Chief Wagon Officer. Brand Evolution King. Big Kid.
What if your grandfather had started one of the most iconic toy brands in the world? Robert’s grandfather did just that in 1917—naming Radio Flyer after two of the most important inventions of its time—then passed the reins to his son. Robert recalls walking through the Radio Flyer factory as a starry eyed 5-year-old, marveling at how workers were transforming steel, wood, and rubber into shiny red wagons, built for adventure. When the family business is centered on the idea of creating joy, it plants a seed in you that colors your understanding of the world. Robert knew he wanted to carry on the legacy. Armed with an M.B.A. from Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Notre Dame, Robert stepped into his first job at Radio Flyer, fired up to contribute. Except, the factory and offices he encountered felt frozen in time—the clock on his father’s desk (then CEO) was actually stopped. Gone was the sparkle and energy from the factory floor. The financials were also in sad shape: declining sales, lack of innovation, and a growing mountain of debt threatened to topple the legacy brand before Robert had the chance to infuse the place with new energy. He had to think and act fast.
Rather than throw a bunch of management theory at the company, he paused and turned his energy to their two most important camps: Radio Flyer owners past and present, and the people who built the toys, “Flyers” he calls them. He began a listening tour inside and outside the building. The stories he collected informed his understanding of the company, the brand, and most importantly, what Radio Flyer means to people. Some of these stories were what you might expect, but others were straight out of left field, the head-scratching variety that would prompt anyone to say, “Wait. What?” Instead of dismissing these memories as flawed, Robert decided to embrace them, and set about to rebuild Radio Flyer in the aspirational vision people had for it.
What happened? He not only saved the company by designing “awesome products that inspire active play,” he turned it into Fortune magazine’s #1 Best Place to Work in the U.S. and earned himself Crain’s Chicago Business “40 Under 40,” Glassdoor “Top CEO,” and E&Y’s “Entrepreneur of the Year”. A short film about Radio Flyer called Taking Flight also took home the 2017 Daytime Creative Arts Emmy® Award in the category Outstanding Special Class Animated Program. The film is inspired by generations of kids whose imaginations have taken flight with Radio Flyer. In the fictional tribute, what begins as a small boy's boring day with Grandpa turns into a larger-than-life journey of imaginative play. Beyond recreating a joyful space for the Flyers, Robert also completely revolutionized the brand by going back in time to create the mythical toys of people’s memories, and boldly forward to innovate and build products for the 21st Century: customizable e-wagons with NikeID branding, e-scooters, e-bikes for kids and adults, and—in a joint venture with Tesla—the world’s fully customizable Tesla Model S electric car for kids.
Committed to honoring cultural history, reflecting the changing tastes and needs of America, and keeping the brand nimble, relevant and design-centric, Robert donates his time and energies to the Frank Lloyd Wright Trust, the University of Notre Dame, Chicago Public Media (WBEZ), and the Museum of Science & Industry (America’s iconic museum, housed in the former Palace of Fine Arts, from the 1893 World Columbian Exposition). Need help reinvigorating your organization? Invite Robert in to share his inspired story and hard-won wisdom.
Reengineering Success: From the Wheels Up
E&Y’s Entrepreneur of the Year and CEO of Fortune magazine’s #1 Place to Work in the U.S. shares his secrets for rebuilding your business, school, or organization from failing to “FUNomenal.” Robert has distilled his hard-earned lessons from turning around Radio Flyer into five principles any organization can use to invigorate your team, reaffirm your culture, and sharpen your saw. These principles leave no stone unturned, taking on culture, quality, infrastructure, innovation, design, trajectory, measurement, celebration, and partnership.
Photos: courtesy Robert Pasin
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