Barbie Buzz: Mattel CEO Shares Branding Wisdom with Tel Aviv University Students
Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz, an alumnus of Tel Aviv University’s Coller School of Management, spoke to students about business leadership.
The movie Barbie, based on the iconic doll created by American toy company Mattel, premiered this weekend in movie theaters worldwide to much critical acclaim. The movie’s release marks a significant point in the transformation that the long-established company has undergone in recent years under the leadership of Ynon Kreiz, Mattel’s Chairman and CEO.
Ahead of the premier, Kreiz, a Tel Aviv University alumnus, met with the University’s students to discuss the power of transformative leadership and share his personal story. “It’s an honor and a privilege for me to speak here today, having come full circle,” he said.
Kreiz began his career in the world of media after completing his undergraduate studies at TAU’s Coller School of Management and an MBA at UCLA. “The studies at TAU were of the highest level—they prepared me for graduate school […] and helped me to continue the journey onwards from there,” Kreiz told his audience at the beginning of the talk, explaining the reasons he chose TAU after his military service.
“The studies at TAU were of the highest level—they prepared me for graduate school […] and helped me to continue the journey onwards from there.” – Ynon Kreiz
From Barbie the Doll to Barbie, the Movie
Kreiz went on to discuss the transformation that Mattel has undergone under his leadership in recent years, going from a manufacturer of toys to a media company that offers its well-known and beloved brands on a broad range of platforms. He emphasized that the key to success in leading a large towards change is the correct choice of the management team and creating an environment that enables the team to excel.
“No CEO can know everything in every area and take care of every issue,” he explained. “My most important function is to choose a strong management team, to lead them, to encourage them to respond quickly to events in the market, and to build together with them a flexible and fast-moving organization that will know how to compete and change. You have to believe in the talents of the team and let them work, but at the same time if you feel that something is not working – you have to make cuts quickly and not leave people in positions for which they are not suited.”
Ynon Kreiz met with TAU students to discuss the power of transformative leadership and share his personal story
“My most important function is to choose a strong management team, to lead them, to encourage them to respond quickly to events in the market, and to build together with them a flexible and fast-moving organization that will know how to compete and change.” – Ynon Kreiz
Kreiz was the fourth CEO at Mattel in almost five years, which indicated the difficulties the company experienced at the time, with years of stagnancy and heavy losses. “Mattel has strong brands. In the area of children’s toys it comes right after Disney in my opinion,” he said, “and my challenge was to lead it from being a company that perceives itself as a manufacturer of toys to being a company that manages brands; from a company that sells to customers, to a company that manages relations with supporters. We did it without giving up on the core business of toys, by expanding into television, movies, parks, and music, and in general into customer experiences based on our brands.”
Kriez discussed the organizational and structural challenges he and his management team faced, having to cut many workplaces, close factories and massively reorganize the company’s structure. “Yet we made sure to keep the morale of the employees who were retained high and committed to the new goals,” he said. “We did it by defining a clear and simple goal for the company: creating innovative and entertaining experiences for children. I cut down the vision statement of the company to a single page, so that every employee could relate to it. In addition, we gave the employees freedom and responsibility, for instance in choosing unlimited vacations for themselves, coordinated with the manager.”
According to Kreiz, another important message that he imprinted at Mattel was that alongside the financial goals, the company had to operate responsibly: “We have a real influence on society,” he said. “We work with children and we help in forming the future.”
The Personal Story
Kreiz also talked about what it takes to succeed in today’s business world. He said that one of the most important things he learned over the years was to be prepared to acknowledge his mistakes and to correct them quickly – without dwelling on the past. “You failed? Correct it and move on. And that also applies to success. I don’t think it is right to dwell too much on what has happened because time changes very quickly. The important thing is to focus on the present and plan for the future, in accordance with the current situation. You can’t win every battle. The important thing is to keep going.”
“It doesn’t matter what you are doing or at what level. You can always do things better, in a more innovative way. That’s the way to stand out and move forward.” – Ynon Kreiz
Kreiz said that despite his many years in the USA he still brings to his job traits that many perceive as Israeli. “I am a ‘tachles’ person–and you won’t find a word for it in English. The closest I can think of is ‘goal-oriented’. I strive to define goals and to work to achieve them, to make things happen. I don’t know if that’s because I am Israeli, but that’s the way I am.”
Kreiz recommended to students in the audience that they plan their future with a focus on innovation. “It doesn’t matter what you are doing or at what level. You can always do things better, in a more innovative way. That’s the way to stand out and move forward.”