Updated from 8:03 a.m. EDT
said on Wednesday that its board of directors had unanimously elected Robert A. Eckert as chairman and chief executive, ending a three-month external search following the forced
departure of Jill Barad.
Eckert, 45, resigned on Tuesday as president and chief executive of
, the food division of
Eckert's appointment takes effect immediately.
The market applauded the appointment, sending Mattel's shares up 1, or 9%, to 12 1/4 in morning trading. (Mattel closed up 1 1/2, or 13%, at 12 3/4.)
"This is a positive step for Mattel. They are putting an end to the uncertainty and bringing in a well-respected manager," said Rick Fradin, an analyst with
Fradin, who rates the company a hold and has not done any underwriting for it, added, however, that Eckert is stepping into a tough position.
As head of Mattel, Eckert, who had been with Kraft Foods since 1977, will face the challenge of getting the maker of such classics as Barbie, Hot Wheels and Fisher-Price toys back on its feet. In February Mattel's directors forced Barad to resign after three rocky years.
Under Barad's direction, Mattel had posted several quarters of
losses, stemming in part from the much-criticized acquisition of the
software company. The company also suffered from a host of
defections in top management.
Sean McGowan, an analyst at
Gerard Klauer Mattison
, said he was encouraged by Eckert's appointment, noting his positive reputation as well as his track record in turning around Kraft's
lunch meats division.
"You don't market bologna the same way you market Barbie," said McGowan. "But food and toys are both competitive and they are both driven by marketing."
McGowan, who raised his recommendation for Mattel to a buy from a hold following the announcement, noted that a previous Mattel head, John Amerman, who ran the company from 1987 to 1997, came from
chewing gum division.
William Rollnick, who will now step down as Mattel's chairman, said: "At Kraft, he (Eckert) clearly demonstrated his leadership, successfully managing a business with $17.5 billion in revenues for 1999, while increasing its sales and profits through leveraging the growth of existing brands and by introducing and building popular and profitable new products that have become branded staples."
Some of Eckert's first tasks will likely include shoring up top management ranks following a slew of departures as well as overseeing the sale of the Learning Co. In April, Mattel of El Segundo, Calif., said it wanted to
sell the Learning Co., and might be willing to settle for less than a third of the $3.5 billion Mattel paid to acquire the company.
The software industry has been abuzz with rumors of an imminent sale.
, a division of France's
; Internet incubator
Knowledge Universe LLC
Infogames Entertainment SA
have all been mentioned as possible buyers.