Robert A. Eckert
• Mattel made money again in 2001
• Turned the much-hyped Harry Potter into a potentially enduring toy franchise
PHOTO BY ALANLEVENSON.COM
If you have a little trouble finding a Harry Potter action figure this winter, Robert A. Eckert is the man to blame. Mattel Inc. (MAT ) had already acquired the license to produce the toys when Eckert, 47, came on as chairman and chief executive in May, 2000. The former head of Kraft Foods Inc. (KFT ) quickly put his own understated touch on the rollout. Eckert wanted to keep the product line simple, so Mattel eliminated 25% of the toys that were originally planned. Eckert also aimed low, budgeting to sell just a quarter of the $400 million worth of toys sold after the last Star Wars movie. With Potter merchandise already out of stock at many stores, Eckert says Mattel should easily reach his sales forecast.
Eckert has been underpromising and overdelivering since he joined Mattel. He gave away Mattel's money-losing Learning Co. computer-game division, ended a pricey movie-licensing agreement with Walt Disney Co. (DIS ), and cut jobs. Brian P. McGough, an analyst at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., expects Mattel's 2001 earnings to climb nearly 16%, to $341 million, on just a 3% sales increase, to $4.8 billion.
Eckert is working to make Mattel even more efficient. He asked the distribution staff to spend more time with big customers such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT ) and Toys `R' Us Inc. (TOY ), and that cut delivery times. These smart moves are what's keeping Eckert ahead in this game.