Paul Orberson, ex-coach who made millions in network marketing, dies at 56 By Linda B. Blackford

Paul Orberson, the charismatic founder of one of the country’s largest network marketing companies, one that later came under federal scrutiny, died Thursday. He was 56.

State Sen. Alice Forgy Kerr said Mr. Orberson died of cancer, which he had suffered from a decade earlier.

“He was an outstanding man, and so generous,” said Kerr, who attended Calvary Baptist Church with Mr. Orberson for many years. “He really was an amazing man. He had so much success in different areas, but he was so fun and folksy, he made everyone around him have fun.”

University of Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari visited him at the hospital in October as Mr. Orberson entered hospice care, and he wrote on his blog about being inspired by Mr. Orberson.

“Paul told me it’s not about money, cars, fame or material possessions — that’s all just stuff, he said,” Calipari wrote. “Paul told me it’s about your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and the impact you have on other people.

“Like any other coach or businessman, there have been ups and downs in Paul’s career, but throughout it all he never changed who he was, what he was about, how he treated people, how he treated his family, and how he was as a father and grandfather.”

Mr. Orberson was a legend in the multi-level marketing world, a high school basketball coach from Danville turned multimillionaire, a man who flew to marketing conferences in a private jet and once bid $100,000 in a fundraiser to dine with Calipari and actress Ashley Judd.

In January, the Federal Trade Commission obtained an injunction to shut down Mr. Orberson’s company, Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing, on charges that it was an illegal pyramid scheme. That case is in settlement talks.

He grew up in Danville, earned a baseball scholarship to Western Kentucky University, then eventually returned to Boyle County as a teacher and high school basketball coach.

Mr. Orberson started working on the side for Excel Communications, an emerging phone services company that used multi-level marketing for its sales. Mr. Orberson recruited many of his coaching friends to sell. Each recruit brought him a little more money. In his self-published autobiography, Something Good’s Gonna Happen, he said that after four years of working for Excel, he had made more than $1 million. By 1996, he had retired to Florida as a newly minted millionaire.

In a 2010 interview with the Herald-Leader, Mr. Orberson said he found retirement boring and returned to Lexington to found Fortune Hi-Tech Marketing. He used Excel’s model of direct sales to sell services and products. He signed up Cingular, GE Security and Lamas Beauty. Twelve people paid the $299 initiation fee. In one month, Mr. Orberson said, 1,200 people signed up.

The company grew across the United States, Canada and Great Britain. Mr. Orberson estimated that the company had more than 150,000 associates.

In 2003, Mr. Orberson was diagnosed with an advanced case of kidney cancer. He attributed his recovery to the doctors at UK and a healthier lifestyle. He later developed a line of vitamins sold through Fortune Hi-Tech.

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I was very sad to hear that Paul had passed away earlier this week. My friend Dave Freeman who had worked directly with Paul in his Excel days had told me that they had called hospice in, and then my friend Mike Potillo sent me the text letting me know Paul had passed.

I first met Paul around 1992 or 1993. One of our team members at the time had been the principal where Paul had coached football, and he wanted us to meet. Truthfully, he felt like Paul was recruitable and Bob (the Principals name) wanted to arrange a meeting with us. The month previously I had received the largest commission check I had ever received at the time, it was over $25,000.00 for the previous month.

The 3 of us met at Rafferty’s Restaurant in Lexington. We hit it off immediately, you know how it feels when you meet someone for the first time and you feel like you have known them all your life. I understood the path he was on, and he knew I did. At the time Paul had been in Excel for a couple of years and was earning less than $3,000 a month. And he was working it, driving to the mountains of Pikeville Kentucky, to Western Kentucky and other locations within a three or four state area doing meetings almost every night of the week. He was one of the top people in the company, but this was just commission on the residual income from the phone service and before Excel exploded after adding the coding bonuses to their comp plan.

Paul had no problem recruiting people, but like most great recruiters he was having challenges getting his people started quickly and moving forward after their excitement wore off. Sound familiar? It is predictable, we all find the same path, and run into the same challenges because our real product is people!

When he heard that I had made $10,000 my first month in the program I was working and had never made less for the past 18 months, we got his attention. Excel was the first company Paul had ever worked and like most of us, we seem to fall in love with our first company. I shared with him about my experience with my first company and how I did exactly what he was doing and gave it 110%, driving all over the country. I talked to him about the difference from working a product driven company (which Excel was at the time of our meeting) verses a Compensation Plan Driven Company.

We talked about the importance of giving new people direction and coaching from day one, why most of his team couldn’t do what he did, and why you have to help your people figure out what they want from their business. All the “Wisdom of the Ages” concepts many of you have heard me talk about for years.

To make a long story short, our 1 hour lunch meeting turned into 5 hours and it couldn’t have gone any better. When he left I gave him a copy of the quick start training system we were using to start off all our new members. He had said he wanted to join us, but it would be very tough leaving Excel because of the emotional ties to the company. He felt like he and HIS PEOPLE could do better and make more money with our opportunity. We made plans to meet the following week, get his ordered placed and get him started, looking back today I am glad that didn’t happen.

The following week he called me at my office in Lexington. He said Dale, I listened to the cassettes and everything you covered in the Quick Start System. That information is exactly what I have been missing with my people. He went on to say that he wanted to put together a similar system for his team and he needed to give Excel one more year, and if implementing this type of program didn’t get things moving forward quickly he would be joining us in the future.

I said, I understand, that is fair, I enjoyed our visit to stay in touch and I wished him well. I really meant it the fact they he decided not to join our team at that time didn’t bother me and to this day I believe that he would have joined us, if Excel hadn’t made the perfect business move.

A few months later Excel added the coding bonuses making it a compensation plan driven company and the rest is history. Our paths crossed a few times over the years, and it was awesome to see what he was able to accomplish in Excel and then FHTM. I think we have always cheered each other on, kind of the Kentucky boy does good scenario. As I have said many times, people tend to look at the people at the top of any organizations and think they just landed there. That is never the case. I feel it is important to look behind the scenes and understand people’s story. Most successful people don’t start with a silver spoon, when you travel the road yourself, you get a deeper appreciation for the steps determined people take to get where they are.

Yes the compensation plan change gave Paul a huge boost, but how many people came and left Excel during the time Paul was driving thousands of miles every week supporting his people and doing everything he could to build his business?

What I respected the most about Paul is he really got it. He understood what this industry is about, and making a difference for other people. It seems in today’s market place we are flooded with fake it till you make it self proclaimed gurus driving rented Lamborghini’s on their websites.

This is what UK basketball coach John Calipari had to say in the previous article about Paul:

“Paul told me it’s not about money, cars, fame or material possessions — that’s all just stuff, he said,” Calipari wrote. “Paul told me it’s about your relationship with God, your relationship with your family and the impact you have on other people.

That says it all as far as I am concerned. Those of you that have taken the time to read by bio on this website have probably read something simalar. I have always believed.

I believe that if people develop themselves first, the income and lifestyle this industry offers will flow to them. This industry has allowed me the opprtunity to help many people grow, learn, develop and become better than they were before I met them. Being able to play a small part in the success of others is my greatest accomplishment

I truly believe that students of any business model eventually come to the same conclusions. We have heard the old philosophy “When the student is ready, the teacher will arrive”. That has certainly been the case for me throughout my marketing & speaking career. I think it is our responsibility as entrepreneurs to never stop learning, and give it all we can every day, expecting great people and opportunities to come our way. It is our job to seek out the Wisdom of the Ages. Truth is truth and it is always found by those that seek it. I think Paul was a great example of that, he will be missed by many, and our industry definitely needs to develop more leaders like Paul Orberson.

Rest in Peace my old friend.


PS I know people are going to be calling our office asking if they can get a copy of the Quick Start System I gave to Paul. The answer is sorry, that was years ago and they are long gone. However the two programs listed below cover the same material, and the last quick start I recorded is here on Amazon.



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