125 Influential People and Ideas
Joseph M. Segel

1896

Through a Wharton fellowship, W.E.B. DuBois undertook his classic study of the social and economic conditions of urban blacks.

‘King of the Start-ups’ at Franklin Mint and QVC

Joseph M. Segel, W’51

If you want a home run, you have to keep going up to bat. That’s one of many lessons from the remarkable career of Joseph Segel, the unstoppable entrepreneur who hit two homers more than 20 years apart. When Segel retired in 1993, he was inducted into the Direct Marketing Hall of Fame; later that year, a Forbes magazine profile dubbed him “King of the Startups.”

That’s because in a career spanning over five decades, Segel founded 22 different companies in fields as diverse as publishing, minting, photography, aviation, software, hospitality, television broadcasting, and behavioral modification.

The Franklin Mint was his first big hit. Founded in 1964 to make sterling-silver commemorative medals, the company eventually branched out into other high-quality collectibles, including the award-winning “100 Greatest Books of All Time” series. With Segel at the helm, it also became the only private mint entrusted to produce the official currency for several nations, including the Philippines.

It wasn’t until 1986 that Segel launched his greatest commercial success: QVC Network, now a home-shopping behemoth worth about $20 billion. Having trounced more than 20 other televised shopping networks over the years, QVC has three times the annual sales of its predecessor and nearest rival, HSN (Home Shopping Network). Traditional ad-driven networks took serious notice: media mogul and Fox Broadcasting Company founder Barry Diller succeeded Segel as head of QVC, buying most of Segel’s shares in the company.

“If you’re the easier alternative, you’ll do well,” says Segel. “QVC made it easier for people to shop than going to the mall. Making things easier for consumers is a pretty good formula.” Segel clearly prefers starting businesses to running them. But thanks to a habit of cultivating his successor shortly after starting a new business, many of his ventures continued to thrive long after he moved on to his next idea. The Philadelphia-based Advertising Specialty Institute, which he started as a Wharton undergrad over 50 years ago, is still going strong.