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Breaking News: Visionary Hasbro CEO Passes Away After Lengthy Battle With Cancer

Gary Symons

TLL Editor in Chief

Hasbro Inc. announced some sad news today, revealing the company’s longtime Chair and CEO Brian D. Goldner has passed away after a years-long battle with cancer.

Just one day earlier, Goldner himself announced that he was taking a medical leave of absence from Hasbro, but that news was followed up today as Hasbro announced its widely admired chief executive has died of his illness. The tragic announcement today comes more than a year after Goldner’s disclosure in August 2020 that he was undergoing continued medical care following treatment for cancer in 2014.

When Goldner announced his medical leave on Monday, he and the company also announced that Rich Stoddart, a director on Hasbro’s board, would be stepping in as interim CEO. Now, Stoddart joined others in expressing his sadness at Goldner’s passing, and his admiration for his many accomplishments at Hasbro, where he has been the company’s guiding light, and responsible for dramatic growth even during the current COVID-19 pandemic.

Colleagues at Hasbro are mourning the loss of CEO Brian D. Goldner, the visionary leader who transformed the company since his appointment in 2008.

“Since joining the Company more than two decades ago, Brian has been the heart and soul of Hasbro,” said Stoddart. “As a charismatic and passionate leader in both the play and entertainment industries, Brian’s work brought joy and laughter to children and families around the world. His visionary leadership, kindness, and generosity made him beloved by the Hasbro community and everyone he touched.”

The 58-year-old Goldner joined Hasbro in 2000 and was quickly recognized as a visionary in the industry. He was appointed CEO in 2008 and became Chairman of the Board in 2015. Over the past six years in particular, Goldners set about a complete transformation of Hasbro, that would also influence every aspect of toy licensing around the world.

At the time of his appointment as CEO, Hasbro was really focused on its traditional role as a toy and games company, but Goldner was instrumental in transforming Hasbro into a global ‘play and entertainment’ leader. He was the architect of what Hasbro now calls a “strategic Brand Blueprint” to create the world’s best play and storytelling experiences. Goldner was among the visionaries in the industry who saw that storytelling was an essential part of creating toys and games that people care about. As a result, he completely restructured the company so that production of TV series, films, and live experiences became an integral part of Hasbro’s operations.

“Through his tireless work ethic and unwavering focus, he expanded the Company beyond toys and games into television, movies, digital gaming and beyond, to ensure Hasbro’s iconic brands reached every consumer,” the company said in a statement.

In February this year, Goldner and his team also completed a wholesale restructuring of Hasbro, streamlining the company into three reporting segments. Goldner said the company would now be divided into the categories of Consumer Products, including toys and games; Wizards of the Coast (Wizards) and Digital Gaming; and Entertainment. (Read TLL’s in-depth special report on the Hasbro restructuring)

“The integrated and assembled value of consumer products, Wizards and digital gaming, and entertainment is how we unlock the next level of return for our business and for our stakeholders,” said Brian Goldner, Hasbro’s chairman and chief executive officer. “We have simplified our structure to maximize our growth and provide a clearer view to the drivers of Hasbro revenues, profit, margin, and cash generation.

“Our Brand Blueprint thrives as we create value from these three areas of our business,” Goldner added. “We are building scale behind them to drive more profitable revenue and meet the needs of our consumers and audiences with innovation and creativity for a modern era.”

The restructuring comes following major changes Goldner implemented that transformed Hasbro from being primarily a toy company to becoming a conglomerate that focuses on three main market segments. One continues to be in the traditional toys and games sector, but as well, Hasbro is now a major player in the digital gaming market, and through the acquisition of Entertainment One, or as it’s often known, eOne. That new division was formerly a successful Canadian studio involved in the acquisition, distribution, and production of films, music, and television series.

Among the many successful projects eOne was involved with, it developed the rapidly growing Peppa Pig franchise, PJ Masks, and was heavily involved with Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment.

Entertainment One was acquired by Hasbro on Dec. 30, 2019, and the partnership was quick to bear fruit. Peppa Pig, for example, has become one of the world’s top toy brands, and in February 2021 Hasbro announced a deal that will see Merlin Entertainments building an entire Peppa Pig theme park as part of the massive LEGOLAND resort in Florida.

Unlike Mattel, which managed to overcome supply chain issues and returned to profitability in 2020, Hasbro did not earn an EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization) profit in 2020, but sees its investments in entertainment and digital as strategies that will pay off handsomely in 2021 and beyond.

“Our expectation is that we return to growth in revenues, earnings and EBITDA in 2021,” said Goldner at the time, and in fact, that is exactly what happened.

In July, just months after Goldner completed the restructuring of Hasbro, the company absolutely smashed its revenue targets for Q2, sending the company’s stock soaring.

“Hasbro delivered an excellent second quarter, with revenues up 54% versus the second quarter of last year and 9% versus pro forma second quarter 2019,” said Goldner, noting all three reporting segments contributed to the huge gains. The Consumer Products segment grew by 33% over the same period in the previous year, while the Entertainment segment grew by 47% Year On Year. The already successful Wizards segment absolutely exploded, posting an almost unbelievable YoY revenue increase of more than 200%.

Today, the team at Hasbro faces the grief of losing a beloved leader and colleague, and the daunting challenge of finding a replacement for a man often described as a visionary in the toy and entertainment industry.

The culmination of his pioneering strategy was the 2019 acquisition of independent entertainment studio eOne. Mr. Goldner served on the Board of Directors of ViacomCBS and was the Chair of the Compensation Committee. Mr. Goldner and his wife Barbara were passionate advocates for improving systems of care for vulnerable members of society.

“Brian’s passing is a tremendous loss for Hasbro and the world,” acknowledged Edward M. Philip, Lead Independent Director of Hasbro’s Board of Directors. “Brian was universally admired and respected in the industry, and throughout his over twenty years at Hasbro, his inspiring leadership and exuberance left an indelible mark on everything and everyone he touched. A mentor and friend to so many, his passion and creativity took Hasbro to new heights. Our love and thoughts are with his wife, daughter, and family during this extraordinarily sad time.”

Even as he faced a life-threatening illness, Goldner’s thoughts were with his friends and colleagues at Hasbro.

“After careful consideration, I have decided to take a medical leave to focus on my health,” said Goldner, the day before he passed away. “I feel confident knowing the Company will be in the skilled hands of Rich Stoddart as Interim CEO, our highly experienced management team and the best employees in the business. Hasbro’s future couldn’t be brighter as we continue to Supercharge the Blueprint and build the world’s leading play and entertainment company.”

Rich Stoddart Appointed As Interim CEO

Rich Stoddart, most recently the Lead Independent Director of Hasbro’s Board of Directors, has been appointed as Interim CEO, also effective immediately. Hasbro says the move ensures continued operational excellence at the company, as Stoddart brings extensive leadership experience and expertise in global brand-building, advertising and marketing, and supply chain management through his CEO roles at InnerWorkings, Inc., the largest global marketing execution company, and Leo Burnett Worldwide.

Stoddart has served on Hasbro’s Board of Directors since 2014. “Together with Hasbro’s seasoned executive leadership, he will continue to execute the Company’s Brand Blueprint strategy,” the company said in a statement.

In conjunction with appointing Stoddart as Interim CEO, Hasbro’s Board of Directors has re-appointed Edward M. Philip as Lead Independent Director, and Tracy A. Leinbach as Chair of the Nominating, Governance and Social Responsibility Committee of the Board.

While acknowledging the devastating loss of Goldner, Philip said the company is in good hands in the days ahead with Stoddart as interim CEO.

“We thank Rich for stepping in as Interim CEO,” Philip said. “He will be a great asset to the Company in this role given his in-depth knowledge of the business, close working relationship with the management team, and his love for Hasbro’s people and culture.

Hasbro Hits Home Run For Q2 Revenue

Wizards Of The Coast Leads Hasbro Revenue Segments