03 February 2010

Barbie Executive Joins Jones Apparel

The Wall Street Journal

Richard Dickson, the general manager credited with making Mattel Inc.'s Barbie doll brand fashionable again, is leaving the toy maker for a position that puts him in line for a shot at chief executive of New York clothing manufacturer Jones Apparel Group Inc.

Mr. Dickson, 41 years old, next week will join Jones Apparel as president and chief executive of its branded businesses. The position makes him responsible for all of the company's retail and wholesale operations, which generated $3.6 billion in revenue in fiscal 2008. He will report to Jones's current chief executive, Wesley Card, who dropped president from his own title but said in a telephone interview he will stay on as chief executive "for many years to come."

"The best succession planning is not when you do it when you're ready to retire in a week—it's when you are still committed to an active role in the business," said Mr. Card, 62 years old.

The appointment comes as Jones is seeking to expand its reach following an industry shakeout that diminished the clout of many competitors. Mr. Dickson, who prior to joining Mattel spent a decade at Macy's Inc.'s Bloomingdale's, said he was drawn to Jones's portfolio of brands including Nine West and Anne Klein. "Ultimately, I am a brand guy," he said.

Mr. Dickson's departure deprives Mattel of an important talent. The toy maker posted improved profits in the fourth quarter in part due to renewed strength in its Barbie line. The dolls were among Mattel's best sellers over the holidays, rising 12% compared with a 1% increase in revenue for the company overall. In a conference call to discuss the results Friday, Mattel CEO Robert Eckert proclaimed, "Barbie is back."

Gerrick Johnson, toy analyst at BMO Capital Markets, said that under Mr. Dickson's leadership the 2009 Barbie line "looked sharper, the fashion looked better, and the packaging looked better this year than in the recent past. The challenge is how to keep the momentum going."

Mr. Dickson said, "Mattel has a wonderful talent pool and a robust succession plan." In a statement, Mattel said the brand will now fall under the purview of Tim Kilpin, who was named a general manager and senior vice president for Mattel brands, a job that encompasses Hot Wheels and Matchbox toys, other girls' brands, plus entertainment. Mr. Kilpin ran the Barbie division earlier in the decade as it sales began to slide. 

Mattel tapped Mr. Dickson, a 10-year veteran of the company, to revive the flagging Barbie brand in 2008, when the brand was stymied by upstarts such as the Disney Princess line and MGA Entertainment Inc.'s Bratz doll. Barbie accounted for $1.3 billion in annual revenue last year, down from $1.9 billion earlier in the decade.

Mr. Dickson and his team decided to return the doll to its fashion-icon roots, creating a line of six new Fashionista Barbie dolls clad in stylish clothes and featuring 12 moveable joints.

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