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Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Snapshots of the Year

A number of local businesses staged big stock gains this year, as you can read in the article that begins on page 1. But one of the most impressive is a company whose share price didn’t increase all that much: Mattel Inc.

The El Segundo toymaker’s stock went up more than 9 percent so far this year. Sure, that’s not an 80 percent-plus increase like some of the rockets at the top of the list, but it’s a great boost in price for a sizable, mature company. Add in Mattel’s handsome dividends, and the gain is more like 12 percent. That’s much better than Nasdaq’s loss of more than 5 percent for the year and vastly better than the 28 percent swoon by Hasbro Inc., Mattel’s main rival.

Mattel’s gains also came despite its expensive loss of the “doll brawl” with MGA Entertainment of Van Nuys over the rights to the Bratz line. But most impressive of all is the reason why the company’s stock has performed so well: Mattel’s line of mostly basic fare – think Barbie, Hot Wheels, Fisher-Price toys – continues to sell in an era when kids supposedly have gone all electronic.

How has analog-loving Mattel managed to thrive in a digital age? It reimagined and reinvigorated its traditional lines, adding electronic or Internet-based gadgetry only in a restrained way. Monster High and American Girl are among the updated versions of its tried-and-true toys. (And more expensive versions, too, which you know if you’ve ever cruised an American Girl store.)

As an indicator of Mattel’s popularity with kids, consider a report that came out last week saying more stores had run out of toys made by Mattel than those made by Hasbro or other competitors. One of the fast sellers this season is a Hot Wheels set with a track that sticks to the wall – again, an updated version of an old standard.

An article in Barron’s last week pointed out something else: Outgoing CEO Robert Eckert’s goal is to get 50 percent of the company’s revenue from overseas, where middle classes are rising and play patterns are similar. In the first nine months of the year, sales were up in the double digits in foreign lands while up only 7 percent in the United States.

It’s refreshing to see a traditional company succeed not by abandoning what it’s always done but by doing what it’s always done a little better and a little smarter.

• • •

Here’s the part I used to dislike about being a business news journalist: dealing with photographers.

Let me explain. I used to work at metro daily newspapers, and at many of them, the photojournalists work in a pool. A shooter might get assigned to cover a house fire in the afternoon and then a basketball game or maybe a showdown at a city council meeting in the evening. And they loved those assignments; they can try to capture motion and emotion, or freeze dramatic fury on film.

But the one assignment they didn’t want to get – the most loathsome, unwanted duty they could imagine – came from the business desk. That’s because the subject typically was some guy in a suit in an office who had developed an improved insurance underwriting process or some such. The photographers always asked: How am I expected to show that in a photo?

Most didn’t bother to try. They performed what we called drive-by shootings – they snapped a couple of hasty shots on their way to the sports event.

I said I used to dislike working with photographers. Now, I love dealing with the Business Journal’s chief photographer, Ringo H.W. Chiu. He strives to find something – color, angle, an unexpected juxtaposition – to make his subjects visually interesting. He creates art out of assignments many other news photographers would blow off.

For the photo essay in this issue, Chiu has selected some of his favorite work of 2011. There’s also a page of his shots not previously published.

I hope you take a minute not only to look at his photos but to appreciate them. Chiu is one of the best business news photographers in the country.

For all I know, the very best.

Charles Crumpley is editor of the Business Journal. He can be reached at ccrumpley@labusinessjournal.com.

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