Even CEOs played with toys when they were kids

NEW YORK Wed Jun 29, 2011 4:33pm EDT

John Barbour, CEO of LeapFrog Enterprises, speaks at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York June 27, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

John Barbour, CEO of LeapFrog Enterprises, speaks at the Reuters Consumer and Retail Summit in New York June 27, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Toy industry executives always fight to come up with the next great high-tech gadget or complex video game. But as children, many enjoyed the simplicity of colored blocks or miniature cars.

When asked to name their favorite toys growing up, executives gathered in New York this week for the Reuters Retail and Consumer Summit often mentioned cars, trains and board games.

John Barbour, chief executive of LeapFrog Enterprises Inc (LF.N), said Lego blocks were the "best toy ever made."

"When you sit down and intellectually rationalize what Lego does, it is the ultimate toy. Think about it -- creativity, hand-eye coordination. You get the satisfaction of building something and you get a toy at the end," said Barbour, who grew up in Scotland.

"We were very poor, but we always had boxes of Legos kicking around our house," said Barbour, whose company makes tablet computers and educational toys for children.

Martin Franklin, executive chairman of Jarden Corp (JAH.N), was an active child way before going on to lead the maker of K2 skis, Coleman camping gear and Rawlings baseball bats. He still has the Santa Cruz skateboard he got when he was 12 and a half.

Office Depot (ODP.N) CEO Neil Austrian said he was a fan of Lionel electric trains, and lamented the fact that none of his six children ever got into trains.

"My father played with it more than I did," Austrian said of a train set in his family's basement. "We added something every year."

Hot Wheels, the miniature cars made by Mattel Inc (MAT.O), were the favorite for Jarden CEO James Lillie and Peter J Solomon Co Managing Director Marc Cooper. Toys R Us Chief Executive Jerry Storch recalled a wooden carrom board that allowed him to play several games such as chess and checkers.

Hasbro (HAS.O) Chief Executive Brian Goldner was partial to G.I. Joe action figures.

GAMES PREVAIL

Several executives said they were intrigued by the challenge and strategy of classic board games.

Children's Place Retail Stores Inc (PLCE.O) Chief Executive Jane Elfers said she mastered the game Operation.

"There was a strategy involved and you had to figure out how to beat the game. I liked that," Elfers said.

Monopoly was the game of choice for Ulta Salon Cosmetics and Fragrance (ULTA.O) CEO Chuck Rubin.

"I'm the youngest of four children, and I could beat my siblings in it. Now, to this day, I don't know whether they let me win or if I really won on my own," said Rubin. "I haven't thought of that game in years, because for my kids, Monopoly is like, old school."

GameStop (GME.N) President Tony Bartel can relate. He recalled an electronic football game his grandfather gave him after he suffered an accident.

"I literally played that thing 12 hours a day," said Bartel, whose company sells video games. He said his favorite game now is L.A. Noire, but said he plays Call of Duty: Black Ops once in a while.

Bartel may have the most fun playing Wipeout on the Nintendo 7974.OS Wii with his wife and children.

"We sit as a family and we roll off the couch, all eight of us," Bartel said. "We laugh ourselves silly."

(Reporting by Martinne Geller. Editing by Robert MacMillan)

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