Jill Barad

Former chairman, president, and chief executive officer, Mattel, Incorporated

Nationality: American.

Born: May 23, 1951, in New York, New York.

Education: Queens College, BA, 1973.

Family: Daughter of Lawrence Elikann (television director) and Corinne Schuman; married Thomas Kenneth Barad (film producer), 1979; children: two.

Career: Coty Cosmetics, 1976–1977, assistant product manager, marketing; 1977–1978, product manager, marketing; Wells Rich Greene, 1978–1979, account executive; Mattel Toys, Incorporated, 1981–1982, product manager, marketing; 1982–1983, director, marketing; 1983–1985, vice president, marketing; 1985–1986, senior vice president, marketing; 1986–1988, senior vice president, marketing development; 1988–1989, executive vice president, product design and development, and executive vice president, marketing and worldwide product development; 1989–1990, president, girls' and activity toys division; Mattel USA, 1990–1992, president; 1992–1997, president and chief operating officer; Mattel, Incorporated, 1997–2000, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

Awards: Frontrunner Award, Sara Lee Foundation, 1994; Exemplary Leadership in Management Award, Anderson School of Management at UCLA, 1995; award, Girls Incorporated, 1998; named one of Women of the Year, Los Angeles County Commission for Women, 1998.

■ Jill Elikann Barad used her marketing ability and eye for consumer trends to reestablish the Barbie doll as an American icon. She rapidly climbed the corporate ladder to become president, chairman, and chief executive officer of Mattel, Incorporated, one of the world's largest toy companies. As one of four women at the helm of a Fortune 500 company in the late 1990s, Barad broke through the corporate "glass ceiling" and inspired other businesswomen from her position as chief executive officer to overcome obstacles to success in a male-dominated corporate climate. Barad helped usher in a period

Jill Barad. AP/Wide World Photos.
Jill Barad.
AP/Wide World Photos

of growth and prosperity for Mattel in the 1990s through mergers, acquisitions, and the use of high-level marketing skills. After three years as Mattel's CEO, however, Barad made the unwise decision to acquire the Learning Company. This acquisition led to financial losses for Mattel and forced Barad to resign her position. Prior to her resignation, she was described by her coworkers and employees as an ambitious and competitive perfectionist with keen insights into product development and marketing.


Barad learned about marketing, sales, and customers in the mid-1970s when she went to work for Coty Cosmetics as a traveling cosmetician and trainer. Although Barad had begun her cosmetics career during a year-long hiatus from college during which she sold make-up for Love Cosmetics, she became more interested in the marketing aspect of products after graduating from college in 1974. During this time she began to pay attention to store displays of cosmetics and think about ways to make her company's products stand out from the competition. Using her powers of intuition and keen observation, Barad designed a wall display to improve the presentation of Coty products and sent it to the company's headquarters. Barad's unique department store wall display brought the Coty products to the front of the cosmetics section and increased the number of impulse buys of Coty products by customers. Recognizing the exceptional visual impact and the competitive advantage provided by the wall display, Coty's managers used Barad's design for the next 20 years.

Following Barad's job with Coty, she moved to Los Angeles in 1978 and accepted a position with an advertising agency representing Max Factor & Company. She left the job after she married Thomas Barad in 1979 to become a stay-at-home wife and mother. Soon after Barad's first son was born, she realized that she was spending her days critiquing displays in local clothing stores. She decided that she needed to make use of her marketing ability to retain a sense of challenge and purpose in her life. Her husband recalled coming home from work in 1981 "… and all this unspent energy would hit me. I told her to go back to work" ( BusinessWeek , May 25, 1998).


Taking her husband's advice, Barad joined Mattel in 1981 as an employee in the novelty section of the well-known toy company. One of her first noteworthy marketing efforts was a presentation for a product called "A Bad Case of Worms." The toy consisted of rubber worms that were supposed to slither down after being thrown at a wall. The night before a commercial for the toy was to be sent to Toys 'R' Us, however, Barad found that the worms simply fell off the wall rather than slithering down as advertised. In order to salvage the project, she spent the night creating a new commercial that did not focus on the worms' supposed ability to slither. The commercial was a success and helped to sell a good many worms before the product was discontinued.

Although the worms commercial was not enough by itself to salvage an inferior product, it did bring Barad's marketing skills, innovative ideas, and demands for a more challenging position to the attention of Mattel's management. A former Mattel CEO, Tom Kalinske, remembered being impressed by Barad's ability to create an effective marketing campaign around mediocre products as well as by her ambition and feisty nature as she stormed into his office and asked what she needed to do to obtain a better assignment. Barad remembers saying, "There must be something better than worms" ( BusinessWeek , May 25, 1998). She was confident that she could accomplish more for the company in a higher position and therefore set out to earn and demand promotions. Barad's hard work and successful marketing campaigns for Barbie and other best-selling dolls helped to bring Mattel back from a brush with bankruptcy in the early 1980s when the company's Intellivision game console failed to make money. Barad's successes won her an important place on the Mattel team. She was promoted to director of marketing by 1983, only two years after she began working at Mattel.

By 1989 Barad had become an executive vice president but still felt she was not moving up quickly enough. She used her understanding of Mattel's competitive corporate culture to engineer her next promotion. As a bargaining chip, Barad threatened to leave the company to join Reebok International unless she was promoted even higher. Mattel's CEO at the time, John Amerman, recognized Barad's importance to the business and made her co-president of Mattel USA.

In 1992 Barad returned to Amerman to demand an assurance that she would succeed him upon retirement. This demand was unusual because Amerman was not close to retirement. He granted Barad's request, however, made her chief operating officer and president, doubled her compensation, and put into place a contract that would pay her five years' compensation if she were not made chief executive officer when he eventually retired.


Once Barad became Mattel's chief operating officer, her first success was raising sales of the Barbie doll, perhaps Mattel's best-known product. When Barad had joined Mattel in 1981, the doll's sales were stagnant, partly because Barbie had become a symbol of sexist standards of beauty and demeaning attitudes toward women. By 1993 the doll's annual sales had reached a plateau of about $320 million. In 1995, however, Barad began to market Barbie as a professional role model with the tagline "We Girls Can Do Anything," accompanied by the message that Barbie could be a doctor, dentist, teacher, or executive. The new aggressive marketing campaign meant that Barbie became a symbol of achievement rather than an image of high-fashion attractiveness. That year the new Barbie dolls accounted for $1.4 billion in sales or 35 percent of Mattel's gross revenue. In 1997 Barad became living proof of Barbie's "We Girls Can Do Anything" slogan by moving into the position of Mattel's chief executive officer when John Amerman retired.

As CEO, Barad brought about several successful mergers that boosted Mattel's profits. In 1997 she brokered a merger with Tyco Toys, the maker of Matchbox cars and holder of the primary toy license for the popular television show "Sesame Street." In 1998 Barad led Mattel into a merger with the Pleasant Company, the maker of the American Girl brand of dolls and clothes, as well as collaboration with Intel, the world's largest manufacturer of computer chips, to design and develop new generations of interactive "smart toys." Barad's marketing skills and executive experience resulted in her election to the corporate boards of Microsoft, Reebok International, and BankAmerica.


Barad was known for her powerful marketing strategies, keen insights into product development, fierce competitive streak, and driving ambition. During her climb to CEO, however, other Mattel executives came to regard her as too demanding and outspoken. She was often described as refusing to be a team player. On the other hand, one of Barad's former supervisors, Judy Schakelford, noted that Mattel's corporate culture was intensely competitive and that Barad's personality was well suited to scaling the company's corporate ladder. Other observers remarked that criticisms of Barad's perfectionism and hard-driving style would not have been as loud or as frequent if she had been a male executive.

As Mattel's chief executive officer, Barad instituted such innovations as flexible hours and half-day Fridays; however, the same personality traits that facilitated her rise to power led to problems in managing others. Barad held all Mattel employees to high standards without acknowledging their contributions or giving them adequate financial compensation. She was also accused of being controlling and temperamental. These traits led to the resignation of many top-level Mattel executives during the three years of Barad's tenure as CEO. The resignations were attributed to Barad's penchant for micromanagement, as she continued to be a hands-on marketing executive while carrying out her duties as CEO. For example, Barad had all the options for a new Barbie doll presented to her on one occasion and then unilaterally selected the styles of Barbie's clothing and hair for production. Mattel's marketing team thought that her examination of each design concept might speed up the marketing of one particular product but was also intrusive and meddling.

Although Barad's management style was seen as too hard-edged and hands-on by some of her colleagues, she was effective at first in expanding Mattel's reach into new global markets through innovative marketing as well as the centralization of the company's European warehouses and shipping. She added to Mattel's list of toy licenses related to child-focused television shows and films from Walt Disney and Nickelodeon. One profitable agreement between Mattel and Disney included the manufacturing and marketing of toys for such successful films as Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life, The Lion King , and Snow White . These deals brought in 10 percent of Mattel's operating profits in 1998.


Although Barad had increased Mattel's visibility and profits in the early 1990s through clever marketing and lucrative mergers, the company's share price declined by 56 percent between 1996 and 1999 while Barbie doll sales dropped 32 percent. Barad's skills led her to recognize good merger targets from a marketing perspective but did not include the ability to manage a company and sustain profits. Sydney Finkelstein attributed Barad's downfall to her habit of ruthlessly eliminating upper-level subordinates "… if she thought they harbored serious reservations about the way she was running things" or weren't completely behind her vision for the company ( Ivey Business Journal , January/February, 2004).

Barad's major error in judgment came in 1999, when she led Mattel's acquisition of the Learning Company, a software maker, for $3.5 billion in stock. She expected the purchase to help Mattel cross into the high-tech toy market. Instead of increasing the company's profits, however, the ill-considered acquisition resulted in a loss of at least $50 million. Barad resigned as CEO in 2000 after pressure from shareholders and investors over the company's dismal financial performance and her poor strategic planning. Barad received a $1.2 million annual pension as part of a compensation package of $50 million. Her large severance package became a highly publicized example of corporate inequality in executive payment compared to company profit, in that her payout was equal to the amount of money Mattel lost from acquiring the Learning Company. Despite Barad's resignation, many of the changes she instituted continued to increase Mattel's profits after her departure. In fact, Mattel's sales in 2000 rose 2 percent to $4.7 billion, with sales of Barbie dolls 10 percent higher thanks to Barad's redesign and marketing strategy.

After leaving Mattel, Barad focused her attention on such nonprofit organizations as the Children Affected by AIDS Foundation, Children's Medical Network, Town Hall of California, and the International Women's Fellowship.

See also entries on Coty, Inc. and Mattel, Inc., in International Directory of Company Histories .

sources for further information

Finkelstein, Sydney, "The Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives," Ivey Business Journal , January–February, 2004, pp. 1–6.

Morris, Kathleen, "The Rise of Jill Barad," BusinessWeek , May 25, 1998, pp. 112–118.

—Dawn Jacob Laney

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