woods Center for Economic Analysis and Forecasting.
“The first call I made when I was raising money for Prop 49, was to Paul,” former Gov. Schwarzenegger, a close friend of Folino, told the Business Journal.
“Immediately, he and Daranne gave $1 million to help millions of students.”
Folino died on Oct. 14 after a short battle with pancreatic cancer. He was 75.
Growing up, Folino called the Seattle housing projects home. He was about 2 years old when his father abandoned him, his mother and two brothers.
At 9 years old, Folino saw his first play, Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
The performance struck a chord in him and inspired much of the charity work he would pursue decades later in OC.
In high school, Folino was captain of the basketball team. He attended Central Washington University on a basketball scholarship.
Folino graduated with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences. He later earned his MBA from Seattle University, working full time while attending school to cover his tuition.
“Everything he did, he did on his own,” Western Digital Chairman Matt Massengill, who did board work with Folino, said. “The fact he grew up with nothing and bootstrapped himself—it was so clear where his empathy came from.”
Folino began his career at Xerox, working for the team that launched Ethernet networking products in the 1970s.
He met Daranne Folino at a company convention. They both arrived late to a luncheon and were seated next to each other.
“We always talked about that coincidence,” Daranne said. “It’s funny how those two seats, out of hundreds of people and all these tables, were right next to each other.”
Folino left Xerox in 1984 to join Thomas-Conrad Corp., a networking device maker.
He served as the company’s president and chief operating officer, nearly tripling Thomas-Conrad’s revenue to almost $60 million in three years.
His work at the company marked Folino’s first management position in business.
“I was fascinated by his leadership style,” Kirk Roller, vice president of sales at Thomas-Conrad, said. “He always remained calm. … I’d never been around people that didn’t yell or make a big scene.”
After successfully growing Thomas-Conrad’s top line, Folino joined Emulex as president and CEO in 1993.
The company then was worth about $19 million on Wall Street. Folino grew its value more than thirtyfold.
Roller in 1998 followed Folino to Emulex, becoming the company’s president and COO.
Together, they tackled the myriad challenges that come with being a public company, including short sellers.
On an early morning in 2000, Folino appeared on CNBC to discuss a press release that tanked Emulex’s stock.
The report cost the company about $2.5 billion due to its false claims that Folino resigned and that Emulex was lowering its earnings from the prior quarter.
As news organizations covered the fake press release, shares in the company fell 59% to $43 apiece.
Folino and Roller mobilized to debunk the bogus report on various media outlets, with Folino handling financial news and Roller on national shows.
Within days, Emulex’s stock had fully recovered, and authorities arrested the short seller responsible for the fake report.
In dire situations like these, “you never saw Paul sweat,” Roller said.
Folino later became the chairman of Emulex, which in 2015 was acquired for about $600 million by Avago Technologies (Nasdaq: AVGO), which would later buy Irvine’s Broadcom. Broadcom had years before unsuccessfully attempted to buy Emulex.
Other company boards he chaired were Irvine-based technology firm Lantronix Inc. (Nasdaq: LTRX) and Irvine-based Commercial Bank of California.
“He was the voice of reason in the boardroom, when things would get contentious,” Western Digital’s Massengill said.
Massengill and Folino were both board members of Aliso Viejo-based semiconductor chip maker Microsemi, which was acquired in 2018 for about $8.3 billion by Microchip Technology.
Folino joined Lantronix’s board after then-CEO Kurt Busch convinced him to join in 2012.
“He was a well-known name in the OC business community [because] he was a good leader,” Busch, who now runs Irvine-based chipmaker Syntiant Corp., said. “He was always able to inspire people.”
As Commercial Bank of California’s chairman, Folino pushed the company to make multiple acquisitions “to beef up its technology,” CEO Ash Patel told the Business Journal.
“We’ll severely miss Paul. He leaves a big gap in our boardroom,” Patel added.
Company boards weren’t the only ones Folino led.
Passionate about politics, he served as chairman for the local chapter of Republican political organization New Majority.
He expanded the organization’s membership, drawing on his vast network of OC businesspeople. He also rallied members in support of Schwarzenegger, who at the time was running for governor.
For Folino, it was easy to galvanize support for New Majority and his other passions due to his “infectious enthusiasm,” New Majority founder Larry Higby, former assistant to the Nixon administration chief of staff H. R. Haldeman and former CEO of Apria Healthcare Group Inc., told the Business Journal.
His charisma and popularity in the OC business community also helped him raise funds for South Coast Repertory and Segerstrom Center for the Arts.
In 2002, he made a $10 million donation to SCR, the largest the organization had seen at the time. The gift funded the renovation of SCR’s main stage theater, a new, smaller theater and a studio for workshops and youth performances.
The complex, the Folino Theatre Center, bore his name in honor of his unprecedented donation.
More than a decade later, Folino took to the stage of SCR’s 50th Season Gala Ball to announce that he would like to replace his name with those of SCR founders, David Emmes and Martin Benson.
“It was a most magnanimous gesture, and it really spoke to how much he loved South Coast Repertory,” SCR Managing Director Paula Tomei told the Business Journal.
Folino donated over $20 million to local charities, all while overseeing fundraising campaigns for not only New Majority and SCR, but also for Hoag Memorial Presbyterian, CSUF and Chapman.
Folino in 2019 chaired Hoag Charity Sports, which organizes the Hoag Classic Golf tournament, a philanthropic event in the PGA Tour Champions.
He helped raise over $20 million for local charities through the Hoag Classic, according to officials.
“Paul worked tirelessly to ensure the success of the tournament,” Hoag CEO and President Robert Braithwaite said. “He turned his love of golf into an opportunity to help others.”
For CSUF, Folino was the first major donor to the school’s College of Business and Economics, offering $1 million to the school.
“That encouraged other people to make seven-figure gifts,” CSUF’s Puri said.
Folino also donated $125,000 to the city of Fullerton for a new campus entrance near CSUF’s business school. That street still bears his name: Folino Drive.
At Chapman, Folino helped raise money for the university’s Dodge College of Film and Media Arts, which is ranked No. 4 on The Hollywood Reporter’s list of best film schools in the country.
He reinvigorated the school’s long-running campaign when he joined, boosting its total funding from $5 million to $41 million, according to university officials.
“He was truly foundational to the creation of our film school,” Dodge College Dean Stephen Galloway said in a statement.
Folino largely kept his late-stage pancreatic cancer diagnosis, which he received in August, private.
“He knew it was terminal,” Daranne said. “He didn’t want to tell anyone because he didn’t want to be a burden.”
With Daranne at his side, Folino lost his battle with cancer early morning on Saturday, Oct. 14.
“He was the kindest, most generous, loving man I’ve ever met,” Daranne said. “He always putting everybody else before himself [because] he was the happiest helping other people.”