Thank you for sharing your story with us and our readers.
1. Please tell us a little about your career path and how you ended up in the toy industry?
I’d worked in many different industries before finding the toy industry – my tribe. A friend was working at Western Publishing (later purchased by Hasbro). He would share stories about toy and game inventors and their inventions, and I thought I want to do that. Then I fell in love with everything about the toy industry – the people, the products, the stories. I continued in my day job in real estate while inventing toys and games as my side hustle and attending all the Fairs. More than 10 years passed before I could leave real estate behind and work in our industry full time.
2. How does it feel to be honored in the Toy Industry Hall of Fame?
It is beyond humbling. I still can’t believe it happened… and it would not have without Nancy Zwiers and Gene Murtha championing and rallying the community to support my nomination. They are amazing prominent leaders in our industry who work tirelessly in our industry and beyond to make the world a better place.
3. Did you have a mentor growing up? And what role did that person play in your life and your career?
My first mentor was my mom. She was a tinkerer and loved to make toys, doll houses, barns and more for her children and grandchildren. We didn’t have a lot growing up with six kids, but she made sure we received top educations and most of us even have master’s degrees. After raising us, she went back and earned her college degree in her 60’s because she believed in the importance of education and that no one could ever take that away from you. She supported all of our endeavors and taught us persistence. When I started our Chicago Toy and Game Fair in 2003 she and her two sisters, my aunts, manned our registration area and more. She’d be proud to see how all our events have grown if she was still with us.
4. Best life advice you received growing up?
My mom often reminded us to watch what we say because once we say it, you can never take it back. And that was before social media!
5. Tell us a little about the power of play and why it’s so important.
When my kids were growing up, they would share a lot of what was happening in their lives over a game or a puzzle. It relaxed them and they were more willing to open up and share their lives. Families that attend our Chicago Toy & Game Fair often tell me the same thing. You would love the letters we have received over the years from families and from teachers. Teachers have shared how their students learn that they had more in common than not when playing games. This is one of the reasons we started our PlayinEducation.com website and quarterly newsletter. In addition, we’re so proud to have started the Young Inventors Challenge more than 18 years ago where kids under 18 can enter their toy invention to win prizes and possibly even get a toy deal and see their products on the shelf – real-life Shark Tank for KIDS!
6. What three things have you learned about what makes a company or a toy successful in this industry?
The most important thing I learned is that one needs to build partnerships to be successful. Similarly, is to ask for help and be sure you are open to what they have to tell you. You can get in weeds and not see the big picture. Lastly, persistence is key. Calvin Coolidge has a famous quote about persistence. I have it printed out and on my desk.
7. When not working, where will we find you?
Maybe it was the Easy Bake Oven I had when I was a kid, but I love to bake bread, cookies, cakes… you name it! And, I can get lost in a good book. I used to love puzzles, but I can’t seem to finish one that I have now with too many of the same colored pieces and it is dampening my enthusiasm a bit. I can’t bring myself to just give up and start one that I might enjoy. Maybe persistence does not pay off in this case!!!
8. What would you tell your middle school self?
Life gets better – just keep showing up.
9. Best advice on creating and running a business focused on families and kids having fun and connecting?
For our Chicago Toy and Game Fair (CHITAG) that’s held every year in Chicago in November, we work to make sure there is something for everyone and plenty of kid-sized activities. We have a lot of activities that are multi-generational. We even have a Grandparent’s Day. Grandparents get in free if they bring their grandchildren. When I started this venture, I knew I couldn’t do it alone, so I found partners that have helped me grow and expand over all these years, including long lasting friends at Disney, Hasbro, Mattel, Spin Master and so many more.