MATTEL HIRES FORMER SEGA EXECUTIVE
Stolar, who engineered the launch of Sega's popular Dreamcast video game console before leaving in a clash with the parent company, was named president of Mattel Interactive.
The Mattel division includes The Learning Company, the software maker whose unexpected $105 million loss in the third quarter stunned investors and undermined Mattel's 1999 earnings.
``Mattel has some of the strongest brands in the world,'' Stolar said in a statement. ``I'm looking forward to helping shape Mattel's software and online product lines.''
Known for independent thinking and a strong relationship with retailers, Stolar is the sort of leader Mattel needs to pull its interactive division out of the doldrums, analysts said.
``He's been around this business for a long time, which is more than you can say for almost anyone at Mattel, which hasn't been in the (interactive) business for very long,'' said Sean McGowan, an analyst at Gerard Klauer Mattison & Co.
``Nobody expected Sega to be as successful in the Dreamcast launch as they were, and I think he deserves a great deal of credit for that,'' he said.
Since Dreamcast was launched in September, Sega has sold 2 million units, making it the most successful launch of a game device in history, McGowan said.
Stolar, 53, left Sega several weeks before Dreamcast appeared in U.S. stores after strategy disagreements with the Japanese parent, Sega Enterprises Ltd. Stolar prevailed on the strategy for Dreamcast's U.S. debut, but lost his job in the process, McGowan said.
At Mattel, he will play a key role in Mattel chairwoman and chief executive Jill E. Barad's plan to reshape the maker of Barbie and Hot Wheels toys into a broader family products company with a strong focus on educational software and high-tech, interactive toys.
As part of that strategy, Mattel acquired The Learning Company in May for $3.6 billion. The company, which makes Carmen Sandiego and other popular software titles, was expected to immediately add $50 million to Mattel's third quarter revenues, but instead lost more than twice that amount.
Learning Company Chairman Michael Perik, 42, and President Kevin O'Leary, 45, left Mattel in November.
While Mattel is expected to benefit from Stolar's experience, his appointment raises the prospect of clashes with Barad, who also is known as a strong-willed leader.
``Bernie is certain to have clashes with Jill. It's just the kind of style he has, but I think what the company needs is someone who can take the tough steps,'' McGowan said. ``It's no secret to him it's going to be an issue and it's no secret to her. I'm sure it's something they have addressed, how to handle these types of conflicts.''
Before joining Sega in 1996, Stolar was executive vice president for Sony Computer of America, where he helped launch Sony Playstation, another popular video game console.
A strong point has been his ability to build enthusiasm among retailers for the products he sells, said Jeremy Schwartz, an analyst with Forrester Research. One task at Sega was to sell Dreamcast to retailers who had been burned by an earlier Sega flop, the Saturn console.
``They really needed to convince retailers that this was a viable product. They had a lot of negative impressions to overcome, and I think he was largely responsible for winning over the retail chains about Dreamcast,'' Schwartz said.