What Johannes Gutenburg did for publishing in the fifteenth century is analogous to what Paul Brainerd '70 did for publishing in the late twentieth century. As founder of Aldus and developer of PageMaker software, Brainerd revolutionized publishing and made desktop publishing a household word.
But to understand how he got there, one has to start in Medford, Oregon, where a kid who enjoyed school science projects spent his time after school, weekends, and summers helping out in his parent's camera store and portrait studio.
From that experience, Brainerd learned the importance of customer service, of thinking and planning ahead, and of taking risks. He learned that making mistakes is inevitable and that failure is no big deal.
He also learned not to go into the family business.
"My parents saw one-hour chains taking over the developing business, and people offering instant portrait service for $15.95 at Sears," he recalled. "I learned before I was out of high school that to succeed you have to be prepared to take a chance--and to change."
In His Blood. In college at the height of the Vietnam war, Brainerd majored in business, was editor of the Oregon Daily Emerald, and started a publication called Outset for students new to the UO.
"I've always had this entrepreneurial zest," he said.
He graduated in 1970, earned a master's degree in journalism at the University of Minnesota in 1975, and worked at the Minneapolis Star and Tribune for seven years before joining Boston-based Atex Inc., a maker of newspaper editing and composition systems, as a vice president. Homesick for the Northwest, he jumped at a chance to transfer to the company's operation in Redmond, Washington, in 1983.
Printer for the People. When Atex closed its manufacturing plant a year later, Brainerd had offers to go to work for other high -tech firms. But he also had an idea--a vision of giving average citizens access to the power of the press. With $100,000 of his own money and less than $1 million in startup venture capital, he and four former Atex engineers founded Aldus Corporation, named for the fifteenth-century Venetian scholar and entrepreneur, Aldus Manutius, who invented italic type and developed a printing system to make books widely accessible.
Over the next ten years, Brainerd built Aldus into one of the top ten software companies in the world, eventually employing about 1,000 people in eight offices worldwide with annual revenues exceeding $200 million.
"Desktop publishing opened up the mass media to anyone with a personal computer, which had a pretty dramatic impact," Brainerd said. "I really think that we were able to change the world as a result."
Time To Give Back. After selling Aldus in 1994 for $450 million to Adobe Systems, Brainerd lost no time in parlaying part of his share of the proceeds--some $120 million--into charitable work that is now his passion and the outlet for his considerable talent and energy.
He established the Brainerd Foundation to help protect Pacific Northwest wilderness and more. Brainerd is a founding member of Social Venture Partners, an effort to encourage professionals to give back to their communities. In 2002, he and his wife Debbi launched IslandWood, an environmental learning center on Bainbridge Island for school children in the greater Seattle area. And more recently, he spawned a nonprofit group called Conservation Strategies to build political capacity within the conservation community in the Northwest. Its goal is to create a pro-conservation majority in key local, state, and federal governing bodies.
Handshakes and Hugs. If the business world can be symbolized by a handshake, Brainerd said his current work "is all about hugs." But he has never forgotten the business principles he learned in his parents' store and in the college classroom. In fact, Brainerd believes the philosophy of business he picked up at the UO is still relevant today.
"lf you believe enough in something, just do it, even if you fail. You'll learn more from failure than if you didn't try it to begin with," he said.
"Life is all about challenge and learning," Brainerd elaborated. "Even when the odds are way against you, if you really believe in your ideas and have passion toward them and it's what you want to do and it's what you love doing, then you've got to pursue them. Even if the net result ends up being failure, I think the learning that takes place is really the value."
The business community has too an obligation to give back to educational institutions, from kindergarten through the university level, Brainerd said: "Businesspeople have a lot that they can contribute if they just go and sit down and talk to educators, talk to some of the students, find out what's going on and then look inside themselves and determine what their interests are and what they might do."
Brainerd himself has spent time in the classroom at the UO as an executive in residence and guest teacher. He thinks students today are distinctly different. "
It's at a whole different level, much better than when I was there," he noted. "It's much more diverse, for example, in the number of women and international students. The schools have completely changed now, and I think it's a much richer environment."