Hasbro Enters Holiday Season With CEO on Medical Leave

Hasbro Inc.’s HAS -1.62% abrupt leadership change this week leaves the toy company in the hands of lieutenants to navigate selling strategies and supply-chain challenges during a make-or-break time of the year.

The maker of Nerf blasters and Monopoly board games said late Sunday that Chief Executive Brian Goldner, 58 years old, has taken a medical leave of absence. Mr. Goldner, who has served as CEO since 2008, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2014 and underwent additional treatment last year. He maintained his executive duties through his medical treatments, including during the pandemic when he primarily worked remotely.

“At this moment, I need to take time to focus on my health,” Mr. Goldner wrote in a note to staff Sunday.

The company named as interim chief Rich Stoddart, a longtime board member and former CEO of advertising giant Leo Burnett Worldwide. In addition to his marketing chops, Mr. Stoddart, 58, has some supply-chain experience from his time running Innerworkings Inc., which runs marketing campaigns. He and Mr. Goldner are also friends from college, having attended Dartmouth College as undergraduates in the early 1980s.

Hasbro CEO Brian Goldner in 2018.

Photo: Presley Ann/Getty Images

“We couldn’t ask for a better steward, and I’m sure you will all enjoy working with him,” Mr. Goldner wrote.

Hasbro now turns to the holiday season, a time when the toy industry typically logs about half of its retail sales for the entire year. Much of the planning and preparation for the key selling season has already occurred, with toy orders for retailers filled for sales online and in stores.

This year has posed added supply-chain challenges, as manufacturing slowdowns and bottlenecks at ports have delayed some shipments of toys. Hasbro has been shipping out of more ports in Asia and into more locations in the U.S. to ensure that it has enough product.

“We believe we’ll have all the product, albeit maybe we’d like a little more product in certain categories, but we’ll have the product for the holidays,” Mr. Goldner said at an industry event last month.

Satellite images show the scale of the backlog at ports in California, as ongoing supply chain issues now threaten the holiday shopping season. WSJ’s Jennifer Smith explains what’s causing the holdups for ships and cargo. Photo: Planet Labs Inc

Hasbro has in recent years added new personnel to its leadership team, including Chief Commercial Officer Michael Hogg and Chief Operating Officer Eric Nyman, who will be leaned on to execute the holiday plans.

Jefferies Group analyst Stephanie Wissink said that her view of Hasbro’s prospects over the next year is unchanged with the leadership shuffle. She said in a research note that the decision by Mr. Goldner to take a medical leave represents “both a sign of his unwavering commitment to getting well and also his courage to do so without impairing, in any way, the day-to-day business at Hasbro or market speculation tied to his health.”

Mr. Goldner joined Hasbro in 2000 from another toy company, Bandai America Inc., and rose to CEO in 2008.

Mr. Goldner has shifted the company’s focus from primarily making toys to building brands through stories and entertainment, which, so far, has helped lift sales of Hasbro’s proprietary brands and licensed products. It has included a bigger push into making movies, culminating in a $4 billion acquisition in 2019 of Entertainment One Ltd., which produces television shows and movies and also owns kids brands like Peppa Pig.

Hasbro recently released a new My Little Pony movie on Netflix, and also has movies in the works for other brands like Dungeon & Dragons and Transformers.

The strategy has influenced that of other toy companies, including Mattel Inc., which under its CEO Ynon Kreiz, is building up its brands like Barbie and Hot Wheels with movies and streaming television shows.

Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com

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