Jostens, Inc. History

5501 Norman Center Drive
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55437-1088

Telephone: (612) 830-3300
Fax: (612) 897-4116

Public Company
Incorporated: 1906 as Jostens Manufacturing Company
Employees: 6,500
Sales: $742.5 million (1997)
Stock Exchanges: New York
Ticker Symbol: JOS
SICs: 2732 Book Printing; 2752 Commercial Printing, Lithographic; 3900 Miscellaneous Manufacture; 3911 Jewelry, Precious Metal; 7389 Business Services, Not Elsewhere Classified

Company Perspectives:

Jostens provides products and services that help people celebrate achievement, reward performance, recognize service and commemorate experiences. We provide these achievement and affiliation products in partnership with the diverse organizations people belong to throughout their lives. As a partner, we are committed to delivering value and quality that exceed the needs of the people and organizations we serve. Jostens is a team of employees and independent business partners. Our aim is to be the world leader in providing achievement and affiliation products and to constantly deliver exceptional performance.

Company History:

Jostens, Inc. is best known as a manufacturer of high-quality class rings for high school and college students. Since 1960 the company also has produced specially commissioned rings for contestants in the World Series, the Super Bowl, the NBA Championship, and the NHL Stanley Cup. Despite such high-profile coups, however, it is the Jostens $638.8 million school products segment that provides the lion's share of revenues. The company holds more than 40 percent of the combined $1 billion annual U.S. market in graduation products, yearbooks, and class rings and jewelry. After a disappointing end to a promising educational software venture--one that contributed to the interruption of a three-decade-long streak of earnings and revenue increases--Jostens hoped their name-brand appeal would translate to increased sales of products designed to celebrate life events beyond the school walls.

From Small-Town Business to Multimillion-Dollar Corporation: Late 1800s-1960s

Begun in 1897 by Otto Josten, Jostens was originally a small jewelry and watch repair business located in Owatonna, Minnesota. In 1900 the founder began manufacturing emblems and awards for nearby schools and in 1906, the year of incorporation, Josten added class rings to his product line, to be sold to schools throughout the Midwest. The company remained small and relatively inconspicuous until Daniel C. Gainey, a former teacher and football coach, was hired in 1922 as the first full-time Jostens ring salesman. The rings at the time carried no gemstones and were all one size. Yet Gainey, with his dynamic and winning personality, secured sales of $18,000 within his first year. The amount was so large that he was forced to return to Owatonna to ensure personally that production demands could be met. By 1923 Gainey had enlisted four more sales representatives--all part-time--and revenues quickly rose to $70,000. Thus class rings became the central concern for the Jostens Manufacturing Company. In 1930 the watchmaking and repair business was sold and the capital was used to construct the company's first ring manufacturing plant. Three years later, with sales approaching the $500,000 mark, Gainey was elected chairman and CEO, positions he held until his retirement in 1968. According to several accounts, Gainey's greatest contribution to the company was his establishment and motivation of a nationwide sales force. Direct sales through independent representatives remain the primary source for the company's virtually uninterrupted growth.

During World War II Jostens contributed to the war effort by adapting its plant and equipment to manufacture precision parts and other materials. Major expansion came following the end of the war. In 1946 the company added graduation announcements to its offerings; in 1950 Jostens launched the American Yearbook Company. Both moves further tapped the education market and made the company less dependent on seasonal sales from rings. In 1958 the company made its first acquisition, purchasing the Ohio-based Educational Supply Company, a manufacturer of school diplomas. Jostens went public the following year and a seemingly unending series of acquisitions, which fortified the company's dominance of the high school and college products markets, characterized the next ten years. Sales for 1962 totaled $26 million; three years later the company obtained its listing on the New York Stock Exchange. In 1968 the company expanded into the Can adian photography market with the purchase of Winnipeg-based National School Studios. By this time Jostens was the undisputed domestic leader in both class ring and yearbook sales. Gainey's retirement, however, coupled with Jostens's relocation to Minneapolis in 1969, triggered a tumultuous period that nearly shipwrecked the then nearly $100-million-dollar company.

Rocky Start to Leadership Change: 1970s

Star Tribune columnist Dick Youngblood, reflecting back on this period, wrote: "Jostens had been in turmoil since the late 1960s, when company patriarch Daniel C. Gainey, a major stockholder, pretended to retire as CEO. The trouble was, Gainey remained active enough over the ensuing four years to force the resignation of three chairmen and a president, including his own son." In 1970, amidst the turmoil, a top-performing Jostens salesman and division manager was appointed executive vice-president and effectively became the company's chief operating officer. His name was H. William (Bill) Lurton. Unbeknownst to senior management, however, including Lurton, Gainey had begun negotiations with acquisition-hungry Bristol-Myers. Once Gainey's plan surfaced, several top Jostens officials tendered their resignations; Lurton was among the few who remained. Although Bristol-Myers halted negotiations after the management fallout, Jostens remained in peril under the leadership of replacement CEO Richard Schall. A former top official at General Mills and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, Schall, according to Corporate Report editor Terry Fiedler, "presided over Jostens for about 18 months before the advent of what amounted to a palace coup." An outsider with little knowledge of the business, Schall had brought in his own management team and radically disrupted the friendly, teamwork-oriented corporate culture and threatened to move the company too quickly into new, uncharted territory. "The Lurton-led old guard demanded that Schall leave, threatening to leave themselves if he didn't. The directors sided with the old guard and in February 1972 Lurton became CEO of Jostens."

Twenty-one years later, Lurton remained in the position, well-liked by his employees and greatly esteemed by his fellow Minnesota CEOs. During his early tenure he moved quickly to reestablish Jostens as a thriving, focused company. Diversification beyond educational products, thought to be the key to the company's future, was renewed only for a short time before being curtailed in large part. In 1974 Lurton divested Jostens of a greeting cards manufacturer and a men's accessories business. Five years later he also rid the company of interests in wedding rings and library supplies. Jostens Travel, first organized in 1972, also was dissolved before the end of the decade. Jostens did keep at least one peripheral acquisition, Artex Enterprises, for the long term. A manufacturer of custom-imprinted athletic and casual wear, the Artex label survives within the Jostens Sportswear division and is marketed primarily through mass merchants.

Changing Demographics Challenge Lurton: 1980s

Aside from the aftermath of the Gainey debacle, Lurton's greatest challenge as a CEO came in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when demographic studies clearly showed that the last of the baby boom generation had graduated from high school and, therefore, beyond the core products line. According to Jackey Gold in Financial World, "Lurton's worry was that declining high school enrollments would shake Wall Street's faith in the company's ability to perform. Jostens' board of directors, too, became infected by such concerns and in August 1982 approved Lurton's proposal for a management buyout." The decision to go private was, for lack of financing, never realized; neither, however, was the company's forecasted decline.

Instead, Lurton launched a concerted campaign to impress Wall Street and counteract potential downswings in profits by boldly entering the proprietary schools business. Beginning in 1983, he acquired San Gabriel Colleges of California and Metridata Education Systems of Kentucky. Three additional private vocational schools were acquired in 1984. That same year Jostens also entered the audiovisual learning and educational software fields by acquiring the Educational Systems Division of Borg-Warner Corporation, which it later renamed Jostens Learning Systems. The new flurry of purchases carried sales to more than $400 million in 1985, when Jostens was accorded Fortune 500 status for the first time. In 1986 the company acquired Illinois-based Prescription Learning Corporation (PLC). A developer of customized computer hardware, software, and support services for the educational market, PLC was merged with Education Systems Corporation three years later to form Jostens Learning Corporation (JLC), a wholly owned subsidiary.

Meanwhile, to the consternation of several analysts, Jostens divested itself of its burgeoning list of proprietary schools, all 36 of them. The company sold the schools to CareerCom Corp. in 1987 for a sizable profit. As then Education Division spokesperson Gary Buckmiller explained, "We didn't view the sale as getting out of the proprietary school business, but rather as changing the way we're involved in the business." The involvement, through JLC, has become one of support and service for, rather than management of, instructors and curriculum. Jostens's one remaining non-educational venture, the Business Products Division, also was sold in 1987, for a gain of $40 million. Now 90 years old, the company had returned to its roots in its service emphasis. By this time Jostens boasted an employee work force of some 9,000, in addition to an independent sales force numbering approximately 1,400.

Brightly Shined Hopes Tarnish: 1990s

Jostens's nearly 27 percent average return on investment between the years 1983 and 1989 brought kudos from all corners for the CEO. Fortune magazine highlighted Jostens among its 500 in 1989 as one of the "Companies That Compete Best." In 1990 Lurton was accorded the honor of "Executive of the Year" by Corporate Report Minnesota; further recognition came the same year from Industry Week, which celebrated Lurton as one of "America's Unsung Heroes." Until fiscal 1992 the news regarding Jostens and Lurton continued to be highly favorable. The 1990 purchase of Gordon B. Miller & Co. (the oldest recognition products company in North America) and Lenox Awards augured well for the company, as did its multimedia agreement with Western Publishing's Little Golden Books. Even the 1992 performance reports were respectable, considering the lingering effects of a recession: net sales increased two percent, while net income showed a four percent decline. The announced consolidation of jewelry manufacturing and photo processing operations were expected to contribute to a quick rebound. The Jostens organizations hoped that rising school enrollment, an improving economy, and a new management team for the Sportswear group would improve the company's performance.

Also fueling hopes for the future was JLC, the leader of the computer-based instructional technology field. Fiscal 1992 revenues for JLC totaled $172 million, or approximately 20 percent of all corporate gross income. JLC, operating in a marketplace that experts estimated as only 15 percent tapped, appeared poised for fast-paced growth, especially considering its August 1992 purchase of chief competitor Wicat Systems and its arrangement with Texas-based Dell Computer to market a Jostens line of 386 and 486 systems. Lurton expected to see an increase of about 25 percent annually. His goal was to return Jostens to "double-digit growth in sales and earnings."

Jostens posted a net loss of $12.1 million in fiscal year 1993. According to an April 1994 Youngblood article, about half of the loss was due to a "poorly managed" consolidation of the photography operation. Compounding problems, JLC missed some key changes in the market, including tightening school budgets and an accompanying shift in demand toward less expensive products and systems.

Lurton announced his retirement as chairman of the board and CEO in October 1993. Robert P. Jensen, a director since 1980, succeeded him as chairman. The combination of missed earnings projections, losses in the earnings column, and nose-diving stock prices had raised the ire of stockholders and Lurton's long, successful tenure ended on a sour note. Yet, under his leadership, the company had put together an enviable succession of sales and earnings increases even while the student population was shrinking.

Robert C. Buhrmaster, a Corning Inc. senior vice-president who came on board as chief of staff in December 1992 and moved into the president's post in mid-1993, succeeded Lurton as CEO and led a revamping of the company. In rapid order, the sportswear division was sold. Veteran executives were replaced. The photography division and JLC were downsized. The corporate culture itself changed as management layers were cut and divisions reported more closely to headquarters. The design and marketing of traditional products such as rings were also re-examined. But losses continued into a second year; underperformance by JLC contributed to the $16.2 million deficit.

Jostens sold JLC to a group led by Boston-based investment firm Bain Capital, Inc. in June 1995 for $90 million in cash and notes. Wicat Systems, the computer-based aviation training division, was sold separately. The sales marked the end of a two-year restructuring and turned emphasis back on traditional business areas of making and marketing class rings, yearbooks, and other recognition products.

Profits for fiscal year 1995 improved in all areas but JLC and net income returned to the plus column with $50.4 million in earnings on $665.1 million in sales. The restructuring and other operational changes resulted in $11 million in cost savings, according to the Jostens annual report. Flush with cash from the JLC sale and the company restructuring, Jostens repurchased seven million shares of stock for $169.3 million in September 1995 through a Modified Dutch Auction tender offer. But the company failed to meet earnings expectations in the later half of fiscal 1996, and Wall Street reacted negatively.

Beginning a Second Century of Business

Buhrmaster continued to fine-tune Jostens in 1997. The company's 100th year in business was celebrated in part with a new logo and identity system. For the first time Jostens consciously worked to extend brand awareness and preference. The effort was part of the larger mission to transform the company from a "ring and yearbook" business to "one that people call upon to help celebrate their most important moments."

The company cut additional costs with the transfer of some ring production to Mexico. In addition, the purchase of the Gold Lance class ring brand from Town & Country Corporation in July 1997 gave Jostens a strong presence in the retail class ring business, which was dominated by companies such as J.C. Penney and Wal-Mart.

Although the retail market accounted for about 33 percent of all U.S. annual class ring sales, Jostens's name-brand appeal helped the company maintain a dominant market share. Scott Carlson wrote in a May 1998 St. Paul Pioneer Press article, "Industry observers and Jostens' competitors attribute the company's market strength to making quality products, providing reliable service to students and parents, and hiring enterprising independent sales representatives who build long-term relationships with schools and gain access for in-school marketing." But Jostens's trade practices had drawn fire as well as praise.

Dallas-based Taylor Publishing, one of only two national yearbook companies competing against Jostens (the other was Herff Jones) claimed that the Minnesota company had tried to monopolize the Texas yearbook market. In May 1998 Taylor won a multimillion settlement, which Jostens planned to appeal. Jostens had been under the scrutiny of the attorney general's office of Minnesota in the mid-1990s in regard to "exclusive supply contracts" with schools. And although the company denied that its sales practices were monopolistic, Jostens agreed to avoid using any techniques that would imply that the schools were locked in long-term exclusive deals. Jostens had revamping their sales operations as a part of the general company restructuring.

Buhrmaster, who added the company's chairmanship to his roles as president and CEO in the beginning of 1998, had returned the company to profitability. Yet growth continued to be a concern: total sales for 1997 were up only 4.8 percent. Jostens's mature school market had limited growth opportunities, but the company planned to make the most of those through products such as the "Millennium" ring collection, which capitalized on the interest in the turn of the century. The smaller recognition segment of the business, which primarily served U.S. and Canadian corporations and businesses, directed its focus on the fans of professional sports teams for added sales. Additional plant consolidation and infrastructure improvements that continued into 1998 delayed the implementation of any major expansion plans. The success of Buhrmaster's tenure as the head of the century-old business would be measured by his ability to build markets for Jostens brand-name products while embarking on new business ventures.

Principal Subsidiaries: American Yearbook Company, Inc.; Jostens Canada, Ltd.; Jostens Direct, Inc.; Jostens Photography, Inc.; The Jostens Foundation, Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Benson, Tracy E., "America's Unsung Heroes," Industry Week, December 3, 1990, p. 12.
  • Byrne, Harlan S., "Jostens Inc.: Demographics Offer an Earnings Kick," Barron's, October 14, 1991, p. 38.
  • Carlson, Scott, "Running Rings Around Competition," St. Paul Pioneer Press, May 17, 1998, pp. 1D, 3D.
  • Feyder, Susan, "Jostens' New CEO Rings Out Some Old Concepts," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), May 23, 1994, p. 1D.
  • ------, "Jostens Taking Charge for Closing Photo Plant," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), May 1, 1998, p. 3D.
  • ------, "Jostens To Buy Back 7 Million Shares for $168 Million in 'Dutch Auction,"' Star Tribune (Minneapolis), September 2, 1995, p. 1D.
  • ------, "Longtime Jostens CEO Lurton Says He's Retiring," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), October 29, 1993, p. 1D.
  • ------, "Rival Wins Suit Against Jostens over the Selling of Yearbooks," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), May 15, 1998, p. 3D.
  • ------, "Still Going for the Brass Ring," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 20, 1998, p. 1D.
  • Fiedler, Terry, "H. William Lurton: Modesty That Rings True," Corporate Report Minnesota, January 1990, pp. 45-51, 92.
  • Fierman, Jaclyn, and Rayport, Jeffrey, "How To Make Money in Mature Markets," Fortune, November 25, 1985, pp. 46-50.
  • Foster, Jim, "Jostens Plans Consolidation Moves," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 29, 1992, p. 3D.
  • Fredrickson, Tom, "Jostens Tries Staff Buyouts To Ring in Costs," Minneapolis/St. Paul CityBusiness, April 22-28, 1994, pp. 1, 30.
  • Gold, Jackey, "How To Make a Cash Cow Dance," Financial World, June 12, 1990, p. 38.
  • Greenbaum, Jessica, "Lord of the Rings," Forbes, May 21, 1984, pp. 108-10.
  • Gross, Steve, "Jostens Learning Expanding PC Line," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 15, 1992, p. 3D.
  • "Highlights from Jostens' History," Minneapolis: Jostens, 1992.
  • "Jostens Has Lower Earnings, Sales," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), January 19, 1993.
  • Jostens, Inc., Corporate Report Fact Book 1998, Minneapolis: Jostens, pp. 337-38.
  • "Jostens Moves to Head of the Class, St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, October 14, 1985.
    Jostens' Today (special 90th anniversary issue: "90 Years of People, Progress and Pride"), Minneapolis: Jostens, August 1987.
  • Marcotty, Josephine, "Boston Investment Group Is Buying Jostens Learning," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), May 24, 1995, p. 1D.
  • Moylan, Martin J., "Jostens Learning Gives Stock an Edge," St. Paul Pioneer Press & Dispatch, August 12, 1991.
  • Peterson, Susan E., "Lower-Than-Expected Earnings Forecast Drops Jostens Stock," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), June 15, 1996, p. 1D.
  • Raley, Marcia A., "Dain Bosworth Research Capsule: Jostens," January 25, 1988.
  • Saporito, Bill, "Companies That Compete Best," Fortune, May 22, 1989, p. 36.
  • Spiegel, Peter, "Ringing True," Forbes, November 6, 1995, p. 12.
  • Youngblood, Dick, "Former CEO of Jostens Explains What Went Wrong After 19 Years of Growth," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), April 20, 1994, p. 2D.
  • ------, "In a Shrinking Market, He Gently Led Jostens to New World of Growth," Star Tribune (Minneapolis), March 18, 1991.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol. 25. St. James Press, 1999.