Joy juggler and the business of toy branding

For Paul Greaney, running toy company has to be one of the fun places to find yourself in, and
the Australasian managing director of games and entertainment giant Hasbro admits he loves playing with the product.
“Some of my best workmates are Batman and Barney, and the Teletubbies, and after all you need to be close to your product,” he quips.
“Our catch cry is making the world smile. So if we’re not smiling ourselves, then we’re not getting the right leadership.”
And they are smiling — all the way to their brokers — because Hasbro, publicly listed Fortune 500 company, is riding huge wave of growth at the moment.

Globally the company had increased revenues of 32 percent
to record US$2.6 billion for the first nine months of last year.
This growth was driven primarily by sales of its Star Wars and Furby computer-based games and its range of Pokemon toys and games.
If there was any evidence of how quick the toy market changes, just look at how the interactive furry Furbys took the market by storm in 1998, only to give way to Pokemania last year.
And there was no letting up by the year’s end. Around the world, millions of children received in their Christmas stockings Pokemon products — soft toys, cards, wrist watches, or something else from the l000-plus product range.
Greaney is realistically cautious — “it’s fashion game” he says. Which means being nimble, quick to guess the trends and move on accordingly.
He admits the Pokemon phenomenon took them all by surprise and they weren’t prepared for its overwhelming success with young people. Many stores couldn’t get enough product.
No one foresaw this juggernaut coming when it was introduced out of Japan in 1996. It’s only been in New Zealand 12 months and shows no signs of letting up.
But the challenge, says Greaney, is turning this success into worldwide sustainable brand.
Monopoly and Play School are long term brands. Star Wars and Action Man have been around 20 years.
So will Pokemon be another strong brand?
“At the moment we’re watching.”
Although owned by Nintendo, Hasbro has the licence to some of the products.
“We saw what was happening in Japan with the kids there, but we certainly didn’t expect it to rise to the level it has,” says Greaney.
To help them gauge the potential of any product, extensive research is carried out in the US and UK, the two principal product development areas.
The main venue for research is what’s called the “fun labs”.
As the name suggests, these are play rooms, where new products are given their most rigorous of tests with their target users — children.
Woe betide any toy or game that finds itself unable to attract the attention of these tough testers, and ends up sitting on the sideline.
“We also do lot of research on lifestyle changes in demographics.
“Things like what are kids 2-5 years old into? Who are their heroes? There’s lot more to be selective about in the market these days. We use all this information to feed into products.
“For instance three or four years ago girls were into Barbie dolls and that range of products, at 5-12 years old.
“But we’ve now lost that girl by the time she’s eight. On the other hand, the popularity of the Spice Girls with young kids was another big spin off in products for the company.
“So we’re always looking out for those aspirational products.”
Greaney took over his two-country responsibilities last year, and is happy his figures match the upward pattern of Hasbro around the world — 30 percent up in sales.
He confirms that it’s due to sales of good products this year.
“Also, we’re really only concentrating on those parts of the business which can add value,” he says, adding that in this fashion game, you have to be watching for changes.
The path to Hasbro began about 15 years ago when the Auckland born accountant worked first for Milton Bradley through Coopers & Lybrand, and then moved to Milton Bradley, which was bought out by Hasbro in 1994. Greaney managed the company during these changes, before his recent appointment as managing director Australasia.
Managing in two different cultures wasn’t as difficult as he thought.
“I remember the first day in Sydney, just walking around thinking it was one of the scariest days in my life because none of the staff voted for me to be there. I was appointed — so whether I was New Zealander didn’t enter into it, it came down to my ability to get them motivated and give them some leadership.”
The objective was to restructure Australian operations for the present and future.
“We had to see if we had the right structure in place for what we were doing now — and for the future — say three years’ hence.
“We didn’t. Basically the organisation had the wrong focus. For instance, we had too many reps at time when the business was moving towards major accounts, and rather than one key account, person had four key accounts. So we moved to establish one on one contacts with majors.
“We needed new talent in there and had to face up to the fact that some of the skill sets we had weren’t necessarily skill sets we needed to take the brands to the market.”
Greaney had been through the same process in NZ three years before, so he was confident it would work in Australia.
Increasingly the key requirement is to build brands and brand equity “down under”.
This kind of management is the key to success for Hasbro’s portfolio of brands right across its global brands — Monopoly, Clue, Risk, Battleship, and many others from Milton Bradley, Parker Brothers, Tonka, Atari and Hasbro Interactive.
The key is creating alliances. For instance, Hasbro Sports, division of Hasbro Interactive, recently signed 29 NASCAR drivers to develop interactive games featuring the drivers, their vehicles and teams.
With most products developed and made outside of Australasia, Hasbro operations here are basically as buyers and distributors of product.
“But we can choose what’s best for our markets, so we have to know what works.
“We can pick up opportunities and develop product. For instance if we want to do Monopoly version of the All Blacks, or an Australian version.
“The concept we came out with was 12 inch All Black hero figures in ’98.
“We developed these ourselves because we had the licence to do it. We’re not tied into what head office says.
“So there’s room to be entrepreneurial if we think there’s need. And you need to be in this business. You need to move fast because the next day kids have moved on.
“That’s why we need special skill sets — people to spot the opportunities. There are about five or six skills we look for in Hasbro New Zealand and Australia.
“We say to everyone we hire they must have self motivation, be entrepreneurial, have leadership, be flexible — and have passion. You can always teach someone to work things out — things like PC for instance, but you can’t teach them to have passion.
“So I’m always looking for people with passion.
“The marketplace will always change. So it’s taking people from now to what might happen in three to five years’ time, and ensuring they can cope with that.
“It’s getting right structures in place, getting people with the right skill sets in business and beyond.
“The challenge for me is of building sense of leadership and doing the right thing.
“To do that I think you have to work on the culture — one where people know what’s going on and information flows freely.
“We share their problems, for instance. If you have employees unhappy at home they’re likely to be unhappy at work.
“We’re trying to say if you have problems we’re here to help. So we give gym memberships, or maybe an extra week off, or some help to solve the situation.”
Hasbro started its gym programme in March last year, as part of trying to get the right culture and leadership, and people taking responsibility for themselves.
“I honestly believe people are happy with themselves if they’re physically healthy. You have better chance of getting the be

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