ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Not playing around

Meet the Israeli-American Mattel CEO who made ‘Barbie’ a movie star

Ynon Kreiz, who got his start in LA working for Haim Saban, says he was tickled by Will Ferrell’s portrayal of him in the movie: ‘We don’t take ourselves too seriously’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz attends the world premiere of 'Barbie' at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on July 9, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images via AFP)
Mattel CEO Ynon Kreiz attends the world premiere of 'Barbie' at the Shrine Auditorium and Expo Hall on July 9, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Jon Kopaloff/Getty Images via AFP)

It’s Barbie’s world, and Ynon Kreiz is just living in it.

The Israeli-born CEO of Mattel — the toy giant enjoying a resurgence following the release of the wildly popular “Barbie” movie last month — steered the company’s path to the film, and is even represented in it, as portrayed by Will Ferrell.

Ferrell’s portrayal of a clueless and insensitive company chief, leading an all-male team of patriarchal capitalists, might have seemed like a dig at Kreiz — if he wasn’t at the top of the company that backed the entire endeavor.

“There are so many elements of humor and self-deprecation in the movie,” he told Variety last month. “And we embrace that. We take our brands very seriously. We take what we do very seriously. But we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”

Despite the depiction, Kreiz said the real Mattel board looks nothing like the fictional version.

“Of course, Mattel is a very diverse company,” he told the Unholy podcast last week. “Half of our independent directors are women — five out of 10. And of course, the way the board is depicted in the movie is part of the narrative of the movie — in real life Mattel is really leading the way in diversity and inclusivity.”

Haim Saban (left) and Ynon Kreiz at the annual Allen & Co. Media conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, July 6, 2010. (AP Photo/Nati Harnik)

Kreiz grew up in Ramat Gan and studied at Tel Aviv University before moving to Los Angeles to pursue an MBA at UCLA. While he was there, he met fellow Israeli business mogul Haim Saban, and the pair quickly struck up a friendship and business partnership. In the 1990s he established Fox Kids Europe in London on behalf of Saban, which was ultimately sold to Disney as part of a $2.9 billion deal.

After working for a few years as a venture capitalist, Kreiz joined TV production giant Endemol in 2008, and in 2013 became CEO and chairman of Maker Studios which produced video content for YouTube, racking up years of media experience.

“If you have a good idea you can make things happen,” he told Israeli business news outlet The Marker back in 2008, when he was the CEO of Endemol. “This is a field where if you succeed, you can succeed big time.”

While Kreiz never worked professionally in Israel, he said his background has always been a big part of his identity.

“I’m very proud of my Israeli background and heritage, very proud of who I am and where my family is from and the language we speak at home and everything that comes with it,” he told Unholy. “It’s hard to pinpoint and say what part of my background played or plays a role in what I do today, but clearly this is part of who I am.”

Ynon Kreiz, chairman and CEO, Mattel Inc., speaks during the Milken Institute Global Conference on October 19, 2021 in Beverly Hills, California. (Patrick T. FALLON / AFP)

He took over the reins at Mattel in 2018, when the company was struggling – reporting a loss of $1.1 billion the previous year. He became its fourth CEO in just four years, working to reshape the flagging company, which had taken a hit from both the Toys “R” Us bankruptcy and the loss of the key “Princess” line of dolls to rival Hasbro.

One of the first things he worked on after taking over was an attempt to leverage the company’s iconic toys into larger entertainment experiences – including in film.

“Among all the things that I saw as an opportunity, I took our portfolio of iconic franchises in children and family entertainment to be an incredible opportunity to extend the company outside of the toy aisle,” he said on a Fortune podcast last month. “And so the journey was going to be about how do you transform Mattel from being a toy manufacturing company that was making items to become an [intellectual property] company that is managing franchises.”

Kreiz appears to have made that plan a reality, as the film has so far raked in more than $1 billion at the box office, and Mattel turned in a surprise profit and had better sales than expected during 2023’s second quarter.

Decades after Barbie was created by second-generation Jewish immigrants, the doll appears to be making a comeback.

“Ruth [Handler] created something very special,” Kreiz told Unholy. “And the fact that we’re sitting here today 64 years after she invented Barbie speaks for itself.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

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