Of course, working for a toy company doesn’t mean that you play “Heart and Soul” on a huge floor piano at FAO Schwarz, like Tom Hanks did in the movie “Big.” Especially if you’re not a 12-year-old transformed into a man but grown-up and serious lawyers like Barry Nagler ’81 and Tarrant Sibley ’94, who have to worry about, say, preventing unscrupulous operators from appropriating the name of a wholesome product for a porn site, or abiding by the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002.
But they have their moments too, moments when you can see the kid inside. The G.I. Joes that Sibley played with as a boy stand guard on his bookshelves. And though it’s not quite as showy as the giant piano, the rug that doubles as an oversize Scrabble board on the floor of Nagler’s office may inspire a game now and then.
Such is work life at Hasbro Inc. in Pawtucket, R.I., where a Mr. Potato Head statue greets employees and offices are festooned with company paraphernalia, including mainstays like Monopoly, the Easy-Bake Oven and Tonka trucks. Nagler, general counsel of the nation’s second-largest toy company, oversees a 20-lawyer department that safeguards Hasbro’s interests, ensuring, for example, that Mattel stop producing a Harry Potter board game too similar to Clue and shutting down a Web site whose name, “Pornopoly,” mimics another famous Hasbro product. In fact, a replica of a Monopoly board, with his department’s mission statement, hangs on Nagler’s office wall, a reminder of the power of the company’s brands and image.
“What ultimately will help us attain success is the success of our intellectual property, because that is what lives on year after year after year,” said Nagler. “We will take on a number of fights just so those out there infringing on our IP will know that they can’t take solace operating in the shadows, and we will spend a lot of time teaching them a lesson.”
On the other side are people who allege that Hasbro stole their ideas. The company won’t accept game and toy suggestions from the public; too often that leads to lawsuits claiming the company misappropriated the concept, according to Nagler. Then there is the downside of making things people everywhere take into their homes. “We have a case right now,” he said, “where someone hurt themselves because they fell on one of our products. Well, it just happened to be lying on the floor. Is that our fault?”
It is part of the price of being a giant of the industry with the deep pockets that come from $3 billion in annual sales, a long way from the small family-owned business that started in Providence, R.I., in 1923. Hasbro has grown in part through licensing agreements for products such as Star Wars and Batman action figures and with acquisitions of companies like Milton Bradley Co. and Tonka Corp. As corporate and securities attorney there since July 2001, Sibley focuses on the details behind company growth, working on mergers and acquisitions, quarterly reports and earnings, and all legal requirements facing any large company listed on the New York Stock Exchange. He too has come a long way after working in large Boston law firms, where he typically handled corporate matters relating to the area’s high-tech industry.
“I did think it was rather neat, having come out of the tech world, to think about working for the people who make Monopoly and Risk and most of the games and toys I played with when I was young,” he said.
What the company makes is different, and so is its mentality, says Sibley. There’s something to be said for people who have experience, who’ve been through some business cycles and who focus on core brands, he says. Yet it can be easy to lose sight of those differences and get caught in the stresses that accompany any job–even if your office is full of toys and you wear casual clothes and you didn’t feel obliged to shave that morning. “If you’re not stepping back and focusing on what the company does, and just thinking of what I as the legal person does,” he said, “then you can lose track sometimes that you work for a pretty special place.”
Nagler tries to make sure the lawyers don’t lose track. On department retreats, he devotes some time to playing games. The type of industry they’re in makes it a more fun place to be, he says. But he also understands the responsibility and scrutiny that come from working for a company that makes products for kids. That’s as it should be, he says, and it’s his job to meet those expectations. It can be heavy stuff–enough to put a frown even on Mr. Potato Head’s mug. But Nagler wouldn’t play that way.
“The corporate mission is to make people smile,” he said. “How much better can that be?”