Do Toy Companies Need Female CEOs?

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The other day, my wife forwarded me an article arguing that toy companies need more women at the top. Simply, toy companies have stagnated and reflect the mindsets of those who run them.

It is hard to argue this isn't true... about any company. Companies always reflect some combination of the personalities of those who founded them and those who run them. When a founder runs a company for a long time, the cultural assumptions tend to be dominant.

So does Mattel need a female CEO? Does Lego need a few more women Directors?

They may; they may not. The beauty of the modern business system is that large incumbents are always vulnerable. You cannot topple them easily, but it can be done. If >50% of the children in your market are of a certain segment (race, ethnicity, culture, or in this case, gender), and they aren't being served, that is an enormous potential market. Go out there, start a company, and see what happens. You are likely to get one of three results:

  1. You Fail: You have the wrong item, market it incorrectly, sell it wrong, or do any of one of 10,000 things that can bring a startup to its knees. This doesn't disprove your theory; it just proves that you needed more help in management.
  2. You Succeed: Not only did you dislodge a major player, you helped a large number of children get the toys they wanted... and became wealthy on the way.
  3. You Are Rejected: It turned out that the majors were producing exactly what the market wanted. Girls didn't want new Lego "made for girls", or the female version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, or whatever else you had in mind.

And what if you are actually running the incumbent, or a part of it, and are concerned about potential competitors to underserved markets? Bring them in. Find people with different ideas - women included - and put them in charge of an R&D and early marketing team. Give them the autonomy to operate like they would as a startup. Let them, on their own, discover if they will fail, succeed or be rejected.

But never restrict them to the culture of the existing company. Give them the space they need to determine if it can be successful.

And if your company culture is too strong? Invest in them. Find someone interested, set up a startup for them or invest as a "strategic investor" in their startup. A prime reason large companies have venture investment arms is precisely to identify those advances that can either help or upend their markets, but they cannot invest in internally due to political, cultural or financial (short-term ROI requirements) constraints.

Either way, get up and upend them, or, if you are inside, find a way to upend yourself before others do it. But never sit on the sidelines.