By July 1997, the company had decided to build a wholly owned manufacturing facility in the Guangzhou region of southern China, starting production in 1999. The Asian currency crisis that ensued later that fall had reopened the “build decision. ” It was now the beginning of March 1998 and all of the original options were once again under debate. While in the US, Ron had met with his boss Joe Gandolfo, President of Worldwide Manufacturing Operations and learned that he would be reassigned within the next month to oversee die-cast car operations.
An ex-lawyer who had lived and worked in Hong Kong for nearly fifteen years, Montalto was a Senior Vice President and had been responsible for company’s Vendor Operations Asia division (VOA) which managed Mattel’s outsourced production. Mattel began the vendor operation program in 1988 hoping to add flexibility to the company’s traditional in-house manufacturing. Montalto had spent the last ten years developing VOA into one of Mattel’s most valuable strategic assets. In 1997 it was responsible for manufacturing products that generated nearly 25% of the toy company’s total revenue.
The Tyco merger resulted in VOA manufacturing products that generated an additional $350 million in revenues for the Mattel organization. The majority of those revenues came from a combination of Tyccfs Matchbox die-cast cars, its line of radio-controlled (RC) cars, its View Master@ series nd products from its Sesame Street license. With demand for This case was written by M. Eric Johnson and Tom Clock. It is written for class discussion and not to illustrate effective or ineffective management practices. Some names and facts have been changed. 0 2002 Trustees of Dartmouth College.
All rights reserved. For permission to reprint, contact the Tuck School of Business at 603-646-3176. 2. Mattel, Inc. no. 1-0013 Matchbox cars at 64 million units in 1997 and growing, die-cast capacity concerned Montalto the most. Tyco manufactured the cars through Joint- venture arrangements in Shanghai and Bangkok. Both of the Joint ventures were minority share partnerships which raised questions for Mattel in the future. What’s more, the quality of Matchbox products had been eroding for years and was manufacturing plants were becoming obsolete.
Though it might be possible to upgrade the existing Tyco operation in Bangkok, Mattel saw little hope of expanding the Shanghai operation. Mattel owned a state-of-the-art die-cast facility that was operating at full capacity in Penang Malaysia (see Exhibit 1). Expanding that facility significantly beyond its 1997 volume of 120M cars would be expensive and omplicated. There was no room for further building on the site and no available land adjacent to the plant. The proposed China facility would solve the capacity problems.
However with the financial storm sweeping through Asia, some executives inside Mattel argued that they should reconsider building a new plant in Malaysia to concentrate die-cast production in a single country. Others felt that they should consider Indonesia as a way to take advantage of low labor costs and very attractive exchange rates. Mattel currently operated a plant in Indonesia that produced Barbie@ dolls. Montalto had to decide whether Mattel should go forward with the new China plant, build a plant in Malaysia or Indonesia, expand one of the existing facilities, or outsource the surplus die-cast volume through VOA.
Company Background Based in California, Mattel, Inc designed, manufactured, and marketed a broad variety of toy products. The company’s core product lines included Barbie fashion dolls, Hot Wheels die- cast toy vehicles, Cabbage Patch Kids, Fisher-Price preschool toys, and Disney toys. Most of these toys were made overseas, primarily in southeast Asia. Mattel had wholly owned manufacturing facilities in China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Mexico, and Italy. Mattel was founded in 1944 by Elliot and Ruth Handler. Neither Elliot nor Ruth had much business experience or capital, but they both had dreams.
The post World War II demographics of a huge baby boom plus a virtually toyless marketplace provided a unique opportunity to gain a place in a growing toy market. Mattel’s first products, simple picture frames and doll house furniture, met with mixed success. The first really big hit was a music box. By partnering with another toy inventor, they developed a music box that could be mass-produced, dramatically reducing its cost. The product went on to sell more than 50 million units over the next 20 years. By 1955, annual sales reached $5 million and the Handlers decided to take a gamble that would forever change the toy business.
In what seemed at the time a risky investment, the Handlers signed a 52 week contract with ABC Television to sponsor a 15-minute segment of Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse Club at a cost of $500,000 – a sum equal to Mattel’s net worth at the time. Up until this move, most toy manufacturers relied on retailers to promote their products. Prior advertising occurred only around the holiday season. The popular daily kids show made the Mattel brand well known Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth 2 3. Mattel, Inc. no. 1-0013 among the viewing audience, translating quickly into sales.
The success of the Handlers pact with kids TV started a marketing revolution in the toy industry. Mattel made toy industry history again in 1959 with the introduction of Barbie. Ruth Handler got the idea for the toy after watching her daughter play with adult looking paper dolls. In spite of the cool reception to the Handlers’ teenage fashion doll at the 1959 New York Toy Fair, the early sales quickly signaled a winning roduct. With the success of Barbie, Mattel made its first public stock offering and by 1963 was listed on the New York Stock Exchange.
In the next two years Mattel’s sales model cars in 1968 was another spectacular success making Mattel the world’s largest toy company by the end of the decade. Unfortunately, the Handlers good fortune in the toy industry was quickly tarnished. Plagued by operational problems including a fire in their Mexican plant and shipping strikes that interrupted the flow of goods from Asia, Mattel’s growth stumbled. In 1973, Mattel was caught issuing misleading financial reports. The SEC filed charges against the Handlers and a federal Judge ordered Mattel to restructure the board, forcing the Handlers out.
Under a new management team, Mattel regained profitability and started diversifying into other children’s products including publishing and entertainment. At first the acquisitions looked promising, but poor performance during the 1980’s forced Mattel to divest of many at steep losses. By 1987, Mattel had fallen into even deeper trouble with heavy losses in video games. The stock had lost two-thirds of its value since 1982, forcing the board to appoint a new chairman – John Amerman, who had Joined he company in 1980 as head of Mattel’s international division.
Amerman charted a new strategy for Mattel, closing 40% of the companys manufacturing capacity, including plants in California, Taiwan, and the Philippines. Most important, Amerman focused the company on its core brands such as Barbie and Hot Wheels, and by making selective investments in the development of new toys. The Barbie line was expanded to include approximately 50 different dolls per year with many new accessory items. A promotional campaign built around Barbie’s 30th birthday in 1989 propelled her onto the cover of Smithsonian Magazine, confirming her status as a rue American icon.
The Barbie make-over was so effective that from 1987 to 1992 sales shot up from $430 million to nearly $1 billion, accounting for more than half of the company’s $1. 85 billion in sales. At that time, Mattel estimated that 95% of all girls in the United States aged 3 to 11 owned Barbie dolls. In 1991, a strengthened strategic alliance with The Walt Disney Company allowed Mattel to expand its development of Disney toys. Mattel negotiated the exclusive rights to sell dolls, stuffed characters, and preschool toys based upon such movie classics as the Lion King, The Hunch Back of Notre Dame, and Hercules.