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Who started The Franklin Mint?

Joseph Segel --- The Quintessential Entrepreneur

Over the past 50 years, Joseph M. ("Joe") Segel has founded more than 20 different companies in businesses as diverse as publishing, minting, photography, aviation, software, hospitality, television broadcasting and behavioral modification. As a result of this prolific entrepreneurship, Segel has received numerous awards for creating new businesses and jobs, and has been referred to by several journalists as "the quintessential entrepreneur." Most recently, he was honored with the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Electronic Retailing Association and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree by Drexel University. He is the only person who has been elected to both The Direct Marketing Hall of Fame and The Specialty Advertising Hall of Fame. He has also served as chairman of the Philadelphia Presidents Organization.

Segel entered the undergraduate program of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School at the age of 16. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Economics in 1951 and went on to become the youngest member of the faculty of the Wharton School at the age of 20, teaching Marketing 101 and 102 while running his first significant business, The Advertising Specialty Institute. That business, which evolved into National Business Services, Inc., was acquired by the Cohn Family Trust in 1961 and it recently celebrated its 50th anniversary.

In 1962, Segel started Jordan-Edwards Company to market a pocket appointment and expense account record-keeping system he had designed. That led to his being called upon to testify as an expert on expense account record keeping before a Congressional committee, the first of several appearances before Congress. That company was acquired by Day-Timers, which replaced it with its own system.

In 1964, at the age of 33, Segel took note of two concurrent events – the passing of General Douglas MacArthur and people lining up at banks to buy the last U.S. silver dollars. That sparked an idea. He quickly started The National Commemorative Society, which introduced a monthly series of limited edition, sterling silver commemorative coin-like medals honoring events and heroes in American history, starting with a medal commemorating General Douglas MacArthur. The program was an instant hit. Not satisfied with the quality of the coin-medals produced by a subcontractor, he recruited Gilroy Roberts, who was then Chief Engraver of the U.S. Mint, to join him in starting General Numismatics Corporation ("GNC") to mint superior-quality coins and medals. In 1965, shortly after going public, GNC changed its name to The Franklin Mint.

The Franklin Mint soon became listed on the New York Stock Exchange and rapidly developed into the world’s pre-eminent producer of high-quality collectible items, as well as the only private mint commissioned by foreign countries to produce coin of the realm. Segel retired as chairman of Franklin Mint Corporation in 1973. The company was subsequently acquired by Warner Communications (predecessor to TimeWarner), which later sold the company to a private group of investors. The Franklin Mint today produces a wide variety of collectible products. Coins and medals are no longer a significant part of its output.

In 1970, Segel and his wife acquired a small hotel on Mont Pelerin in Switzerland and renamed it Le Mirador. Over the next 27 years, while still living in the USA, Segel expanded the hotel and spa into one of Europe’s finest 5-star resorts, eventually becoming one of the 300 "Leading Hotels of the World." In 1990 he sold Le Mirador to a Japanese group. He bought it back in 1993 and extensively renovated the property. Then in 1998, he sold Le Mirador a second time – to a German software magnate, Hartmut Lademacher, and it is now part of the Kempinski hotel group.

In 1975, Segel started Presidential Airways, a private jet service with 5 jets and 3 helicopters, specializing in shuttling executives to the supersonic Concorde. He learned how to fly and achieved an unusual score of 100 on the instrument-rating test, but he chose not to pursue a pilot’s license after a hair-raising experience during flight training. Presidential Airways was financially unsuccessful and, after several aircraft changes, was sold in 1980 to its largest customer.

In 1980, Segel and his wife went on an African Safari. As an avid photographer, he shot over 3000 slides on that trip. He then selected the 50 most interesting pictures and individually printed a limited edition of each of them in his own darkroom. After agreeing to allow The Franklin Mint to market his "Portraits of a Safari" series, he learned that color photographs fade significantly over a five to ten year period, even when displayed under glass. Dismayed that collectors would not be aware of the fact that his photographs would gradually fade, he destroyed all the prints he had made and vowed to find a solution to the problem. That led him to start PermaColor Corporation to develop new systems for inhibiting the fading of color photographs. Eventually, through personal experimentation, he worked out a system to preserve color photographs for 50-100 years. He then went back to his darkroom and individually reprinted a limited edition of 60 of each of the 10 best photographs, protecting them with the new preservation system, and The Franklin Mint went ahead to successfully market the series. Nearly thirty years later, the photographs show no sign of fading. Segel now shoots only with Canon digital cameras and does all his photographic processing by computer.

Segel had always been fascinated with computers, going back to the earliest days of the industry. When the IBM Personal Computer was introduced in 1983, he bought the first PC delivered in the Philadelphia area. After discovering that the initial software left a lot to be desired, he founded Software Digest and National Software Testing Laboratories (NSTL), which has become the world’s leading independent PC software testing organization. NSTL was subsequently acquired by McGraw-Hill and is now privately owned.

In 1986, Segel noted the success of the pioneering home shopping program, Home Shopping Network. After watching the primitive nature of its programming at that time, he immediately recognized that televised home shopping could be made significantly more appealing in a number of ways. So he then started QVC Network (standing for Quality-Value-Convenience). Within three months after starting the company, Segel raised over $20 million in an IPO. With a novel plan to sign up cable companies by awarding them convertible preferred stock in proportion to the number of homes to which they would carry the QVC program, Segel initially lined up over 7 million TV homes for the network’s launch. The first broadcast, five months after the company was started, was carried by 58 cable systems in 20 states.

Segel introduced numerous innovations to televised home shopping, such as accurately describing products rather than hyping them, full disclosure of shipping and handling charges, and imbuing all employees with the mission to "give customers more than they expect." In its first year, QVC registered sales of $112 million — a record for first-year sales of a new public company that had not taken over an existing business. In 1989, Segel decided that the next important step in expanding QVC"s sales would be to acquire Cable Value Network (CVN). Supported by TCI, the nation’s largest cable operator at the time, CVN had become the second largest televised shopping network, not quite as large as HSN but twice the size of QVC. CVN was bought by QVC for $380 million, primarily with financing provided by banks and cable operators.

The purchase of CVN was described as a python swallowing an elephant, resulting in an initial quarterly loss of $17 million. However, the calculated gamble to establish QVC’s market leadership eventually paid off. In 1986 there were 17 other new shopping channels trying to improve on the HSN model. Only one – QVC-- would survive into the 90’s. Segel retired as chairman of QVC in 1993, but he continues to be associated with QVC as Chairman Emeritus and consultant to QVC management. In 1995, Comcast Corporation and TCI acquired QVC. TCI’s interest was subsequently acquired by Liberty Media, and Liberty Media eventually bought out Comcast’s 57% interest for nearly $8 billion.

QVC is now one of the largest television networks, broadcasting live to more than 80 million homes in the USA, England and Germany. Now with over 10,000 employees and more than 10 million customers, QVC’s annual sales around $7 billion. It has become more than twice as large as HSN, still its principal competitor.

Segel started several other smaller companies in recent years, such as International Skincare Research, Inc., SmokeStoppers, Inc. and HealthLift.com. All of those businesses have been sold. He now spends most of his time experimenting with new PC software and digital imaging. He is determined to stay in retirement, which he enjoys immensely, and has vowed not to get involved in the active management of any new businesses.

An avid wine connoisseur, Segel maintains a unique, private database of ratings of American and Australian chardonnays, syrah and zinfandel and has become somewhat of an expert on Australian wines.

Segel’s public service activities have been concentrated in the field of international diplomacy. In 1971, he was elected chairman of the Board of Governors of the United Nations Association of the USA. And, in 1973, President Ford appointed him as a member of the U.S. Delegation to that year’s United Nations General Assembly, where he served under U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. During that term, Segel made a landmark speech at the United Nations General Assembly condemning apartheid in South Africa, which presaged a shift in U.S. policy toward a more active role in ending apartheid. He also organized a national campaign of The Advertising Council to improve public understanding of the United Nations, chaired a national conference on the United Nations for the American Society of Newspapers Editors and testified in support of the United Nations before the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee. During Segel’s involvement with the United Nations in the 60’s and 70’s, he met with numerous ambassadors, several foreign leaders and three U.S. presidents.

Segel was born in 1931. He has been married since 1963 to Doris Segel. The Segels have residences in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania and Boca Raton, Florida. They have three grown children and six grandchildren.


1. 1947 Eastern Advertising Co., Inc. -- advertisingspecialties.
2. 1949 Desk-Sign Manufacturing Co., Inc. -- personalized desk signs.
3. 1950 Magicard Co., Inc. -- promotional mailing pieces.
4. 1950 The Advertising Specialty Institute, Inc. -- central information service.
5. 1953 Colorcrafters, Inc. -- pioneer in full-color printing.
6. 1954 Selective Gift Institute, Inc. -- business gift selection service.
7. 1960 National Business Services, Inc. -- consolidation of last 3 businesses.
8. 1961 Gem Publishing Co., Inc. – books featuring humorous sayings.
9. 1962 Jordan-Edwards Co., Inc. -- pocket appointment and record books.
10. 1964 National Commemorative Society, Inc. -- producer of commemorative medals.
11. 1964 The Franklin Mint (initially called General Numismatics Corporation).
12. 1965 Britannia Commemorative Society, Inc. -- producer of commemorativemedals.
13. 1970 Le Mirador, S.A. -- Swiss resort hotel, spa andconference center.
14. 1975 Presidential Airways, Inc. -- private jet and helicopter charterservice.
15. 1980 RateSearch Corporation -- computerized air freight rate analysis service.
16. 1981 PermaColor Corporation -- systems to preserve color photos.
17. 1983 Software Digest, Inc. -- PC software rating reports.
18. 1983 National Software Testing Laboratories, Inc. -- PC software testing.
19. 1986 QVC Network, Inc. – televised home shopping.
20. 1997 International Skincare Research, Inc. – Le Mirador skincare products for QVC.
21. 1997 SmokeStoppers, Inc. – smoking cessation programs
22. 1997 HealthLift.com – interactive health enhancement system.

This article has been read 5675 times. Last read on 12/4/2021 12:17:15 AM

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