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A Toy Story That’s Still Being Written

At Mattel, Geoff Walker helps build brands and chart strategic direction

Geoffrey "Geoff" Walker
Executive Vice President & Chief Strategic Technology Officer, Mattel, Inc.

Vanderbilt MBA 1994

As a young marketing executive at Mattel, Geoff Walker found himself heading cross-functional brand teams with senior-level representatives of design, engineering and packaging, among others.

“You don’t have direct authority, but you have the responsibility to drive the business,” he says. “How well you do that defines how successful you’ll be. I was able to develop unique management skills while at Owen; much of your success there is based on how well you work with teams, since the case work and projects are mostly team-based.”

That was just one of the ways Vanderbilt helped prepare Geoff for a career track that has him leading strategy and development for Mattel in emerging markets around the world. The turning point in his career was an international assignment. Following success in turning around the Hot Wheels brand, Geoff received a major new challenge and moved to Europe.

“Even though it was considered a lateral move, going there was the best decision,” he says. “The role really stretched me. I dealt with the nuts and bolts of running a business from core, developed markets like the U.K. to opening Russia and growing emerging markets in Eastern Europe. It got me out of my comfortable marketing zone. Ultimately, it taught me a lot about owning who I am as a leader.”

The task was as challenging as anything Geoff had undertaken, but it suited his personality. “I’m aggressive,” he says. “I make bets, and while I don’t mind failing, I love to develop a culture of winning with people who will also take risks. Some people want to work on the brands that are growing. I want to be on the turnaround brands. They are a lot more rewarding and fun.”

Geoff returned from Europe to lead a turnaround for Mattel’s Fisher-Price brand. He set in motion three key strategies for the company: designing more innovative products; making the Fisher-Price brand more meaningful to the millennial mom; and globalizing the brand. “About 65 percent of the company’s sales now come from the U.S.,” he says, “but the majority of growth is going to be fueled outside the U.S.”

In early 2016, Geoff took on another challenge: leading enterprise organization spearheading disruption for Mattel that leverages technology, data and new business models in emerging markets, and repositioning the company around learning and development.

Geoff cites the business basics he learned at Vanderbilt as an asset he has applied throughout his career. “You have to deal with a wide variety of situations when running a business,” he says. “As you encounter complex problems that require clear or creative thinking, you’ll find yourself drawing from the strong foundation you acquired through the coursework and classmate interaction at Owen.”

His advice? “Seek as many experiences as you can.”

“While I don’t mind failing, I love to develop a culture of winning with people who will also take risks.”