Mattel Inc. is the world's largest toy importing company based on revenue. The products it imports, mostly from China, include Barbie dolls, Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars, American Girl dolls, board games, and, in the early 1980s, video game consoles. It was founded in 1945 by Harold "Matt" Matson and Elliot Handler (hence the name "matt-el"). Handler's wife, Ruth Handler, later became president, and is credited with establishing the Barbie product line for the company in 1959. Today the Barbie line is responsible for more than 80% of Mattel's profits. Mattel closed its last American factory, originally part of the Fisher-Price division, in 2002.
Following the high-profile recalls of 2007, Mattel appointed Geoff Massingberd as Vice President of Corporate Responsibility, to lead development and implementation of programs business integrity.
In third quarter of 1999, Mattel expected The Learning Company to post $50 million in profits but in reality it posted losses of $105 million, depite this CEO Jill Barad continued optimistic. Things got worse on the fourth quarter, as The Learning Company's pre-tax losses reached $183 million. For the year The Learning Company's pre-taxes losses were $206 million, on revenues of $750 million. The Learning Company's losses depressed Mattel's 1999 result, Mattel posted a $82 million net loss compared to a $206 million net income in 1998. Mattel also warned that it would take a revamping charge of $75 million to $100 million in the first quarter of 2000 because of The Learning Company.
By 2000, Mattel was losing $1.5 million a day with The Learning Company, and Mattel's stock price (which reached a high of $45 in March 1998) traded at $11 in February 2000. Under pressure on February 3rd Mattel's CEO Jill Barad resigned but received a $50 million severance package. In April Mattel announced that it was selling The Learning Company, analysts predicted that The Learning Company could be sold for $400 million, then for $200 million. In the end, in October, The Learning Company was sold to Gores Technology for nothing other than a percentage of The Learning Company's future profits. In addition Mattel fired 10% of its workforce to further cut costs. As a result of this restructuring Mattel posted a net loss of $430 million for the year 2000.
In worst cases, Mattel toys' lead in paint was found to be 180 times the limit. The paint on the toys was up to 11% lead, or 110,000 parts per million. U.S. Federal law allows just 0.06% lead, or 600 parts per million. Children who suck on or ingest toys or jewelry with high lead content may be poisoned, which can lead to learning and behavior problems, even death in some cases.
On August 14 2007, Mattel recalled over 18 million products because it was possible that they could pose a danger to children due to the use of strong magnets that may detach. Strong small magnets could be dangerous to the children if two or more were ingested, attracting each other in the intestines and causing damage. Some instances were reported. A child swallowed a Polly Pocket toy magnet and had to undergo a surgery. The products were manufactured in China. At the time of the recall, none of the American or European safety legislation and standards addressed the specific hazard of strong magnets. Some of the products had been available in U.S. stores since 2003, during which time Mattel did not consider them harmful enough to warrant a recall. After incidents with similar magnetic toy parts being swallowed, causing perforation of the intestines, Mattel re-wrote its policy on magnets, finally issuing this recall in August 2007.
Recalled items included die-cast Cars character, Sarge, made between May and July 2007, found to have been manufactured using paint containing higher than acceptable levels of lead (436,000 recalled globally), 7.1 million Polly Pocket toys produced before November 2006; 600,000 Barbie and Tanner Playsets; 1 million Doggie Daycare; Shonen Jump's One Piece; and thousands of Batman Manga toys due to exposed magnets. 18.2 million items were recalled in total.
Zhang Shuhong, co-owner of the Lee Der Toy Company, which had made a number of toys for Mattel, committed suicide by hanging himself at one of his company's factories in Foshan on August 11, 2007, according to authorities. In the factory's loading bay, the BBC's Quentin Somerville found boxes of toys made for Mattel and Fisher-Price going nowhere. The Lee Der business was closing for good.
On September 4, 2007, Mattel recalled a further 530,000 affected toys in the United States — and 318,000 outside the United States — after its intensive testing found that the Chinese-made products contained levels of lead in painted parts that were above the acceptable limit set by the company. This third recall in a month included accessories for Barbie dolls and Fisher-Price toys.
Among others, Fortune magazine rated the recall of Mattel's products (and other problems with Chinese goods) as one of the 'Dumbest Moment' in business for 2007
On September 21, 2007, Mattel’s Executive Vice-President for worldwide operations, Thomas Debrowski, traveled to Beijing. In a meeting with China’s product safety chief, Li Chanjiang, Debrowski took full responsibility for the magnet recalls and said that, “vast majority of those products that were recalled were the result of a design flaw in Mattel’s design, not through a manufacturing flaw in China’s manufacturers.” Reading a prepared text, he continued, “Mattel takes full responsibility for these recalls and apologises personally to you, the Chinese people, and all of your customers who received the toys.”
In addition, Mattel distributed Nintendo's products in Canada from 1986 to 1990.
In 2008 Mattel was honored at the 59th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards for pioneering the development of handheld video games with its Mattel Electronics sports titles Football and Auto Race, both published in the late 1970s.