As a vice-president of Catco Inc., a $70 million toy company, Mary Rodas enjoys living it up. Her annual compensation is worth $200,000, and she takes business trips to Japan and Europe. Rodas also hires a black stretch limo to take her to work. She needs a chauffeur -- she's too young to drive.
The 15-year-old's job isn't child's play. Rodas advises New York-based Catco on marketing and design strategies for the many toys it makes. Projects include stuffed Little Mermaid dolls and a new collection of Cabbage Patch Kids, slated for release by Christmas.
Rodas traces her career to age 4, when she criticized her neighbor, Catco owner Donald Spector, for laying his kitchen tiles wrong. Soon, Spector began using Mary as a sounding board. Last year, Rodas helped develop the Balzac Balloon Ball, a cloth balloon cover that rang up $30 million in sales in its first year. A student at the Professional Children's School in Manhattan, Rodas works afternoons, 15 hours a week.
She nurses grander plans. One day, Rodas hopes to go to Harvard University and then launch a career in politics. "Politicians today talk too much," she says. "I want to help in running things the way they should be run." This is one 15-year-old with plenty of experience doing that already.