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Unflagging CEO Makes Time for Many Causes

O.C.'s Paul Folino, 61, heads a major business, but still finds time to raise funds for colleges and the GOP, and be the governor's confidant.

July 02, 2006|Jean O. Pasco | Times Staff Writer

It's 4 a.m. as Paul Folino begins his weekday routine of slamming two days' work into one.

He reads the Wall Street Journal, the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times, then hops online to catch the East Coast news.

By then, it's nearly 7 a.m. and time to leave for work. Often, he isn't back at his Coto de Caza home for 16 hours.

In addition to running Emulex, a $1.4-billion data storage company in Costa Mesa, Folino makes time to head fundraising campaigns for the Orange County Performing Arts Center, Chapman University's School of Film and Television, and Cal State Fullerton's business school.

On top of that, he's gone from someone who couldn't care less about politics to chairing the state's largest Republican fundraising group and becoming a confidant of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Breakfast, lunch and dinner revolve around his outside interests, and "in between, it's all Emulex."

Six years ago, Folino, a gracious man, quick with a smile, was a low-profile philanthropist on his way to becoming the largest single donor to South Coast Repertory.

Now 61, he has become a go-to guy for GOP politics in California and a face of Orange County entrepreneurial success.

Not bad for a public-housing kid from Seattle whose parents didn't graduate from high school. His mother worked two jobs while raising Paul, his older brother Phil and younger brother Pat. It was from his "go-getter" mother, Pat Folino said, that his brother got his indefatigable nature.

"Paul was a leader from the beginning," said Pat Folino, a retired salesman who lives in Seattle near his mother and eldest brother. "He was the point guard on the basketball team, the quarterback on the football team and the shortstop on the baseball team. He's so motivated."

The brothers remain close, although Pat Folino is a Democrat, so they steer clear of politics.

From his mother, Paul Folino learned charity and the rewards of sharing what they had, though it wasn't much. That spirit kicked in when, in 2001, Folino's secretary announced -- somewhat incredulously -- that a guy claiming to be actor Arnold Schwarzenegger was on the phone.

Folino took the call. After half an hour, he had convinced himself it really was Schwarzenegger and committed himself to raise $10 million for an initiative to fund after-school programs.

The governor said he and Folino bonded over their desire to help children.

"Paul Folino is a true California hero," Schwarzenegger said. "I share his passion for education, his passion for improving the lives of kids, and especially his passion for making California a better place. He's been a great friend."

By the time they met, Folino had registered as a Republican and joined a fledgling group of wealthy Orange County residents convinced that the party's right-leaning zeal on social issues such as abortion and gay rights was offending voters.

Intrigued by the potential of the group, the New Majority, many of whose members he knew through philanthropy and the arts, Folino agreed to join but insisted on staying in the background.

That pledge crumbled within a week of the group's debut as he found himself in makeup for an interview with NBC news anchor Tom Brokaw.

"The reality is I'm not a stay-in-the-background guy," he said.

Folino now chairs the group that a more conservative former county GOP chairman dismissed as an "insurgency of misled millionaires."

With 150 members in Orange County and 85 in Los Angeles County, the New Majority is forming chapters in the Inland Empire and San Diego County.

Folino describes himself as fiscally conservative and socially tolerant, someone who focuses more on the candidate than ideological litmus tests. The New Majority has sometimes been at odds with the state Republican Party, supporting an open primary, for example. The differences haven't led to a breach between Folino and party leaders.

"He's been a loyal and faithful supporter of our party, and he hasn't made any demands on us," Orange County party Chairman Scott Baugh said.

"We understand we can't always support each other, but that's OK."

In six years, Folino has given nearly $1.4 million to Schwarzenegger's campaigns and has helped the New Majority raise $12 million.

The list of those making political pilgrimages for the group's blessing this year reads like a Who's Who of 2008 GOP presidential hopefuls: New York Gov. George Pataki, Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, U.S. Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), former Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

It hasn't always been fun. After November's special election, when voters rejected Schwarzenegger's initiatives, the governor called Folino at a New Majority board meeting.

"We had this glass-is-half-full conversation," Folino recalled. "You know, one thing you learn in athletics is that you don't win every game."

Folino honed his competitive drive while playing sports. When he realized he wasn't destined to play point guard for the Lakers, he zeroed in on his studies.

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