Adrienne Fontanella Title:

President, Girls Division and Pleasant Co.


Mattel Inc.


Philadelphia, 1959


B.A. in international relations, Lafayette College

Career Turning Point:

Starting her own company, January Productions. Through that experience, she realized that a person really is in control of their destiny, and must reach as far as possible.


Mountain climbing, tennis, collecting art and antiques

Most Admired Person:

Helen Keller, for her incredible strength in overcoming obstacles


Married, one child

After commuting between coasts for three years while running Mattel's Barbie operations, Adrienne Fontanella has settled in as head of the company's girls' division and as an Angeleno

Adrienne Fontanella, head of Mattel's girls division, is sometimes referred to as "Barbie's mom." But in reality the two are the same age.

Fontanella was born in 1959, the same year that Barbie, the toy that has been Mattel's main profit engine for four decades, was introduced to girls around the world.

A little more than two years ago, former Mattel chief executive Jill Barad named Fontanella president of Mattel's girls division, overseeing not only the $1.8 billion world of Barbie, but a slew of other toys, such as American Girl dolls, that belong to Mattel's Pleasant Co. unit.

After taking over the girls' division, Fontanella gave Barbie a major makeover, slimming her ample bust to a more athletic figure and toning down the make-up.

Fontanella, who started out as an investment banker and then moved on to the cosmetics and fragrance industry, showed up on Mattel's radar screen when she started her own fragrance company called January Productions. She oversaw the launch of a new fragrance called Amphibia, which marketed the product using Kermit the Frog in a parody of a Calvin Klein fragrance commercial. The tag line was "Pour homme, femme et frog."

When Fontanella joined Mattel in 1996 as vice president of Worldwide Barbie, she commuted between the East and West coasts, spending two weeks in New York City and two weeks in Los Angeles. She did that for three years. But when she was named president of the girls division in 1999, she and her husband bought a house in Marina del Rey and kept their apartment in New York's Upper East Side.

Fontanella works on the 15th floor of the massive Mattel headquarters in El Segundo. Her large office is filled with an array of Barbie dolls arranged in bright packages that sit on the windowsills. The most prized doll of all, however, is a reproduction of Fontanella in her wedding dress, with a picture of her bridesmaids situated behind it.


Did you play with Barbie dolls when you were young?

Answer: Oh my God, yes. That is the irony of this. I started out as an investment banker and then spent most of my career in cosmetics and fragrances more than in the fashion end. But when I do think back, my mother sewed all my clothes for Barbie by hand. And I still to this day have them all. They are packaged in our attic in a completely meticulous way. I was a child who played for weeks and hours on end by myself, creating worlds around Barbie. And I think it was instrumental in my development in terms of imagination and thinking. I had no desire to live on the West Coast or work for a toy company. I think that just my endearment toward the doll really compelled me to talk to Mattel.

Q: What was it like when Jill Barad left and there was that interim period of looking for a new CEO?

A: I must say that was one of the most exciting periods of my life. It was, of course, a very stressful period because there were a number of executives who left, in addition to Jill. But I think the three divisional presidents really saw a huge opportunity for the company and felt empowered to turn the company around. And the board was very positive in terms of letting us do our thing and run the company. I don't think anyone could be put into a better situation. We delivered a great year last year. I think it will be the highlight of my career.

Q: Is Bob Eckert a tough


A: What is really terrific about Bob, particularly in terms of what he brings to the organization, is a tremendous discipline and focus in terms of the core business and improving execution, efficiencies, globalizing and expanding. But the discipline in particular I think is his experience. His having been at Kraft and being in a culture that is very different than our culture, I think it has served us very well.

Q: There has been more emphasis placed on Barbie as the sales growth engine for Mattel since Eckert took over. Does that put more pressure on you?

A: I think that there is so much opportunity. I think it is not a matter of pressure. We as a management group have felt there is so much opportunity in the girls division with both Barbie and Pleasant Co. and small dolls and large dolls. The sky's the limit.

Q: What were the challenges of running the girls' division when you took over?

A: When I took over, Barbie was coming out of a tough year. I feel we kind of missed a beat in terms of where girls were going and what was relevant to girls. In addition, I think the girls' division was very much Barbie. At the time, American Girl existed, but it wasn't part of the girls' division, it was a separate company. And we had not developed a lot of lines which we have developed since, such as Diva Starz and Polly Pocket, which is on a tremendous rise. With Diva Starz and Polly Pocket, we increased our market share by 26 points in the first quarter, which is pretty amazing. Certainly the charge to revitalize Barbie was a great opportunity and a great challenge. In a brand that is 42 years old and is almost $2 billion in (annual) sales, it's not an easy task.

Q: What prompted that change? Were girls not buying Barbie?

A: I think it was more an internal perspective in terms of the new management group saying, "We are going to do whatever it takes to bring Barbie back to center stage." And the marketing was one piece of that. The packaging itself was a solid pink, and we added orange and purple and light pink. That was certainly a big effort. We changed Barbie's face so that her face paint was more natural looking. We also changed the dimensions of her body to be more athletic, which I think was received very well.

Q: Any other changes in the future for Barbie?

A: The challenge is always to keep the sparkle there. I think the most significant change is (the computer animation feature) "Barbie and the Nutcracker," which is our first foray into entertainment. That will be launched this fall with a videotape. But we really have taken an approach to address with both moms and girls what Barbie can really offer, promoting children in the arts. We have partnered with the New York City Ballet, and the London Philharmonic has done the music for the videotape to bring up the level of credibility. We have a lot of ideas to pursue in the future.

Q: Has the age group that Barbie appeals to changed over the years?

A: I think that certainly, if I look at 40 years ago, the world was so different. There is no question that a 3-year-old then was very different than a 3-year-old today. There is no question that the age of technology and education and just experience has changed the lives of children. I would say 40 years ago, I don't think children were exposed to many things at an early age. Has it significantly changed? I don't think so. Has it gotten younger? I don't think so, necessarily. But I do believe that there is more attention to the fact that there is a 3-to-5-year-old age group for dolls, a 6-to-7-year-old and an 8-to-10-year-old. And they are very different people.

Q: Where does Barbie sell best, in the U.S. or overseas?

A: In recent years, we did not have the success we have had over the past two years internationally. And a lot of that I believe was a lack of focus in terms of us being structured differently. We had a separate international group. And now the business units manage their own international sales. Now we look on a worldwide basis at the product offering and the product line. Everything is global, from marketing research to packaging. Our market share in the United States is 91 or 92 percent, and 89 percent in Europe. The idea is to retain that market share and move forward to places like Poland or China, or areas of Latin America. I think that is an opportunity.

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