2015 Nominees

Voting for the slate of candidates for induction into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame in February 2015 is now underway. The ballot period will extend from Tuesday, August 5 – Friday, September 12, 2014.

CANDIDATES FOR INDUCTION

Nominee

Title

Professional Affiliation

Thomas Chan

Chairman & CEO

Playmates Toys Inc.

Maxine Clark

Founder

Build-A-Bear Workshop

Pat Feely

Chairman

Toy Industry Foundation, and Retired CEO of Radica Games Ltd.

George Irwin

CEO

Itoys USA Ltd.
Jonathan Levy
CEO

Mastermind Toys  


CANDIDATES FOR POSTHUMOUS INDUCTION

Nominee

Title

Professional Affiliation

James Becker

Founder, Past President

Anjar Co.

Leslie Berger

Founder

Cardinal Industries, Inc.

Ray Larsen

Founder

RLA Marketing – Formerly Ray Larsen Associates

Sydney Rosen

Former Owner of Rose Art

CRA-Z-ART (A Division of La Rose Industries, LLC)


Biographies

Thomas Chan

Thomas Chan, Chairman & CEO, Playmates Toys Inc.

Thomas Chan, along with his father, founded Playmates Toys in 1966. In 1970, he became responsible for sales and was instrumental in developing the group's global sales and marketing network. Since 1979, he has been actively involved in all aspects of Playmates Toys operations. His decision to take on the promotional toy business in 1985 led to the evolution of Playmates Toys from a manufacturing entity into a pure toy development and marketing group. Playmates Toys' high level of productivity is attributable to his guiding management principles of creativity, flexibility and simplicity. Chan was appointed Chairman in 1997. Playmates Toys has become the most successful toy company operating out of Hong Kong/China. 

Chan was instrumental in launching one of the biggest phenomenon in the history of the toy industry — the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT), which this year, 2014, celebrates its 30th anniversary. Playmates Toys funded the production of the original TMNT TV Mini-Series, which lead to the single biggest year of sales (1990) ever achieved by an action figure line. Playmates Toys, along with licensor Nickelodeon, developed a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle toy line that ranks #1 in the male action category, according to NPD, and has done so for the past two years. Over the past 25 years, Chan has led Playmates and the toy industry to many brand successes, including multiple iterations of TMNT, Star Trek, Simpsons and Space Jam action figures, Cricket/the Amazing interactive doll line, Waterbabies and Baby So Beautiful dolls, Nano & Reel Fishing electronics, and many more.

Chan’s focus on delivering incredible value and play has had a true long-term positive impact on the toy industry.

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Maxine Clark

Maxine Clark, Founder, Build-A-Bear Workshop

Maxine Clark is one of the true innovators in the retail industry. During her career, her ability to spot emerging retail and merchandising trends and her insight into the desires of the American consumer have generated growth for retail leaders, including department, discount and specialty stores. In 1997, she founded Build-A-Bear Workshop®, a teddy-bear themed retail-entertainment experience. Today there are more than 400 Build-A-Bear Workshop stores worldwide, including company-owned stores in the U.S., Puerto Rico, Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland, and franchise stores in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, Mexico, the Middle East and South America. The company extends its in-store interactive experience online with its award winning virtual world at bearville.com™.

In 2008, Clark was named one of The 25 Most Influential People in Retailing by Chain Store Age; in 2006, she was inducted into the Junior Achievement National Business Hall of Fame. She was named a Customer-Centered Leader in the 2005 Customer First Awards by Fast Company. Maxine was named one of the Wonder Women of Toys by Playthings magazine and Women in Toys, and was also one of the national finalists in retail for the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year 2004. In 2005, the National Association of Small Business Investment Companies made Build-A-Bear Workshop the Portfolio Company of the Year; it was named one of the International Council of Shopping Centers’ Hottest Retailers of 2004 and the Retail Innovator of the Year for 2001 by The National Retail Federation. In 2013, Build-A-Bear Workshop was named to the FORTUNE Best Companies to Work For® list for the fifth year in a row.

In addition to her seat on the Build-A-Bear Workshop Board, Clark is a member of the Board of Directors of Footlocker, Inc. and is a former member of the Board of Directors of The J.C. Penney Company, Inc. Clark serves on the national Board of Trustees of Teach For America and the St. Louis regional Board, the National Board of Donorschoose.org and the KETC Channel 9 – PBS Board of Directors. She and her husband Bob Fox are founding donors of the KIPP Inspire Academy and Clark is chair of the Charter School Advisory Board of Trustees. She serves on the Board of Trustees of Washington University in St. Louis. She is also a member of the Committee of 200. Clark is a graduate of the University of Georgia and holds an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Saint Louis University. In 2006, she published her first book, “The Bear Necessities of Business: Building a Company with Heart.”

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Pat Feely

Pat Feely, Chairman, Toy Industry Foundation, and Retired CEO of Radica Games Ltd.

During his 37 years in the toy and game business, Pat Feely has been one of the toy industry’s most dedicated volunteer leaders and successful businessmen. He led the creation and growth of the Toy Industry Foundation (TIF) as chairman for eight years. As a business leader, he engineered the turnaround and expansion of two leading companies in the toy industry – Tonka and Radica Games.

Feely has been a passionate member of the TIF Board of Trustees since its founding in 2000, serving as chairman from 2000 to 2004, and again from 2010 through the end of 2014. During his eight years as TIF chairman he has overseen the creation and growth of the Foundation, which has donated over $100 million worth of toys to children in need and encouraged goodwill toward the industry. Last year alone, TIF provided over $18 million in toys to sick, military, foster and underserved children. Feely has also been an intrepid fundraiser for the Foundation, having served as a yearly member — and, several times, chairman — of the Fundraising Committee.

Feely’s service to the industry also has included two years as chairman of TIA and six years as an advisor to the TIA Board of Directors. As TIA chairman he was involved in the formation of the TOTY Awards as well as the ICTI Code, and demonstrated leadership by guiding his factory at Radica in China to become one of the first ICTI-certified factories. Feely also worked to diversify the TIA Board to include a wider spectrum of smaller TIA members so all voices could be heard.

An industry executive for many years, Feely led the turnaround of two troubled publicly traded toy companies – Tonka and Radica. During his nine-year tenure as President and CEO of Radica, the company tripled in size to become #2 in the electronic games category and a diversified innovation leader in toy technology, before being sold to Mattel in 2006. Under his leadership and passion for technology, Radica pioneered force feedback (Bass Fishin’); spoken voice recognition (Girl Tech Password Journal); plug and play TV games (PlayTV); and artificial intelligence with TOTY winner 20Q.

As toy division president at Tonka, Feely and his team quadrupled Tonka’s size to #6 in the industry in 1986 (prior to the acquisition of Kenner-Parker) by diversifying the company through the launch of Gobots, Pound Puppies and Sega’s Video Game System. While at Tonka, Feely led the rebirth of a dying iconic truck product line, taking market share from 18% back to a dominant leadership position of over 40% through creative marketing, retail promotion and product innovation.

Retired since 2007, Feely has continued to serve the toy industry through his involvement in TIF and as a consultant and board member for several toy industry companies. He mentors start-ups as a member of the Pasadena Angels, and has served on the boards of Sprig Toys and Playrific.

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George Irwin

George Irwin, CEO, Itoys USA Ltd.

George Irwin, Chairman, Chief Executive Officer and “Toycoon” of Itoys USA, is a 42-year veteran of the toy industry, having grown up in the business his grandparents founded in 1926. For most of his professional career, Irwin has helped drive the family business. He joined the Toronto–based company in 1972 as Sr. Product Manager of what was then known as Irwin Toy Limited. In 1983, Irwin was named Vice President of Marketing, Product Development & Orient Sourcing.

Irwin became President and CEO of Irwin Toy in 1990 and immediately began expanding the company’s international presence. He established subsidiary companies in the U.S. (1990), Hong Kong (1991) and Australia (1998). Under his leadership, the Irwin USA subsidiary saw sales climb to more than $70 million. A highlight of that venture was the acquisition of the hugely successful Dragon Ball Z license.

After the family sold the business in 2001, Irwin moved to the USA and became President and COO of GC Toys. He managed all day-to-day business, including operations, product development, sales, markets and manufacturing.

Determined to reignite the Irwin Toy legacy, in 2003 Irwin re-purchased the former Irwin Toy business from its 2001 buyers and renamed the operation Itoys USA Ltd. Designed for a new generation, the company is dedicated to developing innovative concepts in preschool, crafts & activities, dolls, and TV game show games.

Irwin has been associated with numerous toy products throughout the years, including the development and original licensing of: Jenga, Pound Puppies, Oopsie Daisy, Power Rangers, Dragon Ball Z, Sailor Moon, I-Top, Deal or No Deal, and Skwooshi. He has also served on numerous boards for foundations dedicated to protecting children and adolescences, and other organizations, including the Alliance for Children and Television; the Canadian Advertising Foundation; the Canadian Institute of Child Abuse; Portage; the Concerned Children’s Advertisers; the Canadian Toy Association; the ICTI Care Foundation; the Toy Industry Association; the Toy Industry Roundtable; the Technical Standards Safety Authority; Ridley College; and the Canadian Imperial Bank of Canada Trust Company.

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Jonathan Levy

Jonathan Levy, CEO, Mastermind Toys

Jon Levy understands the way kids play!

With over 30 years of hands-on experience in the toy business, Toronto-native Jon Levy is Chief Merchant, Co-Founder and CEO of Mastermind Toys.

Mastermind Toys is Canada’s largest, privately-owned specialty toy retailer with 31 locations in Southern, Southwestern and Eastern, ON; Calgary, AB; and Langley, BC. As the company visionary, Mr. Levy is responsible for providing overall strategic direction and driving key initiatives throughout the organization while positioning the company for future growth.

In his role as Chief Merchant, Mr. Levy heads up the company’s toy-buying team, travelling globally to source the newest, most innovative toy lines and products, often negotiating first-to market and exclusive opportunities on new product launches. Mr. Levy’s enthusiastic and creative approach to product selection is apparent in the distinct collection of 10,000+ items that Mastermind carries.

The brainchild of two brothers, Jon and Andy Levy, Mastermind was started in 1984 in a 300 sq. ft. location in North Toronto, offering educational computer games to parents in the burgeoning home PC marketplace.

Over the next 26 years, the Levy brothers evolved their retail concept and the business was transformed. Mastermind expanded into new markets and opened new stores; launched a successful website mastermindtoys.com, pioneered complimentary gift-wrapping in-stores and online; expanded inventory with unparalleled product lines, while remaining true to their roots: to offer shoppers a classic toy store experience. Mastermind became the ultimate toy shopping destination: the perfect place to find the right toy or book for any occasion.

In 2010, the Levy Brothers negotiated a deal with an equity investor, paving the way for an aggressive national growth strategy. Over the last three years, the Canadian specialty toy retailer has been on a dynamic expansion program adding 20 stores as of August 2014. Later this year, in time for the holiday shopping season, Mastermind’s store count will total 37. Mastermind Toys currently operates in three provinces and six major Canadian cities.

This year, Mastermind is celebrating its 30th anniversary in business. The company will continue its aggressive retail growth strategy with plans to open multiple stores in new locations across the country.

With over three decades of expertise in the specialty toy market, Mr. Levy is well-known as a thought leader in the toy industry and appears regularly in print and broadcast media offering commentary on a variety of toy and retail topics.

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James Becker

James Becker, Founder, Past President, Anjar Co.

James R. Becker (1921-2011). For over 55 years, Jim Becker devoted his career to developing and licensing products in the Toy Industry. He helped create global licensing as we know it today. By creating Gumby and Pokey merchandise from a TV Show in the early 1960’s, he helped spawn the $185 billion Licensing Industry. He recognized and created many trends, and developed classics like Gumby & Pokey and Barrel of Monkeys (both listed in Time Magazine’s ‘ALL-TIME 100 GREATEST TOYS’), Disappearing Magic Baby Bottle, Othello, Grabbin’ Dragons, Nerf Ping Pong, Battle Dome, Betsy McCall Fashion Designer Set, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Flying Saucers, Shirt Pocket Games and Puzzles, Baby Get Well, and over 500 other licenses, many of which have become familiar household names. Before Jim, no one licensed toys from other countries in the U.S. or adapted U.S. made toys to appeal and sell in foreign markets, including the most difficult of all to penetrate, Japan.

When Othello® was first created, the goal was to create a game that was rich in strategy like ‘Go’, but still approachable by the casual player. Becker coined the tagline, 'A Minute to Learn...A Lifetime to Master'®. In 1975, Anjar Co., the international licensing company Becker founded, licensed Othello to Gabriel Industries for the U.S. market and, subsequently, throughout the world. Since 1975, more than 40 million classic Othello games have been sold in over 100 different countries, making Othello the most successfully licensed strategy game in history. In 1977, Jim organized the first World Othello Championship, bringing together the world's top Othello players. In 2011, the 35th consecutive Othello Championship was held in the New York area. No other game can boast 37 consecutive world championships. Othello has received numerous awards, including Playthings Magazine’s ‘Top 100 Classic Toys and Games of the 20th Century'. His best selling action game Battle Dome was the winner of the Duracell Game of the Year. In 2005, Jim was the recipient of the prestigious International Designers & Inventors of Toys Award and, in 2011, he was the recipient of the Tagie Award (In Memoriam) in recognition of his lifetime achievements.

Jim was EVP of Lakeside Toys (1963-69), and served on the Board of Directors of the TIA (‘TMA’) during this time. He was an active supporter of the TIA throughout his career, and was an active participant at the TMA Spring Conferences for over 25 consecutive years. His reputation for integrity and expertise, as well as his charisma and sense of humor, earned him the respect and admiration of his peers and the hundreds of companies and individuals he represented.

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Leslie Berger

Leslie Berger, Founder, Cardinal Industries, Inc

Born in Hungary in 1919, Leslie Berger lived in his native country until the outset of World War II, at which time his parents sent him to the United States to escape Nazi oppression and achieve the “American Dream.” He arrived in New York City at the age of 19 with just $7 in his pocket and lived in a walk-up apartment with several other Hungarian immigrants. Shortly after his move, Berger’s entire family was killed in the Holocaust.

Within five years of his arrival, Berger founded Cardinal Industries in a small Brooklyn loft. The company’s first games, created with a single drill press, included mah-jongg sets, dominoes, poker chip racks and hula-hoops. Berger had a hands-on role in all aspects of the growing business, including manufacturing, sales and deliveries. Always on the forefront, he was licensing before it was fashionable, securing the license to General Hospital from ABC in the early 80’s. At that time he also realized that Asia was increasingly important to the toy industry and became involved with factories there, while always maintaining a U.S. factory.  

In 1963, Cardinal Industries became a member of Toy Manufacturers of America (TMA), now called the Toy Industry Association. Berger was actively involved in the Association leadership, serving on the TMA board for many years.

Berger was one of a small group of people that helped create the modern-day toy industry. He has been called a pioneer and a toy industry icon. The toy industry welcomes innovators and entrepreneurs and he came to this country focused on being both in an industry that he loved.

Today, Cardinal Industries is one of the oldest privately owned toy businesses in the U.S. Under the direction of Berger’s son and daughter, Joel and Bonnie, and his grandson, Justin, the third-generation company globally distributes a wide array of classic and licensed board games and puzzles, working with Disney, Hasbro, Mattel, Nickelodeon, Sanrio, NBC, Warner Brothers, Sesame Street and many others. TIA recognized Cardinal Industries’ 70th anniversary at the 2014 Toy of the Year (TOTY) Awards this past February.

Berger died on March 6, 2014 at the age of 95.

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Ray Larsen

Ray Larsen, Founder, RLA Marketing – Formerly Ray Larsen Associates

A New Yorker through and through and a Hell’s Kitchen graduate, Ray Larsen was a pioneer in the toy industry. He got his start as a 19-year-old, and in 1958 took over Arthur Pisner’s business, which he renamed Ray Larsen Associates. He remained active in managing the business for over 40 years and was involved until his untimely death this past December. He was an anchor tenant in the 200 Fifth Avenue Toy Building, and as the last exiting tenant he locked the doors to 5th Avenue when it closed in 2005.

Larsen grew the business through perseverance, tenacity, strong salesmanship and personal relationships, and became the nation’s leading sales agency in the toy industry. He became good friends with and was respected by industry titans, be it retailers or manufacturers. In his expansive 5th Avenue showroom, the largest independently owned showroom within the building, he hosted top-level meetings for executives from retailers like Toys R Us, Childworld, Woolworth, Lionel Leisure and Zayre, and manufacturers as diverse as Hasbro, Mattel, Vtech, Intex and Jakks. He personally escorted groups through, painstakingly pointing out subtle advantages of his products along with enhanced profitability for retailers. During these meetings, oftentimes he broke off, explaining to Wal-Mart, TG&Y, Kmart or Sears that his showroom was being used by another retailer and that they needed to come back another time. He did it in such a way that they always did, because every buyer needed and wanted to see what Ray Larsen and Associates was introducing that year. Larsen had a knack for finding the hot toy, whether it was Tonka, Uno, Breyer, AVIVA Sports, Panosh, Cranium, Dynacraft, Vtech or PlayAlong – everyone wanted to see what Ray Larsen’s team was selling.

Larsen was an innovator. He introduced in the mid 1960’s an independent in-store service organization, which was the first of its kind. It was a separate company that he formed and managed in order to supplement retail store personnel, because he was not happy with the way his represented product offerings were presented on shelf. The company re-introduced that concept in the mid 90’s and deployed teams to service its lines in multiple retailers, well before each retailer defined a designated group that could only focus on their stores. Larsen was instrumental in guiding manufacturers in packaging and on-shelf presentation. Today, store servicing has become an industry in and of itself.

Larsen was gracious, well-mannered and an entertaining professional in his approach – and was a strong, persistent negotiator whose high personal ethics and integrity were never compromised. He played a critical role in the establishment of the Toy Industry Association, brokering multiple meetings in his office.

Larsen didn’t only succeed in the toy business. He captured four Broadway Tony Awards for Best Producer and was a runner-up for two others. His reach was far and wide: he was a founding board member of Lincoln Center, President of 1 Beekman Place, a friend to real estate developers Harry Helmsley and Peter Malkin, and was often seen dining and relaxing with Mayor Lindsay and Governor Pataki in his favorite restaurant, The Four Seasons. Larsen was truly a Renaissance Man.

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Sydney Rosen

Sydney Rosen, Former Owner of Rose Art, CRA-Z-ART (A Division of La Rose Industries, LLC)

Sydney Rosen was an outstanding toy veteran with over 65 years of service to the toy industry designing educational arts, crafts and coloring sets. Rosen’s developments were always centered around creativity and offering big value to consumers.

He started as young boy working next to his dad to create games and jigsaw puzzles. His first major break was the creation of the Popeye Pipe Toss set, which featured a real corn husker pipe and rings for children to accumulate points. This product retailed for 10 cents and sold over 1 million pieces in the 1930s.

Rosen’s huge successes included Indian Breads, Sun Pictures, Knit- A - Bit sets, embroidery for young girls, and Pick Up Stix. In later years he became the largest supplier of chalkboards and slate sets and blackboard erasers. RoseArt became the world’s largest manufacturer of arts and crafts and the second largest manufacturer of crayons in the world. At its peak, Rose Art had 4,500 employees worldwide, and its products were being distributed in over 100 countries.

Rosen received an award given to him by the Toy Manufacturing Association in 2002. He was a very philanthropic individual who helped many children's charities, and was adored by his employees, who he truly considered part of his family.

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