by Tim Kilpin | 14 Oct 2021
The Bloom Report
Glimpses of an Extraordinary Life, in Three Dinners
I can’t say we were close. I knew Brian well enough to be on a first-name basis with him, and our professional paths had crossed many times over the years. I knew, of course, what the whole world knew – that he was a brilliant, driven, visionary leader who, with the help of an outstanding and talented team, built Hasbro into a formidable force, changing it and our industry for the better, forever. Though not always the largest company in toys, Brian ensured that Hasbro was, by far, the most influential.
Amidst the shock and sadness of Brian’s sudden passing, however, I can recall three dinners where I was lucky enough to have had a front-row seat to Brian’s impressive intellect, to witness his spark up close.
Early in 2001, just a few months into my role overseeing the Disney Toys business, my team and I had a day of meetings in Rhode Island with our newest and largest partner. I had just inherited the management of our complex, global, multi-category and multi-property deal, and navigating it would be both our teams’ top priorities in the years ahead. But over dinner on a cold New England night, what I remember most was the light in Brian’s eyes as he described his view of toy retailing in the future. Twenty years ago, Brian was looking past the significance of Toys R Us, had already pivoted to a landscape that Walmart was dominating, and had begun to ponder the meaning of eToys having recently gone public. We barely had the words to describe ecommerce at the time – but Brian was seeing far down the road, and we hadn’t even finished the appetizers yet.
Flash forward 17 years, when I had the opportunity to host Brian and a few mutual friends at one of the inaugural matches of Activision Blizzard’s Overwatch League, the first of its kind in esports competition. Our teams then were at work on developing a range of action figures and NERF items based on the Overwatch brand (Hasbro’s products turned out beautifully, by the way), but Brian’s attention was focused on what esports might mean to the future of brand-building. He was riveted by the competition and the crowd, and I learned later that he was snapping photos and sending texts to his team throughout the evening.
Over dinner that night, when Brian could have rightfully spent the evening telling stories about Hasbro’s success, he was instead full of questions about esports and the burgeoning potential of video games as future franchise platforms.
And finally, a year later, over a quiet dinner in Los Angeles, and just a few months before the announcement of the eOne acquisition, Brian spoke of Hasbro’s transformation into an entertainment and IP powerhouse – touching on advances in gaming and storytelling that would drive the company’s growth for years to come. Brian never mentioned eOne, never even let on that he was likely at that moment working on one of their most transformative acquisitions, but the excitement that underpinned his conversation said everything. Brian was again looking twenty years down the road, and was making plans accordingly.
This morning, in the chilly half-light of a day yet to dawn, I’m finding some solace in these memories. We weren’t close, really, and yet I know how lucky I am to have had these experiences – these glimpses into Brian’s extraordinary energy and insight. And while I’m struggling with the sadness, this morning I’m mostly grateful for the chance to have witnessed that spark.
Twenty years from now, we’ll see what Brian saw, and be grateful for that too.