Sunday, October 6, 2019

Toy Wars: Lucky Pennies (the chapter that draws you into the story)

 Excerpt from the best-selling and critically acclaimed "Toys Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them," originally published in 1998, and republished in 2019 as a companion to the sequel, "Kid Number One: A Story of Heart, Soul and Business, featuring Alan Hassenfeld and Hasbro."
The new edition of "Toy Wars" is available as a paperback and a Kindle e-book. 
Copyright 1998 G. Wayne Miller, renewed 2019.

The "Toy Wars" Table of Contents is at the end of this excerpt -- and also, a video of Alan today. For rare and never-before-seen images, video, audio and more, visit the "Toy Wars" Facebook page. And follow "Toy Wars" on Twitter: @toywarstv

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 fifty-three dollars for stock that had been languishing near thirty. 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 six hundred million dollars themselves! Not only had he rejected the offer -- in doing so, he had opened Hasbro to a withering attack which, in the darkest moments, seemed certain to destroy it.
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 last year had reached an extraordinary $1.4 billion, a 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 a million dollars 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.

Unlike his older brother, Stephen, a masterful orator who'd preceded him as chairman and CEO, Alan did not relish public speaking, even to friendly audiences. Financial presentations were his nemesis.
Ordinarily, he relied on humor to get underway, but his advisers had persuaded him this was no time for frivolity. Nor had it been considered wise to begin with one of Hasbro's brilliant television commercials, as he customarily did to lighten the atmosphere at what otherwise was a half day or more of undiluted dreariness. And he would not close with his usual remarks about Hasbro's commitment to social responsibility, which was at the core of his corporate and personal beliefs. Wall Street had wearied of Hassenfeld's causes. Especially in light of the Mattel offer, Wall Street was interested only in earnings and the price of stock -- and how the chairman intended to multiply both. Wearing a purple button with the letters ESV, for Enhance Shareholder Value, would not suffice. Hassenfeld had to get directly into the numbers -- the area of the business where, he was first to admit, he was least expert.
He began with the fourth quarter of 1995, the first billion-dollar quarter in Hasbro history, and moved on to the full-year results. Hasbro's revenues had risen modestly and earnings, while down, were nothing to be ashamed of: $155 million, or $1.76 a share. Many a private businessman would have uncorked champagne over such numbers, but Wall Street judged Hasbro (like Mattel) by the merciless measure of growth. It was an expectation established by Stephen, and one price to be paid for continuing membership in the Fortune 500.
``While our 1995 full-year results were essentially flat,'' Alan said, ``we have momentum coming into the new year.'' The games and international divisions, he reported, had had impressive years. Batman and Star Wars toys remained hot and retail sales on many other lines were encouragingly strong. Mr. Potato Head, Hasbro's first hit more than forty years ago, was the surprise star of Toy Story, the Christmas season's box-office smash. All had contributed to Hasbro's continuing strong balance sheet.
And it was there, in the middle of cash flow and debt, that Hassenfeld's heart started to race and the Grand Ballroom began to go black.
Almost seven years into his chairmanship, Hassenfeld still sometimes felt like an impostor. It was a feeling of wicked wonder, like the Tom Hanks character in the movie Big, a boy who one day wakes up an adult in the eyes of the world -- an adult who just so happens to be a major toy-company executive responsible for, and in love with, design and development of toys. Unpleasurable moments at financial forums were the price to be paid for being Kid Number One, as Hassenfeld sometimes called himself, but this was different than any discomfort he'd experienced before.
Lucky pennies and all, Hassenfeld was about to faint.
He reached for a glass of water, praying it would sustain him.

He did not faint; his twelve-second pause seemed eternal to him, but went unremarked upon by most everyone else. He drank his water, found his confidence and continued on with his presentation, rich with references to global brand-building, the key to Mattel's success and, he now believed, his own company's future. Financials dispensed with, he rolled a dozen of Hasbro's finest new commercials, outlined some of the steps he would take to improve his company's performance, and hinted at even greater changes to come. Hassenfeld closed with a kind of prediction he'd never made: a specific dollar amount ($65 million) for increased profit in the year ahead, offered as a token of his newfound resolve to enrich his stockholders. General applause and a private handshake from Amerman followed. The ugly questions his advisers had prepared him for -- ``Alan, if you can't enhance shareholder value, will you step down?'' ``Alan, how bad is the blood between you and John Amerman?'' -- failed to materialize.
``It's done, baby! Behind you!'' Wayne S. Charness, Hasbro's vice president of corporate communications, said as their chauffeur-driven Lincoln Town Car traveled south on Fifth Avenue toward Hasbro's showroom, crowded with buyers this third day of American International Toy Fair, the worldwide industry's largest show. Hassenfeld was in front, legs tucked into his chest, breathing in a Parliament cigarette, oblivious to anything but the remembrance of his presentation. Charness adjusted the seat to give his boss more room.
``With the adrenaline pumping the way it was at the beginning, I was almost over-ready,'' Hassenfeld said. ``I think that's why I went blind for a minute.''
``It was beautiful,'' Charness said.
``You wouldn't say anything different.''
``I tell you when you stink.'' Charness assured him that no one in the audience knew what had happened in those twelve dark seconds.
``I was really, really scared,'' Hassenfeld said.
``It's over,'' Charness said, but his reference was only to this morning. For new pressures awaited Hassenfeld as he neared the Hasbro showroom, on West Twenty-third Street. His board would meet the next day and directors were ornery. They'd been put on the defensive for rejecting Mattel's offer -- Fifty-three dollars a share, they kept hearing, are you crazy? -- and if Mattel had truly given up, as some doubted, other sharks could be circling. No one was pleased with last year's dismal performance in Hasbro's domestic-toys division, headed by Hassenfeld's oldest business friend, Alfred J. Verrecchia, a man whose prodigious financial and administrative skills had helped propel Hasbro to the top. Relations with Toys ``R'' Us, Hasbro's biggest customer, were badly strained since Hassenfeld had inadvertently disclosed information during the Mattel affair that had led The Wall Street Journal to report the giant chain was the subject of a potentially devastating federal investigation.
And it was all well and good to promise great things for 1996, quite another to deliver. Having failed on earlier promises of improved performance, Hassenfeld had a credibility problem. Taken together, the stress was not unlike seven years ago, when cruel fate had handed him the chairmanship of what was then the largest toy company the world had ever seen.
Still, as his Town Car turned onto West Twenty-third, Hassenfeld was starting to relax. Toy Fair had always been his time -- a week of hosting celebrities, showing off the latest toys, dining with family and friends, and otherwise being Kid Number One. Hassenfeld genuinely enjoyed people. He enjoyed pleasing them, feeding them, telling them stories, making them laugh.
The first smile of the day crossed his face when Hassenfeld was asked what he'd dreamed last night. In 1994 he'd seen, of course, Jill Barad posed with pillows and three dozen Barbie dolls on a red satin sheet when People Magazine named her one of that year's 50 Most Beautiful People. And he'd seen her on the cover of this week's Brandweek, a marketing magazine, with the headline: ``G.I. Joe's Worst Nightmare.'' Joe, Hasbro's most famous toy and one of Hassenfeld's sentimental favorites, had ended 1995 below $15 million in sales, a pitiful performance.
``It was weird,'' Hassenfeld said, in a deadpan. ``Barbie was raping G.I. Joe.'' It was uncharacteristically crude of Hassenfeld, and as he stepped into the cold, he hastened to add: ``Just kidding!'' Then he ran across the street and disappeared into the fabulous showroom -- a palace, really -- that his late brother had built.



Author’s Note
Lucky Pennies



Chapter 2: PLASTICS


Chapter 4: ROSE OF TIBET



Chapter 7: STAR WARS


Chapter 8: X-MEN

Chapter 9: MADE IN JAPAN



Chapter 12: SHARKS

Chapter 13: EXTREMES

Chapter 14: KID NUMBER ONE


Chapter 15: GOTHAM CITY

Chapter 16: LILLYMERE

Chapter 17: BRAND NAMES


About the author

Saturday, October 5, 2019

How Hasbro Children's Hospital was built: A look back as it celebrates 25 years.

Excerpt from “Kid Number One: A story of heart, soul and business, featuring Alan Hassenfeld and Hasbro,” the sequel (and prequel) to “Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them.” More at and the #KidNumberOne Facebook page. Copyright 2019, G. Wayne Miller.

Kid Number One is the sequel (and prequel) to the best-selling "Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them."

Focused as they were on business during Hasbro’s explosive growth during the first half of the eighties – a period when the Pawtucket firm became the first toy company in history to make the Fortune 500 -- Stephen and Alan Hassenfeld nonetheless found time to begin shaping their dream of a free-standing children’s hospital in their home state, which had none, only a cramped, antiquated pediatric wing at Rhode Island Hospital.

“Steve and I talked about it,” Alan recalled. “We had great pediatric doctors in Rhode Island, but we really didn’t have a pediatric place to go.”

In this endeavor, as others, Stephen shared his brother’s, sister’s, and parents’ conviction that Hasbro had a debt to repay.

“We grew up in a family that believed if we had the capability, we would give back to those who brought about our success and never forget them,” Alan said. “And also remembering where we came from. Because too many people that are successful forget where they came from. And sometimes they even turn their back.”


Seriously sick children from Rhode Island and southeastern Massachusetts in the 1980s had limited options for advanced treatment and care, unless they travelled to nationally renowned Boston Children’s Hospital. Some community hospitals in the region operated pediatric floors or wings, but they typically were small, antiquated, and unlikely to attract and retain the finest clinicians and researchers. Even Rhode Island Hospital, the state’s largest medical center and a leader in many medical and surgical fields, did not emphasize pediatric healthcare.

The regional status quo was captured in a newspaper story published in September 1991.

“Thursday’s dawn is approaching, and Room 12 in Rhode Island Hospital's children's wing is a sleeping column of bodies big and small,” the story began.

“In the bed nearest the window, a 2-year-old nestles against her mother. A 1-year-old is in the crib next to them, the child's father scrunched up in a nearby chair because there is no room for a cot. In the third bed, Gary Christopher rouses himself to check on 4-year-old Justin, who sleeps peacefully at his side. The bathroom is down the hall and must be shared by up to 25 children. At night, the warning sounds of one person's intravenous pump can wake everyone up.

“‘This,’  jokes Christopher, ‘is the lousiest hotel I've ever stayed in.’”

It wasn’t a joke for the 4,300 children hospitalized there annually.

The Potter building had opened on the eve of World War II, during an era when staffs at most hospitals discouraged parents from visiting their sick children except briefly; parents, the thinking went, got in the way. And they certainly did not belong there overnight. The original visiting hours at Potter were one hour, twice a week, which was eventually replaced with a 2 p.m.-to-4 p.m. daily schedule. Fathers were allowed from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., provided they had secured special permission. The fact that the comfort of a mother or father (or both) can promote healing was slow to arrive.

But it did arrive, helped by such healers as Dr. Edwin N. Forman, associate chief of pediatrics at Rhode Island Hospital in 1991. “I remember when I was in the hospital, I could never stop crying,” he said. “The old idea was that you [the parent] are totally incompetent from helping or protecting your child from illness.”

Slowly, the old rules changed, and parents were allowed to sleep overnight—in quarters as tight as an overcrowded prison cell, as one newspaper story described it. 

“Right now, parents sleep underneath beds or in chairs. One room has six beds,” Forman said. “But parents make sure children eat better; they protect their children from falling out of bed and getting the wrong medications, and the parent feels competent.”

Said the father of a boy who spent the night in a small bedside chair and sang his son back to sleep whenever he was wakened: “It makes a difference. The nurses are not going to stay and make sure he goes back to sleep.”

In other words, parents were partners, integral members of the healthcare team, not to mention they were the people who knew their children best.


When Stephen and Alan Hassenfeld first envisioned a children’s hospital in Rhode Island, Forman was one of the first medical professionals to join the discussion. He was a pioneering pediatric oncologist and hematologist known not only for his expertise but his kindly manner and first-hand knowledge of the inadequacies of pediatric care at the hospital where he worked. A native of Brooklyn, he had graduated from Brown University, completed medical school at the University of Pennsylvania, and then completed a residency in pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University.

Parents and children thought the world of Forman, even after he had delivered diagnoses of life-threatening illnesses. He listened. He was kind. He cared.

Those qualities were described in a newspaper story in 2005 marking the 20th anniversary of the Tomorrow Fund, a non-profit organization modeled after Boston’s Jimmy Fund that provides emotional and financial assistance to families with children who have cancer. Forman was a co-founder. In the story, one boy’s mother recalled the day Forman delivered the news that her son had leukemia:

“He was calm and comforting—grandfatherly—very reassuring. You're talking about your three-year-old, who could possibly die, and this man comes in and gives you the strength and the confidence in him to know that he's going to do everything he has in his power to make it better… He’s just an amazing individual who really cares and really knows his job and mission—to help save children's lives.”

Forman helped the three-year-old. Five years later, the boy was cancer-free.
In 1989, four years after the Tomorrow Fund debuted, Forman co-founded a Providence Ronald McDonald House, which offered low-cost housing for families whose children were hospitalized. And then he set his sights on a modern, free-standing hospital. His efforts received a major boost when he asked the Joint Commission for the Accreditation of Health Care Organizations to review the Potter unit and the commission concluded:

“Your children's area is an embarrassment.”

The Hassenfelds agreed. The campaign for something better was on.


It advanced when another doctor of stature, William Oh, professor and chairman of the Brown University School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatrics and a pediatrician at Women & Infants Hospital, signed on shortly after Stephen’s death from AIDS in June 1989.

Oh was one of the 11 children of Chinese parents who emigrated to the Philippines, where they operated a small store that provided enough income to support their family and their children’s education, which they prized.

“They made a living out of this little grocery store, but they put everything in our education. All of us went to colleges and were all successful, so we’re very grateful to them,” Oh told an interviewer with the American Academy of Pediatrics, which interviewed Oh at his home in Rhode Island in 2008 for its Oral History Project. One of Oh’s siblings also became a medical doctor, two earned doctoral degrees in engineering and became executives with General Motors, two became teachers, and another became a successful businesswoman who owned a Philippines shipping company and an import/export firm.

Oh told of his childhood during World War II, when the Japanese occupied his native country. Shades of Henry and Hillel Hassenfeld, in their place of birth: a part of Eastern Europe where in 1903 white supremacists were slaughtering Jews. Henry, Alan’s grandfather, and Hillel, his great-uncle, founded Hasbro after fleeing that persecution in 1903. They were penniless teenage refugees who spoke no English when they arrived in America and began peddling rags – the start of what literally would be Hasbro’s rags-to-riches story.

“My dad was a member of an anti-Japanese committee, so when the Japanese soldiers invaded the Philippines and took over this town, they were looking for my dad, because he was considered a spy,” Oh recalled. “They really wanted to get him and, essentially, execute him. In fact, there were five members in that committee. Three of them were executed. My father was a lucky one. The whole family moved to a mountainside.”

There, they planted rice and corn and kept a small chicken farm and were so poor that the children went barefoot, shoes being beyond financial reach. Oh joked—but it was true—that walking three years without shoes caused his feet to widen. As an adult, he wore triple- or quadruple-E shoes, the only size that fit.

Until the war ended, the Oh family lived in fear. Once a week, usually on a Monday or Tuesday, Oh recalled, Japanese soldiers patrolled the mountain area, searching for the two remaining men who had publicly opposed Japan.

“We had some sentinels out there, so when they saw the Japanese patrol coming by, they would run and warn everybody that the Japanese were coming,” Oh recalled. “So we would pack up and hide in the river in the back of the mountainside town. The whole family would move into the riverside to hide from them, but they only patrolled on the highway. I still remember that every one of us had a responsibility. I remember my responsibility was to carry a bag of rice and a bag of clothing that I owned. Everyone was prepared. So whenever the sentinel came and said, ‘The Japanese are coming,’ we would each pack up our things and run until the sentinel come back and said, ‘They’re all gone.’ Then we could come back and stay in the house.

“So it was a very interesting experience. The kind of experience that actually built your character, because you learned to be organized, you learned to be alert, and you learned to take care of each other. It really was a character-builder, those three years. I was very, in a way, fortunate to have that kind of experience.”

Tikkun Olam, the Jewish tradition of “repairing the world” -- helping others -- that the Hassenfeld family has practiced for more than a century.

After the war, Oh attended an American Jesuit-run high school and then a junior college run by the order. His mentor, a Jesuit from Wisconsin, so impressed him that he wanted to become a priest. Shocked and saddened, his Buddhist mother cried for three nights and days, Oh remembered. “You’re not going to be a priest,” she said. “I want a grandson from you.”

“I was number six in the family, but I followed three girls,” Oh said. “You know how Chinese are. They’re very pro-male, so I was the first boy after the three girls. I was very close to her heart, I think. So anyway, I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t let my mom down. So I went back to Father Masterson, and I said, ‘Father, I can’t do this. I can’t let my mom down like that.’

“And he was very understanding. He used to call me William, not Bill, and he said, ‘Well, William, if you cannot save souls, you might as well save bodies.’ He was encouraging me to go into medicine, and so I did.”


Recruited by Dr. Leo Stern, head of pediatrics at Rhode Island Hospital and Women & Infants Hospital and professor at Brown University’s new medical school, Oh arrived in the Ocean State in 1974. He had no intention of taking Stern’s job.

But then, 15 years later, in 1989, Stern lost his life to suicide by jumping off the tenth-story roof of Rhode Island Hospital’s main building.

“Every time I talk about it, I still get chest pain,” Oh told the American Academy of Pediatrics. “The whole department was in tears. Everybody knew within 24 hours, around the country, that this bad news occurred.”

Rhode Island Hospital president Louis A. Fazzano believed the suicide would make it difficult, if not impossible, to find an outsider to replace Stern. So he asked Oh, who said he would consider the offer over the weekend.

If I don’t do it, this department probably will not survive, because the news is so bad, Oh thought. And the underlying news was terrible, too, he later recalled: “One of the reasons that Leo was in crisis was that the budget was something like $1 million in the red. In those days, the budget only involved $4 or 5 million. Apparently, they wanted him to fire his faculty members, and he refused to do it. He’s very loyal. He was loyal to his faculty.”

Fazzano’s offer stood. When Monday came, Oh told him: “I’ll do it.”

“What do you need?” Fazzano said.

“You know, Lou, you know what I need?” Oh said. “We need a new hospital.”

“You’re asking me to write a $50 million check for you?” Fazzano said.

“You’re damn right,” Oh said. “But you will get it all back in due time. To build a new program, you need a facility. It’s like to catch mice, you need to get a good mousetrap to attract all these people to come here.”

“I will chair the fund-raising committee,” Fazzano said.

The hospital president went to Hasbro CEO Alan Hassenfeld, who already was discussing possibilities with Forman, fellow Hasbro executives Al Verrecchia and Wayne Charness, and others.
“Everybody believed in the hospital,” Hassenfeld later said.

His belief had solidified during a tour of Potter. Charness, who accompanied him on the tour, recalled seeing “a kid in a supply closet getting a chemotherapy drip.” A supply closet was the only available space.

“Alan saw that and I swear he was crying,” Charness recalled. “He said, ‘we’ve got to do this.’ That’s when we went back and committed to five million dollars, of which we would give $2.5 million and we would help them raise another $2.5 million. Al and Alan were both very  active [in raising the second $2.5 million] —Al especially, in going to all of our vendors around the world, Asia, the U.S., everywhere, to help raise this money. It was incredible.”

In years to come, Verrecchia would chair the board of directors of Lifespan, the parent system of Hasbro Children’s Hospital, Rhode Island Hospital, and Bradley Hospital, the nation’s first neuropsychiatric hospital for children and adolescents; he also would serve as president of the Rhode Island Public Expenditure Council, and on the boards of the Wheeler School and The Wolf School, among other positions. Charness would be vice-chair of the Hasbro Children’s Hospital Advisory Council; become president of the Rhode Island Community Food Bank and Adoption Rhode Island; and serve on the boards of environmental group Save the Bay, adoption group Families First, and Give Kids The World Village, a nonprofit resort in Florida that provides free vacations to children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

And Alan Hassenfeld’s philanthropic commitments would broaden.


On September 19, 1991, Hassenfeld welcomed the community to a celebration that had been orchestrated by Charness in collaboration with Verrecchia and others. Under big-top tents made festive with balloons, guests enjoyed popcorn and soft drinks. Miss America 1991, Marjorie Vincent, daughter of Haitian immigrants, graced the crowd with her presence.

Officials were breaking ground for Hasbro Children’s Hospital.

Scheduled to open in 1994, the $51.5-million hospital would have 87 private rooms, each with a bed for a patient and another for a parent, and a bathroom with shower. It would have a pediatric emergency department, four pediatric operating rooms, a four-bed bone-marrow transplantation unit, play and consultation areas, a gift shop, a chapel, an outdoor garden, and a library, a lobby, and a fountain. Every patient floor would have three circular nurses’ stations, with eight rooms surrounding each. A child would always be able to see a nurse and a nurse would always be able to observe a child.

This would be no Potter Unit makeover. Bruce K. Komiske, the new hospital’s vice president for planning, marketing, and business development, was clear about that.

“Kids are not little adults,” he said, and they required their own facility. Parents would be welcomed when Hasbro Children’s opened. They already were, having been involved in design decisions that had “a big impact on the layout of the room, the size of the rooms, how the bathrooms work and the types of furnishings,” Komiske said.

“It will welcome children in a very specific way, trying to provide as much familiarity to them as possible so it will be less frightening,” said Eleanor Elbaum, director of pediatric patient services.
Essential to “developing a world-class children's hospital,” said president William Kreykes.

Hassenfeld explained to a reporter the reasoning behind his decision to name the hospital after his company, not his family. “This is for all the people who work in a business that is like a family,” he said. “Too many times, we get the credit for what our people have done.”

 “The hospital that toys will build: Work begins on children’s unit given by Hasbro,” read the headline on the front-page Providence Journal story the day after the groundbreaking. Hasbro had donated its $2.5 million to the project, Verrecchia was securing the other $2.5 million from Hasbro vendors, and Hassenfeld had agreed to take a lead role in the community campaign to raise some $20 million more.

The campaign was quickly successful: Within a year, three-quarters of the $20-million goal had been achieved. A progress report in the fall of 1992, when construction of the building was about half-finished, revealed some of the major contributors solicited by Hassenfeld, Verrecchia, and hospital officials. Fleet Financial Group (a progenitor of Bank of America) gave $500,000 for the pediatric emergency room and another $500,000 to Brown University’s medical school to endow a professorship dedicated to researching how social problems affect children’s health. The Champlin Foundation contributed $1.5 million, The Providence Journal Co., $400,000, and Hospital Trust National Bank, $250,000. More than $1 million was donated by hospital employees.

Ironically, the old children’s unit had become a powerful force for good.

“All you have to do is take a tour of Potter,” said David R. Slone, vice president for public relations and development, and capital-campaign head. “Then it's a question not of whether, but how much they'll give.”

Oh was delighted by the new Brown professorship, the “Fleet Scholar for the Study of Social Pediatrics.”

“It will tie in very nicely with our research,” the pediatrician said.

Seven months later, in May 1993, the capital campaign reached its $20-million goala year ahead of schedule. The total donated by hospital employees, trustees and volunteers had reached $7.5 million, and the Kresge Foundation had added an $800,000 challenge grant.

“The campaign is exceeding everybody's expectations,” Kreykes said.

So the campaign leaders decided to go for more$3 million more in donations, to be used for a pediatric out-patient clinic on the hospital’s lower level. The original plans had envisioned that center being outfitted at some future date but completing it with the rest of the hospital was now feasible.
Hassenfeld continued to invest his time in raising money, succeeding with donations totaling another $1.5 million from domestic and overseas business associates; with his extensive connections to vendors and others in the Hasbro production chain, Verrecchia joined that effort.

“I basically committed to a giftand committed to match that gift in raising fundswith a handshake,” Hassenfeld told a woman who was writing a construction-progress report. “It was a bond of honor,” one that his executives and employees shared.

Hassenfeld also was investing his time in design decisions that would set the atmosphere he and others wanted to be as comfortable as possible.

“What you wanted to do is make it nonthreatening,” he told the woman writing the progress report. “You wanted to make it almost fun… It’s a lot of the soft things and fuzzy things that we’ve really had an impact on. From the day that we agreed to be the foundation in the building of the hospital, if this hospital was going to carry our name, we just wanted to be involved.”

Hassenfeld intentionally gave no say in medical-design decisions, but d├ęcor was an area in which he could legitimately make suggestions. No fan of the wall clocks that the designers had selected for the nurses’ stationsHassenfeld judged them too close to ones on school wallsso on his recommendation, can’t they be more fun?, a cartoonist dressed them up.

Looking to the bigger picture, Hassenfeld disliked the original plans for the color palette, judging them unsuitable for a place where sick children needed cheer and parents wanted reassurance. He judged them “awful” a description shared by his wife, Vivien, whose style sense was keenand so he brought in Deborah Sussman, an award-winning designer whose touch had been put on the 1984 Summer Olympics, among many other projects.

“Surprising combinations” characterized the scheme Sussman created for the hospital, the writer of the progress report stated. “The lobby columns, instead of the bright cherry originally proposed, are muted salmon and aqua. Everywhere, the primary colors that children crave interact with the restful pastels that adults require.”

Hassenfeld was self-effacing when describing his company’s support.

“It’s only in soft and fuzzy terms that Hassenfeld will speak of his contribution,” the writer stated. “Asked what Hasbro gains from its donation, he says, ‘Tears of joy.’ Pressed for a businessman's response, he still doesn't say it's good advertising. He says the hospital will make Hasbro employees proud.”


A community had come together. Perhaps the only naysay had been raised when Hassenfeld encountered Providence Mayor Vincent A. “Buddy” Cianci Jr. one day before the new hospital was completed while dining at the Capital Grille, a popular restaurant for politicians and power brokers near the State House.

The mayor said: “Alan? I got a problem.”

“Whatcha got?” Hassenfeld said.

“You know there are air rights with the bridge between the two hospitals,” Cianci said. The structure would connect Hasbro Children’s to Rhode Island Hospital.

Hassenfeld wasn’t sure what he meant, but a smart guess would have been that the mayor did not like being overshadowed by someone bigger than himself.

“You’re going to have to pay for the air rights and that hasn’t been negotiated,” Cianci said.
Hassenfeld couldn’t tell if he was kidding or not.

“Buddy,” he said, “I’m raising money to build a children’s hospital, what the hell do I know about air rights? That’s for you to negotiate with others.”

The mayor seemed unsatisfied with the answer.

“Buddy, I promise you one thing,” Hassenfeld said. “I went to university at a time when we were fairly creative in protests and demonstrations sit-ins. I don’t think your honor would like a sit-in outside City Hall—with children with IVs. Buddy, drop it.”

The mayor did.


As the opening of Hasbro Children’s Hospital approached, the capital campaign surpassed $23 million in contributions. They came in gifts of hundreds of thousands of dollars and gifts of dimes. Literally, dimes: from the “Dimes for Deeds” campaign conducted in public schools through Rhode Island, from sales of chocolate lollipops at shopping centers, from a month’s worth of proceeds from a carousel at a mall. Nurses wrote and published a cookbook and raised money selling it. Providence College’s nationally ranked men’s basketball team donated $50 for each three-point basket during one stretch of a season.

The spirit of giving rippled through the community.

One fund-raising team sold Hasbro toys, working with the Rhode Island National Guard and visiting Rotary and Kiwanis Clubs, “any nook and cranny of the community where they could find interest,” said vice president for public relations and development Slone. Artists donated hundreds of their works to the new building and painted murals on walls. A marina donated a 35-foot sailboat and a fire department gave, in memory of a boy who had died of cancer, an antique fire engine for the hospital’s outside play yard.

In no better fashion, perhaps, was the spirit better exemplified than with the approximately 10,000 six-inch-square ceramic tiles that patients, parents, and students from all of Rhode Island’s 39 cities and towns produced as part of the Circle of Clay project.

Overseen by stained-glass artist Peter Geisser, art director at the Rhode Island School for the Deaf and underwritten with more than $100,000 raised by Very Special Arts Rhode Island, devoted to involving people with disabilities in the arts, the Circle featured depictions of people, animals, dinosaurs, and even a pizza. Most told stories of joy, but a few spoke of death, the closing chapter for some seriously sick children. The choice was left to the tiles’ creators.

One was made by a girl who was unlikely to survive.

“A hush fell over the intensive-care unit,” said nurse Maureen Oberg. “Just incredible, as the mother did the little girl’s handprint."

“You're looking at a house and tree," said Geisser, “then you encounter somebody saying goodbye to their dying child.”

Major gifts had continued, with the charitable trust division of defense giant Textron, headquartered in Providence, giving a quarter of a million dollars, and The Rhode Island Hospital Surgery Foundation, the Haffenreffer Family Fund, and the Rhode Island Foundation each also giving $250,000. Providence Anesthesiologists and University Orthopedics each gave $350,000. Four-hundred-thousand dollars came from The Herald Group of Hong Kong, established by another friend of Hassenfeld and Verrecchia: the Austrian-born, British-educated George Bloch, who began building a toy and housewares manufacturing company after moving to Shanghai on the eve of World War II.  Rhode Island Medical Imaging donated $1 million.

And this generosity blossomed during a time when the country was slowly recovering from a recession, which hit Rhode Island particularly hard.

“We’ve seldom had this experience of generosity, especially in such tough economic times,” said Slone.


When the final coat of paint had dried, patients on the morning of February 12, 1994, were moved from Potter through Rhode Island Hospital’s corridors and elevators to Hasbro Children’s Hospital in an intricately choreographed transition, eight months in the planning. The opening followed a major snowstorm, but weather proved but a minor inconvenience to what was described as a procession of 60 patients in wheelchairs and on stretchers, assisted by hundreds of staff, parents, and volunteers. Reporters recorded the event. Musicians played and a nun distributed teddy bears to patients.

 “It’s very exciting,” pediatric cardiologist Dr. Lloyd Feit said on that day. “It’s finally happening. It’s reality.”

Minutes before 7:30 a.m., Barbara Crosby, a nurse on Potter since the early 1980s, began moving the crib where two-year-old Caitlyn Adler was awaiting surgery. Accompanied by her mother, Eileen Adler, the girl was wheeled from Potter to the passageway from Rhode Island Hospital to Hasbro Children’s. A red ribbon and a crowd of officials and journalists awaited.

“Eileen Adler picks up her daughter and cuts the ribbon,” The Providence Journal wrote. “Caitlyn sort of smiles. Her hand is taped to a board to keep the intravenous line in place. Caitlyn has a brain tumor that doctors hope to remove this week.”

Caitlyn was settled into her new room, painted in pink, with a floor-to-ceiling window and a border of swimming fish.

“It's beautiful,” Eileen Adler said. “It’s cheery and bright. It feels nice and clean.”

“It was like going from Kansas into Oz,” a nurse recalled decades later, on the 20th anniversary of the opening. “Like walking into Cinderella’s castle,” another staff member remembered.

Hassenfeld, Verrecchia, and Charness were in New York for Toy Fair during that second week of February 1994, but they visited the hospital following their return. Hassenfeld, in another event marking the opening of the hospital, struck a favorite theme.

“From the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy sings, ‘Somewhere over the rainbow, skies are blue… and the dreams that you dare to dream really do come true,’” he said.

“Today, the dream that we dared to dream really does become reality. For almost 72 years, we have flourished in this community—from my grandfather to my father to my brother Stephen—three generations of Hassenfelds. They built Hasbro with a heart and always with a tradition of giving back. Today, I really represent the four generations of Hasbro employees, those who rise at 4 a.m. to work on the assembly lines, those in the community, and those across the seven seas. To so many of those who have dedicated their lives to Hasbro in Rhode Island, I can only say ‘thank you.’

“So often, the landscape of our Rhode Island is painted as being negative and bleak,” Hassenfeld continued, in reference to corrupt politics that he, as leader of an ethics-reform group, sought to defeat. “May this children’s hospital be the beacon of light that shows the world we truly can be the best… From construction workers to nurses—from doctors to architects—from parents to the community as a whole—from Rhode Island artists to caring givers—we have shown that people can work hand in hand, without egos. What we have accomplished is truly monumental.”

Hassenfeld paused in memory of a boy sick with cancer who had shared the spotlight three years before, when construction of the hospital had begun.

“Oh, how I wish I could wave a magical wand and bring Robert Eckert back,” Hassenfeld said. “Robert held my hand as we walked to break ground in September ‘91.  Robert died shortly after. It is not fair. How I wish there would be a way to alleviate all pain and sorrow. For the future, that must be another dream. For now, all we can do is ease the furrow on a brow—bring warmth, tenderness and a smile to a cloudy countenance.”

Hassenfeld said the new hospital would be “a magical, non-threatening, enchanting home with the best doctors and nurses in the land,” and then he quoted the lyrics from the Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie tune, “We are the World,” recorded for the USA for Africa fundraiser: There comes a time when we need a certain call, when the world must come together as one. There are children dying and it’s time to lend a hand to life, the greatest gift of all.

Turning emotional, Hassenfeld looked to another country he knew well.

“The Chinese believe that when one is married, it is best to have rain, for it is a sign of good luck. Confucius had not yet figured out snow, but let us say it is white rain, the purest and best of good fortune, as we unite tonight to bring our children a better tomorrow. I tremble and my eyes have tears of joy. A beacon of hope and a dream are becoming a reality because of all here, and so many others who are not, who have joined hands and heart to protect our greatest natural resource, our children.”


Months later, on December 20, 1994, at the first of what became an annual tradition that they continued after both had left the Hasbro executive suite, Hassenfeld and Verrecchia, accompanied by Charness, visited the hospital. It was five days before Christmas.

Hassenfeld beamed, despite just learning that the Mexican peso had been devalued, bringing his Mexican business to near-devastation.

“This puts it all in perspective,” he said as he followed gurneys loaded with toys into an elevator.
“Merry Christmas everyone!” he said at the first stop, the intensive-care unit.

“Is that Mister Hasbro?” whispered a nurse.

On Hassenfeld went, through a visit that lasted three hours.

“This is my favorite teddy bear,” he told a boy with cancer. “He's going to keep you company.”
But another child wanted no teddy bear, Transformer, Battleship game or anything other Hasbro toy on the gurneys—he wanted a Power Ranger.

“Mighty Morphin Power Rangerthis is hurting me!” Hassenfeld laughed.

But he promised to get him one.

“Aren't you nice,” a mother said. “May I ask who you are?”

“We work at Hasbro,” Hassenfeld said, letting it go at that.

In deciding to play Santa, he’d forbidden outside press coverage or internal announcement, except to the administrators who had to be informed.

This was not about him, nor even his company.


Excerpt from “Kid Number One: A story of heart, soul and business, featuring Alan Hassenfeld and Hasbro,” the sequel (and prequel) to “Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie, and the Companies That Make Them.” More at and the #KidNumberOne Facebook page. Copyright 2019, G. Wayne Miller.

Kid Number One is the sequel (and prequel) to the best-selling "Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them."