Joseph Felföldi is a Hungarian businessman, music producer, motivational writer and philanthropist. He was born on 10th November 1954 in Újfehértó, Hungary. A stubborn child, he was aware of his own creative drive early on. Following early business endeavours in different areas, Joseph Felföldi founded his company Felföldi Confectionery Ltd, which he has since successfully developed into a globally-exporting enterprise employing nearly 300 people.
Childhood and studies
Joseph Felföldi was mischievous in humor but diligent in practical work. He was only five years old when his father entrusted him with the care of a cow – a large responsibility in 1950s communist-era Hungary. In spite of the communist rules, Joseph was able to earn a little unofficial ‘pocket money’ from the price of the milk sold, providing his first insight into trading. His father József Felföldi, and his mother Erzsébet Csukrán both worked in agriculture. Joseph and his sister Erzsébet Felföldi enjoyed a supportive, benevolent relationship. The memories of their days full of fun and playing, live vividly in Joseph’s mind. He loves to recall a particular memory of him and his sister playing the roles of an actor and doctor and entertaining their parents.
Following his elementary school years, Joseph was channeled into employment as a waiter. Early ambitions to be an actor were dashed following an accident on 19th December 1969. He was walking towards the railway station in Debrecen when a member of a child band having a snowball battle hit him in his left eye. The snowball was filled with a bearing ball, and despite the doctors’ effort, the sight of Joseph’s left eye could not be saved. The trauma caused by the accident shattered him and the bitterness, combined with bullying at school, would sometimes drive Joseph to intemperance.
However, after 5-6 months, with force of willpower, Joseph chose reading over his more destructive inclinations. In the most difficult moments of his life, he remembered the guitar he received as a present from his sister while he was recovering in the hospital. These were the moments when music and poetry inevitably became interwoven into the fabric of Joseph Felföldi’s life.
A restless and uncompromising person, Joseph Felföldi never wanted to be an employee. He wanted to make decisions and take responsibility for them. He was more interested in trading than anything else and he was constantly on the lookout for new investments. His ventures brought him mixed success in different trades. The successful base of his first company was the Mosoly Album (Smile Album) published between 1972 and 1988. The album contained photographs of newborn babies. The workshop where the album was made had its own photo lab and the photos of the first issue were taken by Joseph personally during his roamings in Eastern Hungary.
In 1983, Joseph’s innovative worldview and interest in travel encouraged him to sell products already popular abroad. So-called Hungarian ’goulash socialism’ at this time meant that Hungary was becoming more relaxed and flexible than in other eastern bloc countries. Joseph was one of those pushing even harder at the limits of what the Soviet regime would allow. In this way, daring entrepreneurs like Joseph played their role in the fall of the iron curtain – which, of course, began in Hungary.
On the then-named Red Army Road in Debrecen, Joseph started to offer American hamburgers and Belgian waffles. Two years later, the colored postcards and board games distributed by Colour GMK became his livelihood. In 1989, with Hungarian independence restored, Joseph was able to scale up his printing through Felföldi Sector, and from 1990 Joseph was selling souvenirs, dried flowers, and bath salts. This was around the time when Joseph met Anita Roddick, the Body Shop founder, at a trade fair in England.
The confectionery company that Joseph still owns and runs today was founded originally in 1986. The initial staff headcount has grown to nearly 300, making the company the largest employer of its type in Eastern Hungary.
Joseph Felföldi’s ’Candy Man’ career is largely the result of a random act of kindness and a copper cauldron: When a friend sadly died, Joseph offered to buy some unused industrial equipment, simply as a way of helping the family. The copper cauldron continued to lie unused until curiosity led Joseph to discover its function of producing sugar dragee. Joseph’s experiments paved the way to his invention of the famous Quick Milk Magic Sipper in 1995. The sugar dragee filled straws became world famous and popular throughout Europe and in America and Asia. At the last count, over a hundred million children worldwide have tasted Felföldi Confectionery products. Following Hungary’s accession to the EU in 2004, market opportunities increased and since 2009, the company has enjoyed particularly strong growth, creating 100 more jobs locally and supporting the distribution of Felföldi products in over 40 countries around the world.
In 2007 an Australian company, Unistraw Holdings, accused Joseph of stealing their idea, apparently presuming that Joseph would not have the energy and resources to defend himself in different countries. After a protracted litigation, Joseph finally proved his ownership of the patent. Joseph was also attacked in Germany; however, the court in Dusseldorf found that the products were different in crucial aspects of the design, and rejected the charge of Unistraw in the infringement proceedings. The court found that Felföldi Confectionery Ltd had formally introduced its product onto the market in 2000, long before the Australian company had even filed an application for a trademark.
In May of 2014, Joseph Felföldi with his colleagues organized a march to the building of the Parliament of Hungary demonstrating against the unfair treatment of the Hungarian Court, given that Hungary – Joseph’s own country – was the only country to drag its feet in confirming Joseph as the rightful owner of his patent. The Europen Patent Office also initiated proceedings against Joseph but in 2016 they too concluded that the ownership of the product does belong exclusively to Joseph Felföldi.
Joseph Felföldi has always admired poetry. He was first published in a Hungarian magazine entitled Nők Lapja but his affinity in writing revealed itself years before, after Joseph met a local Hungarian poet who became his artistic mentor.
Similarly, Music became a part of Joseph’s life during his childhood, especially following the accident which left him without sight in one eye. Joseph turned to music and poetry as self-therapy and it continues to serve the same purpose today.
Growing up in a loving and caring family, Joseph always wanted to provide a supporting and encouraging environment for his children.
He has five children who, despite his love or because of it, he does not want to pamper. His philosophy is that in order to succeed, one needs not only to see the goal but the road leading towards it. Joseph wants his children to be motivated by the desire to be different before they become actively involved in the family business, if that’s what they ultimately choose. Joseph always tried to live his life according to his father’s advice – If you’re the smartest person in the room, you need to go somewhere else where you can advance yourself further. This is what he expects from his children as well.