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“We are a brand business,” Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari SA, said at the 2011 Turnaround Management Conference. “Own the customer and build the brand.”

“We are a brand business,” Jim Wilson, CEO of Atari SA, said at the 2011 Turnaround Management Conference. “Own the customer and build the brand.”

2011 Turnaround Management Conference

Atari SA CEO Jim Wilson talks about making an old brand new again

By Kristina Cowan

5/19/2011 - When Jim Wilson, chief executive officer of Atari SA, shares with people what he does for a living, he often hears, “Atari, I love Atari. Are they still around?”

This reaction reveals that the public is familiar with the brand, but unaware of what the company is doing, Wilson said at Kellogg’s 2011 Turnaround Management Conference.

Wilson was the afternoon keynote speaker at the May 6 conference, held at the University Club of Chicago. Wilson said he wanted to work for Atari because he saw a great opportunity in building the company’s brand awareness.

“Our strongest asset is our brand. People love Atari, and that was a big attraction for me,” he explained.

After joining Atari in 2008 as CEO and president of the U.S. subsidiary, Wilson led the turnaround of the U.S. business, taking the company private through a merger with its parent company (now Atari SA), and transitioning the business model from distribution to publishing and licensing. He later rebuilt commercial activities in Europe after the sale of the European retail distribution division. He also re-launched a worldwide publishing plan around Atari's proven franchises and made a strategic shift toward digital, online and mobile businesses. In December 2010, Wilson was named CEO of Atari SA, where he oversees all strategic, operational and day-to-day activities.

A focus on cash management, internal controls, compliance and employees was pivotal to restructuring Atari, Wilson said. Because the company had been failing for years, low morale and confusion were rampant in the culture. So it was critical to secure key talent and communicate a vision to all employees, he added.

Four years ago, Atari was a large retail-distribution company, Wilson said. But after dramatically scaling down the company to reduce or eliminate debt, Atari’s focus is now on its intellectual properties — which makes the company “well-positioned to move forward.”

Today, Atari is active in the mobile, social, console and PC, brand development and licensing arenas. “College students think we are really cool, and parents like to wear our T-shirts because they grew up with us,” Wilson said. “We are a brand business — own the customer and build the brand.”

Delivering the morning keynote at the Turnaround Management Conference was William C. Foote, executive chairman of USG Corporation and chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Conference panel topics focused on turnarounds in the public sector, issues in distressed private equity and lending in today’s workout environment.