Robert Eckert: Babe In Toyland

Can a 23-year veteran of the food industry put toymaker Mattel back together again? Robert Eckert, 45, the former CEO of Philip Morris' Kraft Foods Div., will succeed Jill Barad as chairman and CEO of the troubled El Segundo (Calif.)-based toymaker. Barad left Mattel in February amid large losses and plunging shares.

Although Kraft has always been healthy, Eckert has faced his share of challenges. Kraft countered the move away from home cooking with easier-to-prepare meals such as Stove Top "dinner kits" and Lunchables cheese and cracker combos. The result: industry-leading growth.

At Mattel, Eckert faces kids who have drifted away from such core brands as Barbie dolls and Matchbox cars in favor of online games and educational toys. Barad tried to shift in that direction by spending $3.6 billion for software maker Learning Co., but she overpaid just as the industry shifted from CD-ROM-based games to the Net. Expect Eckert to focus on new products and heavy promotion of Mattel's well-known brands.

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