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IF YOU CAN'T BEAT HER, JOIN HER

In the early 1990s, Bruce L. Stein was Mattel's Public Enemy No.1. As the head of Hasbro's Kenner Products, Stein launched a steady round of hits based on blockbuster movies such as Jurassic Park, Terminator 2, and Batman, each one pummeling Mattel's action-figure offerings. ''We were arch-competitors,'' says Stein of then Mattel president Jill Barad.

These days, though, Stein and Barad are on the same team. Following a string of high-level defections before she took over as CEO, Barad needed a strong No.2. So she aggressively went after Stein, signing him in 1996. His mandate is to add more muscle to boys' toys while keeping the Barbie engine fired up.

So far, Stein has won kudos for integrating Tyco Toys Inc. into Mattel after it was purchased in early 1997. That helped fuel last year's 34% jump in earnings. By merging toy carmaker Matchbox and Tyco Radio Control toys into the same lane as Mattel's fast-growing Hot Wheels, Stein now drives a $600 million boys' toys business. And by putting Mattel's marketing punch behind such popular Tyco toys as Sing & Snore Ernie, Stein helped triple its Sesame Street business in 1997.

Barad and Stein are considered two of the best strategists in the industry. Full of energy and ideas, they ''are like male and female counterparts of each other,'' says Judith A. Shackelford, who was a boss to both executives at Mattel in the mid-1980s. The athletic 43-year-old Stein ''is there to provide the creative spark,'' says analyst Joseph Kinnison at American Express Advisors, a Mattel shareholder. ''Jill had been that. But she now has other duties.''

They've also long been intense rivals, though they've often had to work closely together. First, early in his career, Stein was an account representative at ad agency Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide Inc. when it was developing Barbie commercials for Barad. Later, for two years starting in 1985, Stein was in charge of Hot Wheels before leaving for Kenner and a series of other jobs. Now, Stein is glad to be back at Team Mattel. ''It is a hungry culture,'' he says.

MOVIE MAVEN. To build Mattel's portfolio of boys' toys, Stein is forging links between Mattel and major sports leagues. One recent coup: snatching a license to market National Basketball Assn. toys from Hasbro. This year, Mattel will introduce NBA action figures and board games, which Stein predicts will hit $300 million in sales within five years. He's tapping girls' growing interest in team sports as well. Ready to ship is a WNBA basketball-playing Barbie, complete with ball and hoop.

Barad is also counting on Stein's knack for basing action figures on hit movies. While Stein was raking in profits for Kenner, Mattel was losing money on such misfires as Hook and The Last Action Hero. And Stein is on the prowl for new properties for Mattel to acquire. Sources close to the company say he may try to snatch Marvel Entertainment Group. Stein won't comment, but one source says he is working jointly with Sony Corp. to buy out the comic-book maker.

Wall Street is clearly pleased with his progress. Mattel's stock has soared since he signed on in August, 1996. Good reason for Jill Barad to keep this ex-Public Enemy No.1 on her side from now on.

By Kathleen Morris in El Segundo, Calif.



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Updated May 14, 1998 by bwwebmaster
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