Barad, Jill E.

Barad, Jill E.
▪ 1999

      On Jan. 1, 1998, Jill Barad celebrated her first anniversary as chairman and CEO of Mattel, the world's largest toy manufacturer. In January 1997, after 16 years with the company, Barad joined the small number of female executives who head major U.S. businesses. During her tenure at Mattel she experienced everything ranging from the company's near bankruptcy in the 1980s to its transformation into a thriving, $4.8 billion operation, whose brands included Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, Fisher-Price, Tyco Toys, and Cabbage Patch Kids.

      Barad's path took several turns on her way to the top of the El Segundo, Calif.-based Mattel. Born Jill Elikann on May 23, 1951, in New York City, she received (1973) her B.A. from Queens College in New York City. Following graduation she worked as an assistant to the Italian producer Dino De Laurentiis and landed a nonspeaking role in his 1974 film Crazy Joe. After deciding not to pursue an acting career, she worked for Coty Cosmetics as a cosmetician-trainer. Even at this early job, her innovative nature shone through—when she realized that Coty's products were not being placed well in the stores she visited, she designed a wall display that the company would use for the next two decades. She married Thomas Barad in 1979 and left the workforce shortly thereafter when she became pregnant with their first child.

      By 1981 she felt corporate America beckoning her back, and she began her career with Mattel as a product manager. Her first assignment was an ill-fated rubbery product called A Bad Case of Worms, but she gained recognition for her initiative in promoting the product. In 1982 Barad was put in charge of the Barbie line. Launched in 1959, by the early 1980s Barbie was experiencing unspectacular sales. Barad brought new life into the line, overseeing the expansion of the Barbie collection by packaging different versions of the doll, each with its own accessories, so that children would want to own more than one. The results were astounding—annual sales of the Barbie brand grew from $200 million in 1982 to $1.9 billion in 1997. By 1998 the average girl in the U.S. owned nine Barbies, and the brand amounted to some 40% of Mattel's sales.

      Barad's successes brought her a series of promotions. She was named president and chief operating officer of Mattel in 1992, and by 1997 she was primed to take over as CEO. Barad planned to put Barbie, as well as other Mattel toys, in the hands of even more children around the world. In early 1998 she announced plans to pursue the international market aggressively. In December, amid reports of disappointing earnings, Barad announced that Mattel would acquire The Learning Company, an educational software maker.


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