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Tom Kalinske was CEO of Mattel, CEO of Sega, & CEO of Leapfrog, the largest educational toy company in the world.

He has helped build some of the best known brands for kids including Hot Wheels, Masters of the Universe, Matchbox, Sega Genesis, Sonic the Hedgehog, & many more.

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In Addition to heading up companies like Sega, Mattel, Leapfrog, Global Education Learning, Tom Kalinske was also featured in the book Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo, and the Battle that Defined a Generation.

What will you learn in this interview?

  • How he managed to work as CEO while having 6 children?
  • Were any of the toys influenced by his children and their reactions?
  • How cutthroat can the toy industry be?
  • Who were his family influences as a child?
  • Where did his career begin?
  • How did he face the Senate committee scrutiny?
  • What were some of the great lessons learned from mentors at Mattel?
  • How did he rise to be CEO of Mattel?
  • What led to the creation of He-Man and other characters?
  • What’s the hardest part of the toy industry?
  • What has been one of the toughest decisions he’s had to make?
  • What is his favorite Sega game?
  • What are some of the biggest things that changed the gaming industry?
  • How was the ISDA formed?
  • What were some of the heated moments between gaming companies?
  • What does he look for when purchasing companies?
  • What are some things he wishes he could have done better?


Somehow managed to work as CEO of multiple companies while having 6 children.
Console Wars is being made into a movie and the question remains who will be cast to act as him.

Business Mentors, Tools, Books mentioned:

  • Eduardo Caso – “The tenor of the American airwaves”
  • Peter Ronstadt – Composer
  • John Denver – American singer-songwriter, actor, activist and humanitarian
  • Jay Walter Thompson – Namesake for marketing communications brand
  • Senator Margaret Chase Smith – American politician from Maine
  • Ruth Handler – American businesswoman and inventor
  • Ray Wagner – President of Mattel
  • Lou Scheimer – American producer, one of the original founders of Filmation
  • Larry Ellison – American businessman, best known as the co-founder and chairman of Oracle Corporation
  • Michael Milken – American business magnate, financier and philanthropist
  • Mike Wood – Co-founder of LeapFrog
  • Anthony Chang – Principal at TL Ventures

A little background about Tom Kalinske:

Thomas “Tom” Kalinske (born July 17, 1944) is an American businessman. He worked for Mattel 1972-87, helping revive the Barbie & Hot Wheels Brands, launching Master of the Universe, then being promoted to CEO of [Mattel]. Next he was CEO of Matchbox, and then was recruited to be the president and CEO of Sega|Sega of America from 1990 to 1996, and the CEO of Leapfrog 1997-2006. His aggressive marketing decisions during his time at Sega, such as price drops, anti-Nintendo attack ads, and the famous “Sega Scream” TV campaign, are often cited as key elements in the success of the Sega Genesis. He is currently the Executive Chairman of Global Education Learning, a company dedicated to children’s education in China.

Previously, Kalinske was CEO and Chairman of educational toy company, Leapfrog, which grew to over 600 million dollars in revenue becoming the largest education toy company in the US. He was President of Knowledge Universe, a company that Mike Milken and Larry Ellison each invested 250 million dollars into for the purpose of using technology to improve education. According to Oregon Business magazine in 2011, the company was “the largest single private provider of early childhood education services in the country”, with 40,000 employees on three continents and the biggest market share in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore. Many education companies came out of Knowledge Universe, including LeapFrog, K-12, Knowledge Beginnings (the largest chain of preschools in the US), Spring Plc, and Vistage (Executive Education).

While CEO of Sega of America the company grew from 72 million dollars to over 1.5 billion dollars and the market value of Sega grew from under 2 billion to over 5 billion dollars. The 16 Bit Genesis and Game Gear systems were highly successful during this time.

Kalinske served on the board of directors of the Toy Manufacturers of America for twelve years. He also served on the Board of Blackboard 2005-2012; currently serves on Board of Cambium Learning Group, Genyous (a cancer drug development co), is on the Board of WCEPS (Wisconsin Center for Educational Products & Services), is Emeritus Advisor to both the UW Business School, and Univ Arizona Eller School of Management, and is Vice Chairman of LeapFrog Inc.

Blake J. Harris’s book Console Wars, released in May 2014, is a retelling of Tom Kalinske’s efforts to overthrow Nintendo. The story is formulated in a third person narrative which was assembled based on more than two hundred interviews carried out by the author with former Sega and Nintendo employees. A documentary from the book’s author is in production, and the book is being adapted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as a feature film movie which Scott Rudin will produce.

For his work at Mattel, Universal Matchbox, Sega, and Leapfrog, Kalinske was a 1997 inductee into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame; other members of the Toy Hall of Fame include the founders of Mattel, Hasbro & Lego, Walt Disney, George Lucas, Jim Henson, John Lassiter, to name a few. He has also been honored to receive the NYC Boy Scout’s Man of Year award, the Starlight Foundation Man of Year Award, The Univ of Wisc Business Partners “Distinguished Fellow” Award, and the Video Software Dealers Man of Year Award.

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