Former President and CEO / Kraft Foods
High risk, high reward
Bob Eckert '77 employed business basics to pull Mattel from the brink
Never skip the on-campus interviews. Bob Eckert didn't, when Kraft Foods came to Evanston, and it landed him his first job out of Kellogg with the then-Chicago-based company - a first step that launched Eckert toward a highly successful executive career.
In 1977 Eckert took an entry-level marketing research position at Kraft. Twenty years later, he became president and CEO of the food industry leader. Trading food for toys, he relocated from the Midwest to the West Coast in 2000 to head Mattel as chairman and chief executive.
"Had it not been for Northwestern, I wouldn't have been hired at Kraft and, had it not been for my experience there, I would not have ended up at Mattel," said Eckert, who retired in 2011 and joined private equity firm Friedman Fleischer & Lowe last year. "Attending Kellogg was one of the most significant decisions of my entire career."
When Eckert landed at Mattel, the company was in dire financial straits. The costly failure of a major acquisition - an educational software company - had the firm in the red. "Joining Mattel was a turnaround opportunity," he said. "It was definitely a high-risk, high-return career move for me, especially since I didn't know the toy industry."
But Eckert knew the consumer goods business from his days at Kraft and he set out to refocus Mattel on its core products. Under his watch, the company outperformed its competition and generated more than $8.2 billion in cash flow.
Eckert credits Kellogg with teaching him succinct communication skills. He employed one-word themes - from "Refocus" during his first year on the job to "Lead" - to motivate Mattel's global workforce and shareholders.
"Simplicity makes concepts more memorable," he said.