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Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them

Toy Wars: The Epic Struggle Between G.I. Joe, Barbie and the Companies That Make Them

by G. Wayne Miller, Ted Schoenhaus (Other)

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This is the real toy story, an unprecedented behind-the-scenes journey through a world of influence, fantasy, and multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals, a world where the whims of children make millionaires and topple titans.

This is also the story of an unusual man. Alan Hassenfeld, the chief executive officer of Hasbro, never intended to run a Fortune


This is the real toy story, an unprecedented behind-the-scenes journey through a world of influence, fantasy, and multimillion-dollar Hollywood deals, a world where the whims of children make millionaires and topple titans.

This is also the story of an unusual man. Alan Hassenfeld, the chief executive officer of Hasbro, never intended to run a Fortune 500 company. A free spirit who dreamed of being a writer and exploring Asia, he was content to remain in the shadow of his older brother Stephen, a marketing genius who transformed a family firm established by immigrant Jews into powerhouse and Wall Street darling.

Then tragedy struck. Stephen, and intensely private man, died of AIDS, a disease he had not acknowledged he had, even to his family. Alan Hassenfeld was named CEO, just as Hasbro was facing a daunting onslaught of challenges. Toy Wars is about Alan's struggle to balance the demands of the bottom line with his ideals about the kind of toys children deserve, as well as the ethical obligations of management.

Wayne Miller, an award-winning journalist and novelist, was granted unprecedented access to Hasbro, the maker of G.I. Joe, Star Wars toys, Mr. Potato Head, Batman, Monopoly, Scrabble, Trivial Pursuit, and countless other favorites. For five years, he sat in on design sessions, marketing meetings, and focus groups, and interviewed employees in every part of the company. He witnessed a major corporate restructuring; crucial deal with Dreamworks SKG; a hostile takeover bid by archrival Mattel; the collapse of a $45 million virtual reality game; and the company makeover of G.I. Joe, Hasbro's flagship product and one of the most populartoys of all time.

Toy Wars is filled with many colorful characters, including:

Hollywood moguls Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, whose kid-friendly movies can translate into licensing gold for toymakers

Mighty Morphin Power Rangers creator Haim Saban, who tapped into a popular Japanese TV series and made it a worldwide television and merchandising phenomenon

Mattel CEO Jill Barad, the second-highest-paid woman in corporate America, who promotes and defends Barbie with the zeal of a religious crusader

Hasbro executive Al Verrecchia, the loyal second in command who did not let friendship or tradition stand in the way of a dramatic restructuring

Larry Bernstein, arguably the best toy salesman ever, a riotous raconteur whose divisional presidency crumbled when he was unable to meet Hasbro's profit goals

Rich in family drama and written with sly wit, Toy Wars is a deeply compelling business story, a fascinating tour through a billion-dollar industry that exerts tremendous influence on the lives of children everywhere.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Miller (Coming of Age, Random, 1995), a writer for the Providence Journal-Bulletin, is given a similar opportunity to that of Mary Walton, who spent several years with Ford obtaining the information for Car (LJ 6/15/97). Miller spent five years behind the scenes at the Hasbro Toy Corporation in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and, like Walton, provides a detailed view of the industry. He describes how movies, television, and comic books influence the development of new toys such as Star Wars Action Figures and the ever popular G.I. Joe. Mergers with Milton Bradley and Kenner Toys as well as an unfriendly takeover bid from Mattel are detailed, and biographies of key individuals provide insight into the creativity and drive needed to be successful in this business. A fast-paced, well-developed, suspenseful narrative that will appeal to marketing enthusiasts, business students, and general readers nostalgic for their old toys.Steven J. Mayover, Free Lib. of Philadelphia

Product Details

Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.47(w) x 9.59(h) x 1.25(d)

Read an Excerpt

Of all the chairman's men, Verrecchia most looked the part of senior executive. Six feet three, broad shouldered, fit, and uncommonly handsome, Verrecchia favored suits and wing-tip shoes, always freshly shined. Employees sometimes joked that his hair must obey different laws of physics, for a strand was never out of place. Having spent twenty-five years with Hasbro and recently promoted to president of manufacturing, Verrecchia had no equal with numbers. Many an underling had experienced a chill when he perched his reading glasses on the tip of his nose, took up his mechanical pencil, ruler, and calculator, and started into their business plans. Verrecchia knew the underside of Hasbro: the late 1960s and early 1970s, when Merrill, as president, had been forced to put up his personal property as collateral on high-interest loans needed to cover the payroll. It was Verrecchia who'd negotiated those loans, Verrecchia who'd begged resin suppliers for extended terms to keep the molding machines running, Verrecchia who'd analyzed when individual paychecks were cashed so that he could dole out the precious dollars to cover them.

Despite their grief, Stephen's senior managers had not lost sight of succession. Few doubted the board would grant Alan the chairmanship if he sought it, but they had no clues about how, when, or even if he would restructure the top after taking charge. Alan's U.S. office was next to his brother's at world headquarters, and he was everywhere at Toy Fair, but there was an ethereal quality to him. With his international duties, he was always traveling, and when he was home, he was as likely to regale them with tales of expeditions through early post-MaoChina as with marketing strategies for toys. Alan's closest confidants at the company were his mother and brother, and his wife to most was a stranger. No one knew his vision for Hasbro, because he'd never had to spell one out.

In his eulogy, Rabbi Gutterman spoke to more than company executives, for Stephen Hassenfeld would not only be remembered for stock options and dividends. Factory workers whose names and birthdays he'd never forgotten were present, together with politicians, religious and community leaders, and beneficiaries of corporate and family
philanthropy. "If every person Stephen Hassenfeld touched with happiness brought a flower to his grave," Gutterman said, "he would sleep tonight beneath a wilderness of roses."

Led by a state police escort, Stephen's funeral procession was more than three miles long. Those familiar with such matters said it was the largest motorcade in Rhode Island history, surpassing even presidential visits.


Seven days after Alan had thrown the last spadeful of earth onto his brother's grave, next to Merrill's in Lincoln Park Cemetery, the directors of Hasbro Inc. gathered in a conference room on the mezzanine floor of the company's New York showroom. Alan spoke a few words to the board, and he, his mother, and Alperin left. Directors were aware that Stephen's hospitalization and rumors about its true cause had troubled Wall Street before the chairman's death. Their concern was compounded by Hasbro's uncharacteristically flat performance in 1987 and 1988. Had Stephen lost his touch--or was Hasbro simply catching its breath after its extraordinary run? Whatever the case, Alan, this man with the rubber bands, gave Wall Street the jitters. Would he and Sylvia--they effectively controlled almost a third of Hasbro's stock--decide to sell? Speculation that the Walt Disney Co., entertainment giant MCA, video-game maker Nintendo, and Mattel were interested in acquiring the firm had led to a run on Hasbro stock. If Hasbro remained independent, more probable after adoption of a so-called poison pill a week after Stephen was hospitalized, would Alan be up to the job? The Wall Street Journal was among the doubters. It recently had described him as his brother's "shadow." Behind closed doors, director E. John Rosenwald Jr. had the floor. Newly named vice chairman of the Bear Stearns Companies, one of New York's foremost investment bankers, Rosenwald had been a close friend of Stephen's and was the most powerful member of the Hasbro board, except for Alan. Shortly after the funeral, Alan had visited him in his Fifth Avenue penthouse. Sitting on the terrace as the sun set over Central Park, the youngest Hassenfeld had poured his heart out. "I'd be a little bit different from my brother," he'd told Rosenwald, "but I know the business and I want my shot." Rosenwald related their discussion to the directors, some of whom had spoken privately with him of their inclination to sell Hasbro and, having turned a tidy profit, be done with it. He talked of the depth of Hasbro's management team and praised Alan's intelligence, experience, and desire. "He deserves his shot," Rosenwald said. "His name is on the door, too. He has spent his whole life here and he's ready to roll and he has a plan and I think you should support him."

The vote was unanimous. Alan returned with Sylvia and Alperin and was congratulated. He had not heard, of course, Rosenwald's caveat about the last brother--sole surviving grandson of the founder, a Polish immigrant who'd arrived in America, virtually penniless, at the age of thirteen.

"If it doesn't work out," Rosenwald had said, "we can always sell the company."

Meet the Author

G. Wayne Miller is a staff writer at The Providence Journal-Bulletin, where he has won numerous journalism awards.  He is author of a novel and two non-fiction books, The Work of Human Hands and Coming of Age.  He is currently at work on another novel and a non-fiction book about pioneering surgeons.  He lives in Pascoag, Rhode Island.

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