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by Carol Hymowitz | March 10, 2009


When Mattel CEO Bob Eckert meetsprospective managers at his company, he recalls how he was interviewedbefore landing his first management job at KraftFoods 25 years ago, fresh out of school.

After a spate of meetings with lower-ranking executives, Mr. Eckert wasushered into the corner office of now-retired Kraft President RidgwayKeith. He expected to be grilled about his grades at business school andhis work experience. Instead, Mr. Keith asked him about his parents and hisexperiences growing up in Elmhurst, Ill.

"It was more chitchat than a formal interview, and at the time I thoughtit was weird," he says. "But later, I realized he was asking me about myvalues and trying to figure out whether I would fit with Kraft'sculture."

Mr. Eckert, now 48 years old, rose to become president at Kraft beforebeing named Mattel's chief executive officer two years ago. "Now, when Italk to young M.B.A.s and college students, I never ask about jobs on theirresumes. I try to understand their values, what is mostimportant to them and whether they will fit here," he says.

Mr. Eckert and many of the other new breed of 40-something CEOs (Hewlett-Packard's Carly Fiorina, Procter & Gamble's A.G. Lafley, among others) are seeking a particular mix of talents from new recruits andveteran managers. After a year of accounting scandals, old-fashionedqualities like character and integrity count a lot. But as the economicdownturn persists, this new generation of CEOs also seeks steadypragmatists more than visionaries.

Today, these executives want operations managers who can use theirtechnical expertise to wring efficiencies -- and cost savings -- from workprocesses. They also need aggressive sales managers who establish closeties with customers to clinch deals.

"It's no longer sufficient to walk up to a customer with a new toy andsay, 'Please buy this,' " says Mr. Eckert. "You've got to have doneyour research so you can show it's a toy that fits with the customer'smerchandise and store concept, and is something consumers want. You've gotto be partners with your vendors."

At Mattel, he uses the acronym "matpics" to identify the skills andtalents he thinks are most important. "M" stands for material knowledge ofMattel's toy business, "a" for action leader, "t" for team builder, "p" forpassion, "i" for integrity, and "c" for courage and the confidence to getthings done quickly in a fast-cycle business where ideas are transformedinto products and cash every few months. "S" stands for smarts, or creativeintelligence, he says.

He wants employees to think of Mattel as a workplace where they can"keep learning and growing, have an impact and have fun," he says. But hedoesn't necessarily expect lifelong tenure from everyone. Although he hasworked at just two companies, he realizes some young employees may want tozigzag among employers.

"Some of our best performers left during the dot-com boom and then cameback," he says. "I no longer think if someone leaves, it is necessarilyforever."

At a time when staffs are lean, he and other new CEOs won't tolerateweak performances. GeneralElectric Chairman and CEO Jeffrey R. Immelt last week movedYoshiaki Fujimori, 51, from his post as head of the plastics business afteroperating profit at that unit dropped 28% last year. He reassigned Mr.Fujimori, who had headed plastics since May 2001, to Tokyo to head GE'sAsian operations.

Mr. Immelt, 46, then named John Krenicki, 40, to head plastics andCharlene Begley, 36, to take over Mr. Krenecki's former job as head of GE'slocomotive business. Now, nearly all GE businesses are headed by managersin their 30s and 40s.

Mr. Immelt would like to lengthen the time some GE managers spend inassignments. Under former Chairman Jack Welch, many GE managers weretransferred to new jobs every 18 months to two years. That gave managersbroad experience across the company but left some businesses withoutseasoned leaders.

"In this time of turmoil and cynicism about business, you need to bepassionate, positive leaders," Mr. Immelt told his top managers recently."I want you in the front lines. I want you with your teams. I don't wantyou in the offices. I want you touching things, feeling things, drivingcash and driving growth."

What about global experience? Big companies like GE increasingly look toevery continent to sell products, and outsource raw materials and supplies.Overseas assignments aren't necessarily needed to get ahead, but Mr. Immeltexpects all of his managers to think globally about their businesses.

He encourages managers to "confront reality, communicate with clarity,pay close attention to details and if you don't have experience, ask forhelp." He says they must continually seek information from employees toimprove performance. And he dislikes staffers who, when asked a question bya manager, say, "Why do you need to know that?"

"If you have to ask the perfect question to get the answer," he says,"fire that person today."


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