FIVE YEARS AGO, Jill Elikann Barad was in the delivery room, about to give birth to her second child, when she remembered a detail she had to tell one of her product managers at Mattel Toys for an upcoming presentation. She asked for a telephone and called her office. Then, after making a second business call, she promptly went into surgery, where her son Justin was delivered by Caesarean section. Five weeks later, Barad was on her way to the East Coast for the introduction of Mattel's new product lines.
"I went to New York and was very concerned about everything," recalls Barad, with a laugh. "I wanted my toys to be right, and I wanted my child to be taken care of."
Such is the intertwining life and career of the 37-year-old woman who is executive vice president of Marketing, Worldwide Product Design and Development at the Hawthorne-based toy manufacturer. She is one of the highest-ranking female executives in corporate America. As one of four executive vice presidents at Mattel, Barad, who holds the company's top marketing position, reports directly to Chairman and CEO John Amerman. Since joining Mattel in 1981, Barad has moved up the corporate ladder at a meteoric pace, especially considering how few corporate women--about 2% according to one study--are able to break through the so-called "glass ceiling" into upper management.
That she has been able to do so is a testament to both Barad's talents and capacity for hard work, as well as the willingness of Mattel, a company that historically has had women in key positions, to ignore gender in its promotions. One supporter Barad has gained along the way is Amerman, who praises her "willingness and desire to go the extra mile."
"She wouldn't have gotten ahead if she hadn't had special qualities," Amerman adds. "She just understands our business, marketing and how to deal with people. You put that all together and it spells success."
Today, Barad directs a staff of 500 employees and supervises Mattel's product lines from design to marketing. From 1983 to 1986, she doubled sales of the company's line of girls' toys by introducing female action dolls, the first toys to appeal to little girls' assertive side, she says. In fact, since Barad took over marketing functions for the company, Mattel has seen an 82% sales increase in the girls' toys division. And all this while she's maintained a 10-year marriage and reared sons Justin, 5, and Alexander, 9, albeit with the help of a live-in housekeeper.
"It doesn't matter whether you are male or female, Mattel looks at people for their ability to deliver on what the objectives are," Barad notes. "I think that makes a whole lot of difference in a woman's ability to manage a whole lot of things in her life." If Barad's journey into the ranks of upper management has been unusually speedy, it has also been unconventional, with detours for marriage, childbirth and a cross-country move. That hardly comes as a surprise from this striking ex-New Yorker, whose non-corporate approach to dressing for success also reflects her individualistic approach to her life and work.
Although she had planned on a career as an entertainer, Barad, daughter of a television producer father and artist mother, discovered her affinity for the business world when she began working part-time as a beauty consultant for Love Cosmetics in the early '70s, while still in college. She found that she liked the people, the products and the perks of working.
After a brief stint as a production assistant for producer Dino De Laurentiis, Barad went to Coty Cosmetics and became brand manager for its entire line in less than three years. She gave up the position to marry producer /personal manager Thomas Barad, and relocated to Los Angeles in 1978. Once here, she was hired by the Wells, Rich Greene advertising agency to handle the Max Factor account.
A year later, Barad became pregnant and left the agency to "put (my) energies into (my) new child." After a year and a half of being at home, however, she grew restless and, with the help of a corporate headhunter, began searching for a new position that would combine her marketing skills with her fashion and cosmetics background. "Barbie" came immediately to mind, as did Mattel's good reputation for hiring and promoting women. "The headhunter called Mattel," Barad says simply. "I went there two days later and was hired a week later."
Barad's rise within the bulwark of the corporation has been steady ever since. After joining Mattel as a product manager, she was successively named marketing director, vice president of Marketing, senior vice president Marketing, Girls Toys /Pre-school Games; senior vice president of Product Development, vice president of Product Design and executive vice president of Product Design and Development, before being promoted to her current position last month.