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October 2, 2013

Branding for Remarkable Success

Gabrielle Doby | UWEBC Communications Student Assistant

Tom Kalinske, former Mattel and Sega CEO and LeapFrog president, delivered the plenary keynote address and received the UW E-Business Institute 2013 Distinguished Fellow Award at the 15th Annual UWEBC Business Best Practices & Emerging Technologies Conference held Oct. 1 in Madison, WI.

Dr. Raj Veeramani presents the 2013 UW E-Business Institute Distinguished Fellow Award to Tom Kalinske (See Kalinske bio below.)
In his presentation, “Experts are Almost Always Wrong!” Kalinske delved into the game-changing strategies that were fundamental in turning around world-renowned brands including Mattel, Sega, and Leap Frog. Kalinske’s career is defined by bold and aggressive strategies, which, although not always popular, grew the Barbie Brand from $42 million in 1972 to $550 million and drove Sega’s sales up from under $2 billion to over $5 billion in just six years.

"Don't listen to the experts," said Kalinske. Realizing that the experts are not always right, Kalinske was able to redefine brands for remarkable success in the face of challenging opposition. In his presentation, he highlighted the following key strategies of his success stories:

Flintstone Vitamins
Just as Flintstones was knocked off primetime television, Kalinske was insistent on developing a Flintstones vitamin. At the time, few vitamins were marketed towards kids, and Kalinske knew a dietary supplement that tasted good and incorporated childhood favorites was a surefire way to get both parents and kids to fall in love with their new offering. Kalinske's Flintstone vitamins continue to be the number one kids’ vitamin today.

Mattel Barbie
As President of Mattel, Kalinske flooded retail shelves and people's homes with bright pink packaging and a doll for every occasion and at every price point. Kalinske not only offered a Barbie for every profession, but the accessories and dream houses to match. These tactics made repeat purchases and a long-lasting relationship with the Barbie brand a necessity for many parents. Under Kalinske's direction, Mattel's total revenues grew from $188 million in 1972 to $1.3 Billion in 1987 when he left the company. “The key to Barbie's success was her ability to be any and every doll girls wanted her to be,” said Kalinske.

Sega Genesis
Penetrating an already saturated market, Kalinske deployed one of the most memorable ad campaigns, "Sega Scream," to generate brand awareness in the American market (then dominated by Nintendo). Not only was he leading Sega into an extremely competitive market, he requested that the price of the Genesis unit be dropped and that the Genesis come with Sonic the Hedgehog already built in. A strategy that sounded extremely risky to other Sega executives resulted in growing the market share from 10% to over 50% by 1995, surpassing market leader Nintendo and ultimately making Sega a $5 billion powerhouse.

In response to Tom Kalinske's pursuance of the educational toys market, experts warned, "Education doesn't sell." In true Kalinske fashion, LeapFrog electronic tablets were ground breaking in their engagement with kids, saturating the market 65 percent. Kalinske urged video game developers and manufacturers to combine the engagement of a video game with high educational standards. LeapFrog's net sales increased from $72 million in 1999 to $680 million in 2003.

Kalinske’s career has been a lesson in propelling brands to remarkable success by realizing that the “experts” are almost always wrong and charting one's own course to success.

Thomas Kalinske Biography

kalinskeTom Kalinske, eminent buiness executive and entrepreneur, delivered the opening plenary keynote address at the 15th Annual Business Best Practice and Emerging Technologies Conference on Oct.1 in Madison, WI.

Tom Kalinske was once the largest purveyor of women’s clothing and shoes (fitting the most famous doll in the world — Barbie); He sold more cars than the Big 3 (fun to play with, but hard to drive 1:64 scale Hot Wheels cars); and he sold more video game systems than Nintendo (Sega Genesis). What most people don’t know is that Barbie was almost discontinued and Sega executives were resigned to accept they would be a distant follower in the game console market. With Kalinske at the helm, these brands achieved a remarkable turnaround.

Kalinske has had a professional career that included stints as CEO of Mattel, Sega, Matchbox, Knowledge Universe, and LeapFrog. Currently the Executive Chairman of Global Education Learning, his other activities include Board and advisory roles to a variety of companies supporting technology-based education to youth.

In addition to giving the conference’s opening keynote address, Kalinske received the UW E-Business Institute 2013 Distinguished Fellow Award, awarded annually to visionaries who have led significant achievements and advancements in IT and E-business.
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