Toy Story

For Eric Nyman '94, life at Hasbro really is all fun and games

By Molly (Long) Mastantuono '98

PASSION PLAY: That his work might one day involve dinner-table discussions with his daughters about Nerf color palettes was inconceivable to Nyman when he enrolled at Virginia Wesleyan. (Photo by Michael Cevoli)

All work and no play” isn’t a familiar concept for Eric Nyman ’94.

After all, as Senior Vice President of Global Marketing for Hasbro, Inc.—one of the world’s largest toy and game companies—Nyman effectively gets paid to play. Or, as he says, “to create magical entertainment and play experiences for kids and adults around the world.”

Founded in 1923 by Henry and Hillel Hassenfeld, brothers who started out selling school supplies, Hasbro today boasts annual revenues topping $4 billion. Chances are, if you know a child—or were once one yourself—you’ve played with a Hasbro toy or game. The Pawtucket, Rhode Island-based company is associated with scores of iconic brands, from My Little Pony and G.I. Joe to Candy Land and Twister.

Hasbro also has a long-standing reputation for innovation. In 1952, the company introduced Mr. Potato Head, the first children’s toy to be advertised on television. Today, the treasured tater is Hasbro’s official mascot, and the brand has evolved to include a Mrs. Potato Head and special-edition figures, including a Star Wars-themed Darth Tater and a Spider-Man Spider Spud.

“Brands don’t get tired; people get tired,” Nyman explains. “A lot of folks have really deep emotional connections to the brands we have at Hasbro. So we’re constantly trying to make sure we’re connecting emotionally with them, but doing so in a way that’s fresh and relevant.”

Innovation is key, Nyman says. He cites a recent “token vote” contest for Monopoly in which fans were asked to choose, via Facebook, an original token from the classic board game to “retire,” and also to select its replacement.

“It wound up being a global sensation,” he says. Ultimately, fans felt the iron token should no longer pass “Go!” and collect $200. The new token, a cat, begins vying for Boardwalk real estate in August 2013.

Hasbro has continually distinguished itself as an industry leader by thinking outside the toy box. Hasbro brands are now leveraged through a variety of formats, including digital media, television, and even film. Its mega-successful Transformers line, which debuted in 1984 with action figures, has his since grown to include online and mobile games, comic and e-books, branded apparel and sporting goods, an animated television show and a blockbuster live-action film series.

The Transformers success story is in part Nyman’s own, as the brand is one of many for which he oversees all marketing efforts. Officially, he’s in charge of Hasbro’s robust “boys’ portfolio,” which also includes Nerf, Spider-Man, and Star Wars; its educational toy and creative play divisions, anchored by the Sesame Street, Play-Doh, and Playskool brands; and its gaming division, which boasts such seminal titles as Monopoly, Risk, and The Game of Life. Needless to say, Nyman is a busy man. And, he’s the first to admit, a “fortunate” one.

“I feel really privileged to be a part of the Hasbro team,” he says. “There are very few adults who can’t remember their favorite action figure or doll or toy growing up. [To be able to help] create that favorite toy or game for a new generation of kids all around the world, well, that’s a really fun endeavor.”

Nyman is particularly excited about a new product line he’s helped develop: Nerf Rebelle, which debuts this fall. Touted as Hasbro’s first active sports line for girls, Rebelle features foam-blasting guns similar to those offered in the boys’ line, as well as crossbows that shoot foam darts up to 75 feet. It’s a project he takes to heart as the father of two daughters—Brooke, 12, and Ava, 10—with his wife, Laura.

“It’s very much top of mind for me to develop great play experiences for girls. It’s important to provide products and experiences that build their confidence and make them feel empowered.”

To ensure that Nerf Rebelle will do just that, Hasbro sought what Nyman calls “the right girl insight” by appealing directly to its target audience. Brooke and Ava were among those who gleefully tested products and offered opinions about their design. The girls were thrilled to act as consultants, he says, and “they’re really fired up” about the Rebelle line.

That his work might one day involve dinner-table discussions with his daughters about Nerf color palettes was inconceivable to Nyman when he enrolled at Virginia Wesleyan. At the time, his career ambitions involved vague notions of law school. Yet, he had some sense of what he wanted out of his undergraduate experience.

“I was definitely looking for a liberal arts experience.” Having grown up in the Cape Cod hamlet of Eastham, Massachusetts, Nyman admits he also “wanted something near the beach.”

But the single biggest motivating factor behind his decision to become a Marlin was the Wesleyan Scholars program.

“I have two younger sisters,” he explains, “and our family didn’t have enough money for a private college. Being a Scholar allowed me to go to a premier school that otherwise I couldn’t have afforded, a school with a fabulous faculty, where I got a great education.”

In addition to being a Wesleyan Scholar, Nyman was editor of the student newspaper, The Marlin Chronicle, a member of the tennis team, and captain of the basketball team.

“Basketball was a big deal for me back then,” he says, so it was especially meaningful for him when, during his junior year, the team made the NCAA tournament “for the first time in a long, long while.”

His involvement in a variety of extracurricular activities was made possible, in part, by Virginia Wesleyan’s size.

“I was able to do a lot of things there that I just wouldn’t have been able to at a larger school,” he says. “It was great to be part of such a supportive community.”

Nyman graduated with a degree in history in 1994 and a year later enrolled in a joint M.B.A. and law program at Boston College. After taking classes at the Carroll School of Management, however, he found his passion in marketing and he ultimately decided to pursue only his M.B.A.

As he neared completion of his degree, Nyman began thinking about the next steps in his career—and, in doing so, drew inspiration from Virginia Wesleyan’s president, Billy Greer.

“I remember his graduation day speech distinctly,” he says. “His theme was, ‘When you get where you’re going, where will you be?’ That’s something that’s really stayed with me throughout the years.”

With this in mind, Nyman decided that where he wanted to be was doing something that he loved. So he created a “passion list,” writing down five things he enjoyed most—being outdoors and playing sports, for example—and identifying five companies for each interest that offered related products or services. When he was finished, he wrote letters to all 25 companies on his list and was rejected summarily by all of them. Undaunted, Nyman repeated the exercise, identifying 25 more companies; he received 25 more rejection letters.

“I put them all on my wall,” Nyman laughs, “and my roommates and I played darts with them.”

By the third or fourth round, however, his persistence paid off, and he began receiving positive responses. Soon after, he began working in brand management for The Lego Group.

A few years later, Nyman moved on to Timberland, where he worked for four years until receiving a call, in 2003, from a former Lego boss who now worked for Hasbro.

“He asked me to come work on the Star Wars line of toys,” he explains, “and I just couldn’t say no. After all, Star Wars was the first movie I’d ever seen in a theater.” He’s been working happily at Hasbro ever since.

Nyman takes a moment to think about the path that brought him to Hasbro, to a job that allows him to spend his days “brainstorming ways to make Nerf Super Soaker water blasters more fun and interesting.” His professional journey, he says, began at Virginia Wesleyan.

“I didn’t necessarily go there knowing I was going to someday work in the toy industry, but I certainly learned a lot of skills there, and met a lot of incredible people there, that helped me find my passion and become the person that I am today.” He pauses. “Quite simply, I couldn’t have gotten here without going there.”

Molly (Long) Mastantuono, a freelance writer, graduated from Virginia Wesleyan in 1998 with a degree in English. Like her interview subject, she was also a Wesleyan Scholar and editor of The Marlin Chronicle. A Virginia Beach native, Molly now lives in Newton, Massachusetts, with her husband, Massimo, and their inquisitive and energetic toddler, Ilaria.