When Jill Elikann Barad went to work for Mattel Inc. in 1981, she had a great idea: selling a line of Barbie cosmetics. Instead, the 29-year-old junior executive was put in charge of A Bad Case of Worms, slimy rubber bugs that slink down walls. Alas, they were quickly squashed by the competition. Undaunted, Barad finally talked her way onto the Barbie team. And Barbie became her ticket to Mattel's boardroom.
Barad shrewdly reinvigorated the perennial but somewhat dated favorite of baby-boomer girls. She pioneered the idea of different "play patterns"--apres-ski Barbie, Barbie on Rollerblades--and backed it up with a barrage of television advertising. Since 1987, Barbie sales have doubled, to $840 million. That's half of Mattel's $1.6 billion business overall. The average Barbie owner has seven dolls, decked out in everything from leather miniskirts to medical scrubs. Says Barad: "It's not just putting another little dress on another little doll--but how do you bring that doll to life?"
CUDDLY AMBIENCE. President of Mattel USA since 1990, Barad oversees the girls and activity toys division, which makes up the bulk of Mattel's business. She has also shown a knack for developing new lines--including a bathtub mermaid doll that "sings" underwater--that have become hits. Says Mattel CEO John W. Amerman: "Jill always comes through with the big idea."
With her office all a-fluff with stuffed puppy dogs, candy-like pillows, flowers, and, of course, Barbie dolls, Barad bubbles with enthusiasm. Despite the cuddly ambience, she drives her staff hard to get new toys to market. And not just her employees. As Barad hammered out a licensing deal for Aviva Sport Inc., which specializes in children's sports gear, she realized she was more familiar with dolls and cosmetics than bats and balls. So, she promptly hauled home some Aviva products for an expert assessment from her two young sons, Justin and Alex.
But Barbie remains Barad's greatest hit. And it hardly bothers her that her meteoric rise has been tied to selling the all-American bimbo doll that changes careers with every new outfit. Says Barad: "Barbie fulfills the fantasy of what it's going to be like to grow up. A doctor? A lawyer?" Or maybe CEO of a billion-dollar toy company . . .