From Boise to Beijing, Mattel's toys dominate the universe. Its no-fun-and-games marketing muscle reaches some 140 countries, and its iconic products-Barbie, Hot Wheels, and Chatty Cathy, to name a few-have been a part of our culture for generations.
Now, in this intriguing and entertaining expos谷, New York Times bestselling author Jerry Oppenheimer places the world's largest toy company under a journalistic microscope, uncovering the dark side of toy land, and exploring Mattel's oddball corporate culture and eccentric, often bizarre, cast of characters.
Based on exclusive interviews and an exhaustive review of public and private records, Toy Monster exposes Mattel's take-no-prisoners, shark-infested corporate style. Throughout this scrupulously reported, unauthorized portrait, you'll discover how dangerous toys are actually nothing new to Mattel, and why its fearsomely litigious approach within the brutal toy business has helped their products dominate over potential rivals such as Bratz.
But this is only part of the story. Along the way, you'll also become familiar with the larger-than-life personalities that have shaped Mattel's eccentric world. There's cofounder Ruth Handler, a "one-woman sales-merchandising-promotion-administrative force, a sort of industrial Orson Welles," who becomes a white-collar criminal. There's Jack Ryan, the "Father of Barbie," whose second of five wives calls him "a full-blown seventies-style swinger into wife-swapping and sundry sexual pursuits as a way of life." And don't forget CEO Robert Eckert, who came from the worlds of processed cheese and hot dogs to lead Mattel-only to get grilled by the U.S. Congress, and the world press, in the lead-paint-and-dangerous-magnets cause c谷l豕bre.
The phenomenal Barbie brand's 50th anniversary arrives in 2009, hot on the heels of the China Toy Terror recall scandal that has tarnished Mattel's image in the hearts and minds of millions of people worldwide. Toy Monster takes you inside the scandals that have been a part of this company, and shows you why today's toy business isn't always fun and games.
Five Questions for Jerry Oppenheimer, author of Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel
Mattel is a beloved and iconic toy company 每 what first inspired you to write an expose of the ※secret side§ of the company? All of my previous books have been about iconic people and dynasties 每 The Kennedys, Clintons, Hiltons, Martha Stewart, Barbara Walters, Jerry Seinfeld. But for my ninth book I decided to write about an iconic institution, one that was a household name whose products had a profound impact on generations. Mattel fit the profile 每 especially since it was in the headlines for the massive toy recalls in 2007, and with the iconic Barbie doll＊s 50th anniversary looming this year.
How did you gather all the information that you discuss in the book? I gathered everything that was in the public record about Mattel, going back to its earliest days to the present, more than 60 years worth. That kind of organization is important for a biography such as the one I planned to write about Mattel. Then I began doing the legwork, tracking down former and present Mattel employees and executives, and interviewing them on the record about their experiences at Mattel, about the company＊s corporate culture, and cast of characters. Then came the immense job of organizing all of that material and research and writing what I hope readers will enjoy and from which they will learn.
What was the most shocking revelation you uncovered in the course of writing Toy Monster? There were many jaw-droppers and shockers that surfaced during my research. One especially was the vicious feud between Jack Ryan, the Father of Barbie, and Ruth Handler, the co-founder of Mattel, over who conceived and developed the company＊s best-known and biggest-selling toy, Barbie.
The book reveals many little-known facts about the company history of Mattel and the odd corporate culture. What, in your opinion, is the most misconstrued assumption in popular opinion that you address in Toy Monster? During the course of my research, I discovered that Jack Ryan was the key person to bring Barbie in to the world, but that Handler, after Ryan＊s death, dismissed and denigrated his major contributions, taking all credit for the iconic doll. After Ryan committed suicide, Handler wrote an autobiography and etched her story in stone that Barbie was all her idea from start to finish, and that myth has since been perpetuated. For the first time Toy Monster gives Ryan＊s side of the previous untold story, and flips the birth of Barbie 180 degrees.
What＊s the one thing you＊d like readers to take away after reading Toy Monster? Don＊t be fooled by those wonderful playthings. Behind the scenes the big business of toys is a highly competitive battleground, and is far from fun and games.
Read an excerpt from Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel
Toy Monster Cast of Characters
Mattel, the world＊s largest toy company, has brought joy to generations of children for more than six decades, with such iconic toys as Barbie and Hot Wheels. Throughout their reign, Mattel has had a curious, eccentric 每 if not totally off-the-wall 每 cast of characters running the business, from creating toys to advertising and marketing them. In Toy Monster: The Big, Bad World of Mattel, you＊ll meet:
Jack Ryan, the ※Father of Barbie§ A brilliant Yale engineering school graduate who went from designing weapons of mass destruction for the Cold War Pentagon to bringing Barbie to life. He even molded real-life women in Barbie＊s image-- the long legs, the thin waist, the Pamela Anderson-esque breasts--and there were many in his ※swinging§ world as both a technologist and a playboy. As a close friend recounts, ※When Jack talked about creating Barbie, or improving Barbie＃it was like listening to somebody talk about a sexual episode＃a sexual pervert＃§
Ruth Handler, the ※Mother of Barbie§ The driven, ambitious, and cutthroat co-founder of Mattel, who after Ryan＊s bizarre death claimed all credit for inventing Barbie. Handler waged a deliberate campaign to diminish, if not altogether erase Ryan＊s importance as the Father of Barbie, and take full credit as the billion dollar doll＊s inventor. While embarrassed about Ryan＊s sexual proclivities 每 and even more about the huge royalties she had to pay him for his lucrative inventions 每 it was Handler who almost brought Mattel to its corporate knees by helping to ※cook the books§ and was ousted from the company. The 61-year-old grandmother avoided imprisonment in a plea bargain deal, and was sentenced to 2,500 hours of community service and a $57,000 fine.
Jill Elikann Barad A glamorous real-life Beverly Hills Barbie who skyrocketed from a lowly job in Mattel＊s novelty-development department to CEO after brilliantly marketing Barbie through the Milky Way. Barrad＊s efforts generated billions of dollars for the company before she was axed after making what is considered one of the worst corporate acquisitions in history. During her rise and before her fall, she earned a reputation as a fearsome diva for firing on a whim and promoting people based on how they looked and dressed. Notes a Mattel colleague, ※Jill believed you are what you wear. Her comment would be, ＆Well, what does she know? Look at what she wears. Look what she looks like.§ She was Hollywood personified, even having had a role in the mobster film ※Crazy Joe§.
Roger Sweet A genius designer who developed one of Mattel＊s hugely successful boys＊ toys, He-Man, as well as a toy line called Masters of the Universe. When the money rolled in to Mattel coffers 每 at one point He-Man was outselling even Barbie 每 he was crowned one of the toymaker＊s stars. But when Mattel oversold the toy to stores whose shelves were sagging under He-Man＊s weight and sales went into the proverbial toilet, so did Sweet, who was forced out. Fearful he had been blacklisted in the industry, Sweet wound up driving a forklift at Home Depot.
Bob Eckert Eckert became the big cheese at Mattel as CEO after a long career at Kraft Foods. A shrewd, but mild-mannered Midwesterner who is compared to the likeable Chevy Chase character Clark Griswold in ※National Lampoon＊s Vacation§, he was at the helm during the Toy Terror summer of 2007 when millions of Mattel toys made in China had to be recalled because of dangerous lead in the paint. The media, the U.S. Congress, and furious parents scandalized Mattel. Also during his reign, Eckert saw Barbie＊s sales and popularity plummet when an upstart series of sexy dolls 每 the Bratz Pack 每 hit the toy scene, leading to the Barbie vs. Bratz toy trial of the century.
ALL PARENTS SHOULD READ THIS BOOK ABOUT MATTEL Mattel bills itself as the 'world's largest toy company' and with that claim it suggests that it is the world's best and safest. Well those notions are shot down in this shockingly candid expose of the House of Barbie's leaders -- past and present -- and life behind its corporate walls. Jerry Oppenheimer has done his homework, found the shady dealings and names names. TOY MONSTER does not paint a very pretty picture of toyland. Scandals, deceptions, dangerous toys, corporate shenanigans and more are revealed, and the reporting and research is scrupulous. In this time of bailouts and foreclosures, unemployment and recession, this revelatory book of a corporate icon is timely, educational and entertaining. I highly recommend it. His case histories of children injured by toys and his inside account of the 2007 recalls of millions of playthings is spine-tingling. His profiles of sex obsessed Jack Ryan, the Father of Barbie and Ruth Handler, the greedy cofounder of Mattel and convicted white collar criminal, read like a novel. We need more books like this!...more info
MICHAEL MOORE COULDN'T HAVE DONE BETTER!!!!!! As a father of a 4 year old, and a seven year old, i have been buying Mattel toys for them since they were born. I had Hot Wheels as a kid. I always trusted Mattel. Then came the recalls in 2007 and I began questioning the ethics of this company. I figured China was to blame. But after reading jerry Oppenheimer's eye-popping investigative expose of the largest toy company in the world -- a really fun and enlightening tale of corporate shenanigans, weird and bizarre characters who have been in charge and the strange culture they worked in -- my mind is boggled. What a bunch!!!! This Jack Ryan who designed Barbie and was a virtual sex fiend. Ruth handler, the cofounder, who was a white collar criminal. Jill Barad, a former CEO, who was like a Beverly Hills Barbie, and the current CEO Bob Eckert who the author compares to the Chevy Chase character in 'national Lampoon's Vacation," but only much smarter. The books shows it was on his watch that the Bratz dolls came along and beat the you know what out of Barbie, and it was on his watch that the toy recalls happened. This is quite a story. Bravo!!!...more info
Mesmerizing details of America's toy megaseller, and how it grew You don't have to be interested in toys to find this book fascinating. Oppenheimer's study of Mattel offers abundant insights on the habits of corporate America, on one company's stunningly successful marketing, and tales of megalomanic, wack-a-doodle management executives. "Toy Monsters" provides plenty of food for thought--"food" less dangerous than Mattel's Incredible Edibles, an allegedly "sugar-free," additive-packed snack product cooked in molds modeled on the company's successful Creepy Crawler kit. Even though I played with these toys at the homes of friends (some of whom were children of Mattel employees) as a child in the mid-'60s, as a parent it's hard to believe that America's biggest toy company once marketed items using red-hot metal to "cook," unsupervised, either foul-smelling plastic insects, or disgusting "Edibles" (based on Aunt Jemima pancake mix and food coloring) that sickened a number of diabetic children before the toy was discontinued. And unfortunately, that's not Mattel's only dangerous product: the author names several, marketed across decades.
Elliot and Ruth Handler started their company in the mid-'50s with a partner who sold out relatively early on, but they became legendarily famous in 1959 with the introduction of the first incarnation of the Barbie fashion doll. The toy was based on a raunchy German sex mannequin named Bild-Lilli, displayed in a shop window and catching the eye of Ruth Handler's then-15-year-old daughter Barbara, for whom the doll was named. Less than a foot tall, Barbie boasts human-scale measurements of 39-18-34--just the feminine ideal of product manager Jack Ryan (who filed the nipples off Bild-Lilli's mold to better assuage American sensibilities). Ryan, a brilliant, unstable, bi-polar Yalie, burned through five marriages, leading a Hefneresque life while at Mattel, surgically altering several wives to more closely resemble his fantasies. One wife, said to be already stunningly beautiful, died of an anorexia-induced heart attack. Barbie's "boyfriend" was named after the Handlers' only son, Ken. Having an anatomically incorrect doll named after him while an adolescent must have been excruciating for Ken Handler, who would not allow his own children to play with the dolls. Oppenheimer handles the real-life Ken's story briefly and sensitively, noting only "another side" to marriage and parenthood in Ken's life. He died of AIDS in 1994, a story suppressed at the time as well as in his mother's autobiography. Oddly enough, shortly before Ken Handler's death, an "Earring Magic Ken" doll was released, complete with blonde highlights, purple shirt, lavender vest, charm necklace, and "diamond" earring, "giving him the look and feel of the Village People." Even nuttier--and more controversial--was the mid-'70s version of Barbie's nine-inch-high "younger sister," Skipper. "By a crank of her left arm... ["Growing Up"] Skipper sprouted little plastic breasts, her waist became slimmer... the packaging promised she'd grow 'slim and tall and curvy.'" The controversy over this risque 'tween was eclipsed when Ruth Handler was "indicted in 1978 by a federal grand jury on charges of conspiracy, mail fraud, and making false financial statements to the SEC." Her plea of "no contest--equal to a guilty plea" guaranteed Handler immunity from serving a prison term of 20 to 50 years. Her punishment was a slap on the wrist (community service and a fine of $57,000), but it ended her career at Mattel.
Our nation's current economic woes resound with distressing familiarity in Mattel's financial irregularities. In 1969, the Securities and Exchange Commission accused the company of releasing false earnings reports. This turned out to be true, but it's hardly Mattel's only clash with regulations.
"Toy Monster" is not a complete history of Mattel, but one theme that endures, say many former executives, is that the workplace is and was one in which "you had to watch your back. People are pitted against one another... [it's] a shark pond." In addition, executives seemed to endure a remarkable number of personal and/or job-related tragedies: Embittered, they are fired or resign, develop cancer, or watch helplessly as others take credit for their creations. To name just one human example, after Mattel disastrously declined the rights to create Star Wars figures, product designer Jack Sweet came up with the enormously successful He-Man line of action figures. Like others before and after him, Sweet eventually was forced out, "blacklisted" in the toy industry--and ended up driving a forklift for Home Depot AND surviving cancer, knowing that his creations grossed more than $1 billion for Mattel.
In two decades, ambitious Jill Barad rose through the ranks from product manager to CEO. "People who worked with Jill were afraid of her--afraid of disagreeing with her, afraid to say no to her," asserts a former head of worldwide Barbie management. By 1999, fashion-plate Barad was dogged by the company's "worst financial situation in years" and corporate irregularities; Mattel "eventually had to ante up a whopping $122 million to settle shareholder lawsuits for allegedly putting out misleading sales forecasts." Barad left Mattel with close to $50 million, including bonuses, pension, life and health insurance, a forgiven home loan, and 6.4 million stock options, a path that CNN's Stuart Varney called "paved with gold."
Since Barad left, her successor, former Kraft Foods executive Robert A. Eckert, has had to grapple not only with ongoing financial problems and up-and-coming toy competitors, but nagging and tragic safety issues. Mattel manufactures nearly all of its toys in China, and many contractors use lead-contaminated paint. In addition, some Mattel toys, such as the popular Polly Pocket line, contain minuscule magnets that can perforate intestines. At least one child died after ingesting Mattel magnets, and several more suffered agonizing injuries. Oppenheimer also gives an appalling description of our country's nearly toothless toy-safety regulations.
In just 250 pages, Oppenheimer touches on the highlights and lowlights of America's best-known toy company. Still, he's so good at what he does--especially given that Mattel absolutely refused to cooperate with the author in any way--that this book left me wanting more stories (good and bad), more anecdotes (ditto)... I hope other authors will follow the conscientious investigations and interviews that Oppenheimer gives us. ...more info
Interesting! Mattel reaches some 140 countries, and its iconic products - Barbie and Hot Wheels - have been part of our culture for generations. The book reveals a shark-infested corporate culture, its litigious approach, and the larger-than-life personalities that helped shape Mattel and its many scandals.
Ruth Handler, co-founder, waged a campaign to claim credit for Barbie, even though Jack Ryan (head of R&D, a EE hired from the defense industry) had several patents on the doll. She eventually was convicted of insider trading and accounting manipulations and falsifications, then forced out of management.
Jack Ryan reportedly got the idea for Barbie after asking the Handlers' daughter why she didn't play with her expensive dolls (made paper cutouts instead), and was told "the dresses are pretty, but . . . they've got dopey figures." (Other sources credit Ruth Handler for creating Barbie.) He outsourced production to Japan in 1956 to achieve a $3 price, vs. an unsellable $7-8. Outfits and accessories made more money. Ryan hired a Universal Studios makeup artist to create the face, and basically copied a German doll Ruth found. (Litigation settled in the 1960s.) Ryan also established tight security, especially in R&D, and testing rooms with one-way mirrors. His pay was 1.5% of sales.
Mattel's first full year was 1945, achieving a $30,000 profit on $100,000 in sales of plastic and wood dollhouse furniture. Then came a $1.49 plastic ukulele, plastic piano with raised black keys, etc. The Handlers' partner, Matson, soon sold out, leaving them totally in charge.
The Handlers eventually set up another R&D group to compete with Ryan (thought they were paying him too much in royalties), and after awhile he left, suing them for shorting his payments - awarded $10.1 million.
Hot Wheels hit the market in Christmas, 1968 in response to Matchbox. Fifty million were sold at an early preview for KMart. Overall sales sagged in 1969, so the firm resorted to phony sales to assuage Wall Street, creating the appearance of record earnings. Eighty percent, however, were canceled within a few months. Scandal and restatements drove the stock from $100 to $2. Prior to the scandal, Mattel had gone on an acquisition spree and bought Ringling Bros. and Barnum/Bailey Circus. All the acquisitions were sold after the scandal, mostly at a loss.
Jill Barad started at Mattel in 1981 as a product manager, and became CEO in 1997. She was very big on appearance and also created an abusive climate and high fear factor. Masters of the Universe toys became a huge seller in the mid-1980s; the developer was also forced out and ended up driving a fork-lift at Home Depot. Mattel again went through a phase of overstating volumes and accounting manipulations, eventually costing $122 million paid out to litigious investors. Overpaid for Tyco toys, lost the possible opportunity to market a Princess Diana doll after her death by not being up-front about their efforts. Acquired the Learning Co. for $3.8 billion, about 4.5X sales.
Barad was forced out in 2000 after market value had fallen $13.5 billion during a period when the S&P 500 rose. Another problem for Barad was that too many executives had left - forced out or unwilling to work with her. She received a $50 million golden parachute, and Mattel essentially gave away the Learning Co.
Barad was replaced by Eckert from Kraft. He restored profits after cutting costs (about 3,000 laid off) and boosted sales. By 2005, sales slumped again - competitor Bratz dolls were sexier and more in demand, and it took Mattel 14 months to put out a response.
Then came serious problems with lead paint and small magnets that came off and were swallowed by young children. Mattel's Asian operation took a month to inform headquarters of the lead paint problem. China became angered about the overall recall negative publicity - turns out 85% of the problems (those involving the magnets) were due to poor design by Mattel, forcing the company to apologize to China - feared losing its production source and a future market.
"Toy Monster" ends indecisively with a court battle between Mattel and the Bratz doll makers - at issue was whether the doll's designer was actually working for Mattel at the time. (Mattel eventually won.)...more info
The Bob Guccione of Toy Histories Not being a former employee of Mattel, I'm not qualified to say how accurate or "tabloid" this tale is but it's certainly fascinating. The personalities, the successes and the mistakes are both epic and lurid, and even if taken with a degree of skepticism (and I'm not saying it should be) there's more than enough here to make for a fascinating corporate case history. My beef would be the amount of copy spent on Barbie who consumes most of the story - aside from He-Man & Polly Pockets, there's very little non-doll toy coverage to be had - a few scattered references to Hot Wheels are about it. But entertaining? You bet....more info
The Big, False, Made-Up World of Mattel As a Barbie collector since 1959, I was quite surprised to read such a poorly researched book about Mattel. I had a very hard time finding any true statements about anything in this book. Mr. Oppenheimer should know that a good book depends on how good the background research is, and this book has none that I can find, other than some trivial personality traits of Jack Ryan, the man who patented the Barbie doll's design. Jack Ryan was a government engineer, who was totally into the space age, after WWII in the 1950's. Mattel needed a designing engineer, to design the actual toys they were creating, so Ryan was hired. Ryan designed the Barbie doll's body- a head, torso, legs and arms- an almost complete copy of a Bild Lilli doll from Germany, which Ruth Handler bought and brought back to Mattel. Ryan also made the talking mechanism for Chatty Cathy and the Vrroom motors for the Mattel bikes. Ryan was an engineer that made the Handler's ideas come to life. He did not come up with the ideas, he only three-dimensionalized them and owned his government patents. He received royalties, like any other artist for his designs. I was surprised to read in this book, that Ruth Handler started the story of how she came up with the Barbie doll, AFTER Ryan's death in 1991. If Mr. Oppenheimer had done any research at all, he would have found the most obvious History of Mattel, a book written by Ruth's husband and co-founder of Mattel, Elliot Handler. The book is titled The Impossible Really Is Possible-The Story Of Mattel and was written in the 1960's and printed in 1968. If Mr. Oppenheimer had read this history of Mattel, he would see the story of the Barbie dolls creation in print in 1968, and not made up after Ryan's death in 1991! Ryan tried and failed to sue Mattel for coming up with the idea of the Barbie doll. Ryan will always go down in history for being the engineer that copied the body of a Bild Lilli doll for the Barbie doll, and also for his other contributions to designing other parts of Mattel's toys, but that is the beginning and end of his contributions for Mattel. Ryan is no idea man, as Mr. Oppenheimer gives him credit for.
As far as the Barbie doll, little girls in 1959, did not go crazy over the Barbie doll for her figure, as we already had Little Miss Revlon dolls with cute figures and smaller bust lines to play with. Barbie brought with her a wardrobe of clothes, like no other clothes that have been made before or since, that fit the many things she could do in a day. Charlotte Johnson did much more than Jack Ryan, as she actually did create and design the clothes that filled Barbie doll's closet. These clothes were meticulously hand made by Japanese seamstresses- even the pearl necklaces were hand strung. Ruth Handler's ideas made us love Barbie in 1959, the exact same way in which collectors love her today. Barbie was a 3 dimensional paperdoll with a meticulously sewn wardrobe that kept us busy during all our playtime hours. I hope Mr. Oppenheimer researches the past thoroughly before writing his next book, as things he thinks were "made up" in 1991, were actually in print in 1968! This way, the true story of Mattel will not have to be fabricated by a writer who doesn't have a clue because he didn't do his homework!
Author's Bias is Clear I was looking forward to this book as an expose of the inner workings of a massive toy company, and the fight over who really created "Barbie". Instead, I got a book in which the author's bias is terribly clear: he hates Ruth Handler and worships Jack Ryan. The bias shows up in the language used to describe the various players: someone that the author likes simply "tells" a story, while someone that he doesn't like is "boasting" when he details his resume. And boy, does the author hate Ruth Handler and Jill Barad, uppity females that they were.
Also, if Jack Ryan had been referred to as "the Father of Barbie" instead of by his name ONE MORE TIME I was going to throw the book out the window. It became a joke: The Father of Barbie went outside. The Father of Barbie sat down to dinner. The Father of Barbie answered the phone. It was late, so the Father of Barbie went to bed.
The book is also sloppy and repetitive: we're told more than once that Demi Moore MAY have based her portrayal of a businesswoman on Jill Barad! Wow! That's fascinating! Of course, there's no documentation for the reality of this, other than the fact that Moore toured Mattel once. But this writer doesn't seem to feel the need to actually back up any of his claims: this is just one example of his use of gossip, maybes and perhapses.
Almost unreadable; too bad. I'd love to read a serious book on the subject rather than this gossipy mess....more info
corporate expose with sex, scandal, cynicism, and very little analysis This is an odd book. While I was looking for information on the toy industry, what gets dished up are stories of 1) lurid sex; 2) financial mismanagement by a series of megalomaniacal executives; 3) safety issues that led to litigation in 2007-8. Sprinkled throughout are tidbits on what makes the company tick and what products came out, but there is precious little about the company's strategy, business model, or context on the industry. As such, this book appears to aspire to a Vanity Fair style of expose, designed more to titillate and denounce than to understand what the company did and how it might do it better.
I knew I was in trouble when I opened the book: it starts with a long description of the type of sex that designer Jack Ryan sought with Barbie-lookalikes, the doll that he co-created. It comes off as a ridiculous attempt at voyeuristic sensationalism that offered insight the mind of a bi-polar sex addict. Now this is interesting in itself, but it adds nothing whatsoever to the story of Mattel - yet the book starts with that. There are then mini-bios of Mattel's founders, the Handlers, which only reveal that they were relentless hard workers. The wife (Ruth Handler, Barbie's inventor) then got busted for illegal and unethical financial manipulation schemes and had to resign. Again, this is interesting, but I wanted much more detail on how they did what they did (i.e., business journalism, not tabloid gossip). Inexplicably, the author also spends a lot of time arguing that Ryan was the actual creator of barbie (he engineered most of it), rather than Handler, who got the idea from a German Doll, Lilli, that was sold for adults; this is a specious argument that occupies 20 pages.
I gleaned a few interesting insights into the company. Mattel pioneered laboratory research into the play preferences of children, was an early exponent of distributed manufacturing on a global scale, and helped to create the rapid competition for fashionable seasonal toys. It was one of the first to advertise on TV, gaining an exclusive spot on the Mickey Mouse Club, a huge risk that paid off. With Barbie, it sold a cheap doll ($3) that then needed expensive outfits (i.e. the Gillette razor model: cheap razor, expensive blades). Beyond extremely superficial statements like "Ryan brought scientific methods to toy design", you get virtually nothing about what he actually did.
The book then shifts into a preposterously judgmental mode, in which the corporate culture of the company is denounced as inhuman and downright nasty. Now, I make my living going into companies and reporting, and I must say that nasty work environments - capricious executives, ultra-extreme egotism, brutal politics, and senselessly stupid decisions in accordance with standard operating procedures - are rather commonplace. Indeed, dysfunctional is the rule, functional is very rare. If the author does not know this, he is naive and misinformed, which makes me suspect everything he wrote in the entire book; I think he wants to evoke a mix of outrage, disdain, jealousy, and admiration - the crudely basic elements of celebrity journalism.
Finally, once yet another bad chief executive is kicked out (Jill Barad), the last CEO (Everette) is described. However, virtually nothing is said about how he wanted to change the company beyond "returning to the core". No new strategy, no new ways to add value, no new mission - whether Everette envisioned any of these is not clear, though he did spend a lot of energy on lawsuits against a competitor (MGA); we get no insight into his mind. Instead, the author spends several chapters on the safety issues of lead paint and swallowable magnets, with too many descriptions of debilitated children (yes, the stories are sad, but after two it is time to move on to other issues). Even here, he fails to look into whether the company might have acted in a more ethical manner, instead portraying it as simply self-serving and uncaring (is there a more complex situation there, like an internal debate? We never learn about it as the question is never posed). Once again, pathetically superficial, at least for me, who wanted to understand how the company works in a market context. Did they have an ethics policy? Did they institute one? What should they do to improve on it? None of that is even mentioned.
I would recommend this book for those who want a quick tour of corporate scandal and the eccentricities of high rollers. It can be a fun read that way and I do not mean to look down on that kind of reader. But for those who want to understand the company's business, this book is a big disappointment. In my opinion, it was written quickly to get into best seller territory - with all the grotesque detail and facile judgments, which I found superfluous....more info