Friday, May 11, 2018

#33Stories: Day 11, "Toy Wars"

No. 11: “Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them”
Context at the end of this excerpt.
Other entries in #33Stories at the Table of Contents. See you tomorrow!

Originally published in 1998 by Random House.

“Lucky Pennies,” the first chapter of “Toy Wars,” pp. 3 to 5:

Alan G. Hassenfeld had no appetite for breakfast when he awoke the morning of February 14, 1996, after a long night of little sleep. Only cigarettes and coffee interested him. He dressed in a blue suit and favorite pair of loafers, pinned a purple button to his lapel, kissed his wife goodbye, and walked alone in bitter cold from the Waldorf-Astoria to The Pierre, a hotel thirteen blocks away. Through his socks, his feet were in contact with the seven lucky pennies he'd found recently on the streets of New York. They gave him some small measure of comfort for the ordeal ahead.

Hassenfeld recognized many of the hundred or so people in The Pierre's Grand Ballroom, a cavernous chamber outfitted with velvet drapes, mirrors and crystal chandeliers below a gold-trimmed ceiling. They were mutual fund managers, institutional investors, and analysts employed by the host of the Eleventh Annual Toy and Video Game Conference, William Blair & Company, a Chicago investment firm.

Some considered Hassenfeld a capable, even exemplary, captain of industry. Others believed he was chairman and chief executive officer of Hasbro Inc., America's 423rd largest public corporation, only because a Hassenfeld had headed the firm since its founding early in the century. They couldn't understand why a man of his stature wore rubber bands as bracelets, and a scarf indoors in winter -- but rarely a necktie or jacket, or even a shirt with a collar. They didn't share his humor, which could be uncommonly silly for a man of forty-seven. And they remained incensed that Hassenfeld and his board three weeks ago had rejected a merger offer from longtime rival Mattel that would have brought shareholders more than $53 for stock that had been languishing near $30. What was wrong with him? He, his sister and his mother, a strong-minded woman who'd been a member of the board for thirteen years, had stood to gain almost $600 million themselves! Not only had he rejected the offer -- in doing so, he had opened Hasbro to a withering attack that, in the darkest moments, seemed certain to destroy it.

What was wrong with him? He, his sister and his mother, a strong-minded woman who'd been a member of the board for thirteen years, had stood to gain almost $600 million themselves!

The lights dimmed and Hassenfeld took the podium. With his wire-rim glasses and full head of untameable brown hair, he looked as if he could just as easily be lecturing on Faulkner or Twain, two of his favorite authors.

"Good morning," he began, his voice slightly tremulous, but only to someone listening for it. "Today we are here to review our 1995 performance and share with you Hasbro's outlook for 1996 and beyond. For that reason, I will not be talking about the now-ended Mattel proposal."

Looking to the last row, Hassenfeld saw Mattel's two leaders. Chairman and CEO John W. Amerman was a slender man of average height whose white hair, baritone voice and expensive tailoring projected an image of someone considerably larger; at sixty-four, his passions were golf, German shepherds, and Thoroughbred horses. Sitting to his left was Jill E. Barad, forty-four, who had risen to chief operating officer and president largely on her success with Barbie, a doll that promised glamorous fantasy to little girls and handsome bonuses to executives. Worldwide sales of Barbie the previous year had reached $1.4 billion, an extraordinary feat no other toy of any kind had ever accomplished. Amerman and Barad were unusually attentive, for today was the first time this year Hassenfeld had faced the industry's powers. Mattel insiders pictured themselves as sharks, and the agony they'd caused Hasbro over the last month -- the battering punishment that had pushed Hassenfeld and his inner circle to exhaustion, if not the verge of breakdown -- had more than confirmed that reputation. Even if Alan didn't discuss Mattel's spurned offer, Amerman and Barad might learn more clues about the damage they'd inflicted. No telling when they might be tempted to strike again.

Even before launching its stunning takeover attempt, with a fax to Hassenfeld the morning of January 16, precisely two hours after he'd returned from winter vacation, Mattel had become the new darling of the toy industry. Its flagship brands -- Barbie, Fisher-Price, Hot Wheels, and Disney -- were all vigorous, helping the company to end 1995 with its seventh consecutive year of record sales and earnings. No toy company had ever made $358 million, but one had come close. Only two years ago, at this same conference, Hassenfeld had reported the largest revenues and earnings in Hasbro's history. Without gloating, which was not his style, he'd reminded Wall Street that a thousand shares of Hasbro stock purchased for less than $15,000 in 1982 would have been worth almost $1 million twelve years later. He'd joked about his mother's approval of such arithmetic and shown a slide of his greatest philanthropic achievement: a newly opened children's hospital, in his hometown, that bore his company's name.

Two years ago, Mattel had been in second place, a position that vexed its corporate soul...

-- 30 --

READ the hardcover

READ the paperback


After dedicating my first non-fiction book, “The Work of Human Hands,” to my firstborn children, “Rachel and Katy, the two best children in the world, love you always!”, I dedicated “Toy Wars” to my last child and only son, Cal: "To G. Calvin Miller, my American beauty. May you forever keep a story in your heart."

I wrote "Toy Wars," as my two books before (and several after), in the study of our home then in rural Pascoag, R.I. I built that study, along with another addition to the house on Eagle Peak. Those were very busy days!

“Toy Wars”  was the third book of mine that Jon Karp bought and edited and the fourth sold by my longtime literary agent, Kay McCauley. It garnered what we fondly call rave reviews, see below.

The result of some two years’ immersion inside Hasbro, it also brought me into almost daily contact with chairman and CEO Alan Hassenfeld, grandson of one of the company’s founders, and Al Verrecchia, who succeeded Alan at the helm of the company. I have remained close to both men to this day – and they are featured in the Toy Wars sequel, completed but not yet published (more on that on Day 32).

And there was more to come for “Toy Wars”! In September 2016, it was announced that the book will become an Amazon limited series, with an A-List creative team of director Seth Gordon, screenwriter and showrunner Josh Schwartz, actor and writer Josh Gad, and screenwriter Ryan Dixon. I will executive produce. Stay tuned on this one – and a giant thanks to my longtime screen agent, Michael Prevett of Rain Management Group. He has stuck by me for many years now, during that long slog that often accompanies the Hollywood side of the book thing. Finally, finally, it seems his support and talent will come to fruition…

Some of the review for “Toy Wars”:

-- Providence Sunday Journal, March 1, 1998.

-- New York Post, Februray 22, 1998.

"A superb book about the bloodthirsty business of making toys.''
-- Ottawa Citizen, April 19, 1998.

 "Here's a story that has everything: strong, handsome men, beautiful and equally strong women, corporate intrigue and family secrets."
-- USA TODAY, February 23, 1998.

"Miller has created a script straight out of a Hasbro cartoon tie-in: the Good Guys vs. the Bad Guys in a struggle for World Dominance... Miller's decision to hang his narrative on the good Hasbro vs. evil Mattel theme does give the story a sense of drama and urgency."
-- Chicago Tribune, April 5, 1998.

"Gripping... few recent business books can rival the extraordinarily intimate portrait TOY WARS paints of Hasbro CEO Alan G. Hassenfeld and his family... a book that, with its rich character depictions, often reads more like a novel than a business tome."
-- Business Week, February 16, 1998.

 "A story of power, greed, corruption, philanthropy, love and loyalty, Toy Wars is an exceptional telling of the extraordinary story of the brutal world of toys."
-- Writers Write, the Internet Writing Journal, March 1998.

"An absorbing, lively chronicle of a family-owned company and its inanimate offspring... entertaining and informative... engagingly written."
-- The New York Times, February 1, 1998.

"Fast-moving... a star-struck account of the Hasbro-Mattel conglomerate wars."
-- The New York Times Book Review, February 15, 1998.

 "At its finest, Toy Wars is a primer on the toy business that seems destined to enlighten the business-school marketing courses of the future."
-- The New York Times, Books of The Times, June 15, 1998.

"Glimpses into the cutthroat world that pits My Little Pony against the Lion King make for an engaging read."
-- Entertainment Weekly, March 27, 1998.

 "Miller has constructed a swiftly moving narrative with all the elements of a miniseries: a hero, Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld; an antagonist, Mattel CEO John Amerman; a climactic battle, Mattel's hostile bid to annex Hasbro; and a resolution, from which the hero emerges transformed. Miller is a graceful writer with a mastery of structure."
-- The Baltimore Sun, January 25, 1998.

"TOY WARS is a book executed with superior writing and storytelling skill. It's about business success and failure, no doubt. But it is also a human look at top execs, their personalities and their emotions... Miller understands the value of toys, and not just in a financial and corporate sense."
-- Toy Shop, The Toy Collector's Marketplace, April 24, 1998.

 "Fascinating... the boardroom back-stabbing provides many of the juicy highlights in this wildly entertaining book."
-- The New York Post, February 15, 1998.

"A fast-paced, well-developed, suspenseful narrative."
-- Library Journal, February 15, 1998.

 "(A) novel-like expose about Hasbro and its war with Mattel... you can't help but be fascinated."
-- Newsday, February 15, 1998.

"A compelling tale."
-- Forth Worth Star-Telegram, February 15, 1998.

-- Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 26, 1998.

"Miller's genre of choice for his toy-and-nail struggle is corporate soap opera, fitting for a cast of characters focused on buyouts and buy-ups, downsizing and rightsizing, syndication and Hollywood-ization, bonuses, stock options, and compensation in the millions, and whose bedside reading is not Peter Pan but Reengineering the Corporation."
-- Philadelphia Inquirer, March 1, 1998.

"A book that, at the very least, has a readability factor that rivals the `play potential' of G.I. Joe."
-- Toronto Globe and Mail, March 28, 1998.

"A touching and almost classically tragic story of a toy-family dynasty, and an insightful and in some ways horrifying rundown of what's happened to the toy industry in the last few decades."
-- Toronto Sun, March 22, 1998.

 "More readable than many business books, and a must for anyone interested in the industry."
-- New & Notable selection, Barron's, March 2, 1998.

"Judging by Waye Miller's TOY WARS, the toy industry owes more than its latest products to George Lucas's 1977 film (Star Wars). It also seems to have pinched the script, with mighty empires battling for supremacy. It is a good story, and Mr. Miller tells it well."
-- The Economist (of London), March 14, 1998.

"Americans are endlessly fascinated by stories of the high-stakes, fast-paced corporate world, and G. Wayne Miller's inside view of Hasbro is an especially engrossing example of the genre."
-- Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, March 1, 1998.

"Miller is a shrewd writer who wrings every ounce of drama from his five-year behind-the-scenes account....With Miller's eye for detail and nuance, there are no empty suits here."
-- Publishers' Weekly, Starred review, December 22, 1997.

Small business and entrepeneurship editor's recommended book,
-- February 1, 1998.

"We defy you to find, in all the world, another book with an index that includes both Auschwitz and Mr. Potato Head."
-- New & Notable selection, Arizona Republic, February 1, 1998.

"TOY WARS is a great read... so enjoyable, it leaves the reader yearning for more."
-- Providence Business News, January 26, 1998.

"Toy Wars is a smoothly written look at where our toys come from. It gives the reader a penetrating, and not always flattering, account the process that determines what collectors and children alike will buy. Hasbro's G.I. Joe may be a fictional soldier, but Toy Wars introduces us to the company's own corporate soldiers and generals whose very real battles in boardrooms and shareholder meetings have their own kind of victories, defeats, casualties, and heroes.''
-- Mania Magazine, March 13, 1998.

"A record vital to the preservation of toy world popular culture in the years and millenium to come."
-- Action Figure Digest, January 1998.

"Hours of fun for business-epic junkies of all ages. Miller, a writer at the Providence Journal-Bulletin, has wisely chosen his subject: an industry dependent on quirky creativity as well as extensive market research and hype, but ultimately at the mercy of youngster's whims... (his) five years of access to toy giant Hasbro has paid off in a visibly well-informed narrative."
-- Kirkus Reviews.

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