Mattel's Neil Friedman is honored by colleagues and friends as he is inducted into LIMA's Hall of Fame.
"An industry icon," "an innovative thinker," "a brilliant marketer," and "a man who sets the gold standard" are some candid descriptions given by peers of Neil Friedman, president of the Mattel Brands division at Mattel Inc., and this year's inductee into the International Licensing Industry Merchandisers Association's Hall of Fame.
Highly regarded for his ability to think outside the toy box, Friedman has spent more than 30 years in the industry and is credited with the huge success of the original Tickle Me while working at Tyco Toys Inc. in 1996, which created one of the first mainstream toy hits to incorporate technology to enhance traditional preschool play. Interestingly, Friedman began working at Mattel a year later after the toymaker acquired Tyco Toys. Lightning would strike twice a decade later with Friedman leading the charge for Fisher-Price's introduction of T.M.X. Elmo, one of the most successful launches in the toy industry's history, generating a record-breaking first day of sales and helping drive traffic to toy aisles early in the holiday season—ultimately referred to as the "Elmo Effect."
"When I met Neil over two decades ago, he was a child in the toy industry," says Gary Knell, president and CEO at Sesame Workshop. "I've seen him go through puberty and mature into one of the giants of the industry. I can't think of anyone better that LIMA could honor than Neil. It's never about marketing and taking advantage of children but rather respecting them and finding an engagement that kids gravitate toward and parents will support."
During his tenure at Mattel, the philanthropist has forged strong relationships with licensees and retailers and is viewed with much respect by industry heavyweights, including Leigh Anne Brodsky, president at Nickelodeon & Viacom Consumer Products. "I've known Neil for decades," she says. "The best thing about him is that he is a loyal and supportive boss, which is illustrated by the fact that most of his team has been with him for years. Neil's a great pitch man. He really knows how to use the media to generate excitement and demand. He has built hands-on relationships with his accounts and licensors and is a tremendously competitive guy, who loves to win—and he's won a lot! Neil has been a wonderful licensee who approaches our business like a good marriage, which means an equal partnership and great communication."
Jessi Dunne, executive vice president, global toys at Disney Consumer Products, agrees. "Neil has been the face of Fisher-Price, which is a gold standard for the toy industry. His products are outstanding, his personal relationships with retailers are fabulous, and he is a tremendous spokesperson for the industry in total. His impact on the greater Mattel organization over the past year has been tremendous. You can feel the positive change and enthusiasm with the people we work with at Mattel as a result of his leadership style."
Of his own career, Friedman reflects that since answering an ad in 1972 for his first job in the toy industry from a retailer named Lionel Leisure, Kiddy City, he is most proud of the introduction of Tickle Me Elmo, which raised the bar for the entire toy industry and is still one of the best-selling toys of this generation—beaten only by the 10th Anniversary edition, T.M.X. Elmo.
None of these, however, compares to what he is most proud of—his family.