E Joseph Cossman
ENTREPRENEUR WITH A MISSION

Experience, and the ability to apply so many diverse experiences, enabled E Joseph Cossman to become a millionaire many times over. Perhaps you haven't heard of "The Messiah of the free enterprise system" (Wall Street Journal) because he has not specialized in one single product or specialty throughout his life. His specialty is MARKETING.

Since emerging as a soldier in the Second World War, Joe has proven that taking calculated risks is fun and profitable. He didn't have a fancy college marketing degree, in fact he started into business with his high school degree from Braddock, PA and his experiences growing up in his father's neighborhood grocery store. Three years in the army in Europe was another kind of experience that led him to think about exporting as his first entrepreneurial opportunity.

His first "risky venture" resulted from reading in a classified ad in the newspaper that soap powder was available in quantity. He knew that this was valuable to postwar Europe and other countries, so he made contact with people he had met and ended up with an order for $180,000...and no soap. His efforts to make this sale work demonstrate his ability to make things happen, a story in itself, but the net result was he did it, and netted $30,000 at a time when he was earning $35/week at his regular job.

Mail-order is the field that is most closely aligned with this entrepreneurial thinker. When he started his business in 1947 there was very little activity in the mail order field. But soon it was growing fast because it met a definite need of people who were hungry for scarce products. When he began there were no credit cards or 800 numbers or computers, and people read the newspapers for mail-order product availability.

Cossman moved to California and set up his office on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood with the dream of working for himself and becoming a "millionaire". His philosophy "There are many ways of taking a product, and by giving it a twist you can turn it into a money-maker" is demonstrated in the 20+ products that he took to market and sold at least a million of each. He was the first to market 14 balloons for $1.00, not as balloons but as 5 giant animals...an idea with a "twist". You may remember the Plastic Ant Farm, the Spud Gun, Fly Cake, etc. Each product has its own story and experiences that helped develop my personal "philosophy of business".

Each year he sought out a new product to introduce at the national trade fairs as an innovative toy or aid to your lifestyle. Some didn't do so well. For example, he bought the entire inventory of 4 million high quality prints of 48 of the world's greatest paintings that had been sitting in a warehouse since 1937. And although he offered them for only $.50 each it took a number of years to find a market. At the same time he found phenomenal success with selling plastic Shrunken Heads for $2.98. The ideas that did succeed far outweighed the losses. And the experience was the real teacher.

One story he tells is about the billboard he set up outside his office on Sunset Boulevard. There he put out a new message every week that demonstrated his humor and salesmanship, an image that he encouraged. Whenever big company executives came to visit, they were publicly welcomed on the sign. Many of his sayings have become famous and can be found on the Internet when you search his name. For example

  • "Obstacles are things a person sees when he takes his eyes off his goal"
  • "Love is a friendship set to music"
  • "Middle age is when your broad mind and narrow waist begin to change places"
  • "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity"
  • "To be without some of the things you want is an indispensable part of happiness"

Cossman believes that "ideas are a person's greatest asset". He quotes Harvey Firestone, the great industrialist who said,

"Capital isn't so important in business. Experience isn't so important. You can get both of those things. What is important is ideas. If you have ideas, you have the main asset you need, and there isn't any limit to what you can do with your business and your life. They are any man's greatest asset- ideas."

Cossman says "Most of our products are the result of our own ideas. In the long run, you're on your own, so let your judgment be your guide. But keep this in mind..a new idea is a delicate thing. It can be killed by a sneer or worried to death with a frown. Treat your own ideas like children - coddle them, keep them away from the chill of adverse criticism, have faith in them - and they'll grow up into strong, mature products to support you in your old age."

Sharing his marketing ideas is the "mission" he has demonstrated through so many of his actions in later life. Joe decided to retire from his search for products that built his entrepreneurial empire when he was only 50. But it didn't take long to learn that sitting in the sun is no way of life for an entrepreneurial mind.

So he wrote two books to share his experiencesand in promoting the books learned that others wanted him to share his experiences personally. Thus started his first seminar in 1963 that had standing room only...in fact people were backed up in the hallways. And this new career resulted in presenting live seminars to over 50,000 people all over the US and selling the course for home study purposes.

Leading universities offered Cossman's "10 Step Entrepreneur Program" to their students. At the same time Joe decided to fulfill his lifelong dream of going to college. Showing their respect for his expertise, Pepperdine University gave him credit for his years of experience, and enrolled him in a masters degree program. Joe conducted a research study of program graduates at Pepperdine to see if his course had made any difference in the success of these students. He was pleased to discover that those who reported being successful entrepreneurs also reported being more likely to have completed all the work of his course and used what they had learned in his program. The Regents of the University awarded E. Joseph Cossman a Master of Business Administration degree in 1977.

Graduates of his programs like to share the motivation and creative ideas they discovered in his courses. Joe's students are the success stories that he enjoys telling now. Since he "retired" in 1963 Joe has taught and advised thousands of today's entrepreneurs. He created the Future Millionaires Club in a number of cities to bring his graduates together on a regular basis to support each other.

He has published several books including "How I Made $1.000.000 in Mail Order (And You Can Too), a real recipe for success. (Published by Fireside, Simon and Schuster)

"I am constantly encouraging people to clear off their kitchen tables and start an enterprise that they can control, not one that controls them. Lack of education, lack of money, lack of business connections, lack of business knowledge are not important.

What is important is that we live in a country where over 200 million people speak the same language, 200 million people use the same currency , and you can ship a package from Los Angeles to New York without going through one foreign border or paying any duty on that package. This country is conducive to making money. Once you learn this lesson and make your first deal, you really appreciate the tools available to you in the United States."

QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION

  1. How did the experiences of his life help Joe become a successful entrepreneur?

  2. What type of business was Joe pursuing in his career?

  3. What does he think is the most important thing a potential entrepreneur can have?

  4. Discuss the reasons Joe thinks doing business in the United States is such a great opportunity.

  5. How would you describe the personal characteristics of this successful entrepreneur?

For more information from Joe Cossman check out his web page.