Mattel co-founder Elliot Handler dies

Elliott Handler founded Mattel which became a great and at times controversial business empire. The creation of the Barbie Doll concept has been attributed to his wife, Ruth, and was named after their own daughter

Elliot Handler lived a full and lengthy life before dying in July 2011 at the age of 95. His story is a fascinating one.

Away in a cradle

Mattel was started in a garage, that mythic cradle of entrpreneurship. The company website provides a time-line on its website from its foundation in 1945 to the year 2005 showing its rise to a global corporation. It shows highlights such as the ‘Birth of Barbie’, now an astonishingly well-preserved 52 year old. It also traces the acquisitions and mergers through which the company has grown.

Mattel Inc. incorporates Fisher Price, and produces a wide range of famous products such as Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys. The company name is derived from Harold “Matt” Matson and Elliot Handler. After the release of the Barbie doll, Mattel went on to revolutionize the toy industry with a range of innovations such as talking dolls and toys.

In the shadow of Barbie

Perhaps Elliot Handler will be remembered as living in the shadow of a fictional child. However, he was no mean inventor and entrepreneur. One of his successes was the product line Hot Wheels. The die cast range became a classic collectable. Elliot had pushed ahead when others showed little confidence in his concept.

Triumphs and disasters

Major successes in the 1960s propelled Mattel to its premier position as the number one toymaker in America. The triumphs were accompanied by several dark episodes.

Ruth Elliot had become President, and was mourned at her death as ‘Mom of Barbie’. By that time, Ruth had also been ousted from the company for financial wrongdoings, and Elliot had also been forced out off the board.

In 2002, outsourcing production to China led to a scandal involving lead contamination. The toys were recalled and public apologies made to the Chinese people. The episode anticipated the more recent strategies of companies such as BP and Toyota facing a hit to their corporate reputation.

Rewriting history

What you will not find on the company website is much about the board room coup which ousted founder Elliot and his wife Ruth.

A leadership mission

Matell today offers a leadership mission:

“Leadership” at Mattel is the ability to develop and communicate a compelling picture of the future that inspires and motivates others to take action. Leaders at Mattel align themselves with Mattel’s core values, exhibit leadership competencies and drive for success in our business strategies. In this way, we will work to achieve our vision, “Creating the Future of Play.” Every day as Mattel’s 30,000 employees worldwide strive to realize that vision, our leadership team is guiding the way.

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