Women of TOMY: Partners in Play An interview with Julie Gwaltney, Senior Director of Toys in the US, and Mary Wood, Managing Director of TOMY International in the UK

by TOMY | 21 Mar 2024

Biographies and Interviews


Let’s start with your partnership. This month is Women’s History Month. How do women at TOMY support each other in the workplace?


Julie: We are fortunate to have a strong network of women within TOMY across all offices.  Everyone is great about sharing ideas and information, which creates a truly collaborative atmosphere.  TOMY is also a proud sponsor of WiT (Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment), offering our team members access to female leaders across the industry through mentorship programs, networking events, and amazing educational programming.


Mary:  In Europe, we have a really good balance of both men and women across the business and in senior and middle management positions.  We haven’t had to actively favor women over men as our culture proactively encourages inclusivity, and we are lucky to be able to pull from a considerable talent pool across our key markets. 


At our Japan headquarters, thinking around careers for women in the company has moved forward and there are goals in place to redress the imbalance.  Last year in Tokyo, I had the opportunity to meet some of our very talented, successful female outside board members who lead a mentoring program to encourage women in that region to expect more, believe in themselves, and expand their skills. I always feel extremely humbled by the positive reaction I receive when visiting our headquarters in Japan.  The company continues to show what’s possible for women at TOMY, as evidenced by the management position I have achieved, as well as those of other female colleagues.


TOMY International has product development and marketing teams in both their Chicago and Brooklands offices. Since licensing partnerships are formed in both offices, how do you work together to explore what license might pop in both countries?


Julie: The team leads get together to review and assess licensing opportunities that we have identified as meeting the criteria we are looking for based on our strategic plan. Ideally, we seek global opportunities – something that works for all our markets, but we certainly will look at things that may be successful in one region, but perhaps not another.  We have an honest dialogue about what resources will be required to ensure we can deliver the best and most innovative execution of a property.  We are selective in that process, which allows us to deliver amazing products for those whom we do choose to partner with across the globe.


Mary: We also have our licensing expert, Morgan Weyl, who happens to be based in France but works across all our TOMY International businesses including liaising with the relevant teams in Japan.  He is the first point of contact for any current or future licensing partners and his role is to identify opportunities in the short, medium, and long term.  Morgan brings those opportunities to the decision-making teams, so mine in Europe, Julie’s in the US, Mark Robertson in Australia, and Alpesh Patel, our head of Global Design based in the UK.  We come together to agree on priorities and business opportunities.


Once deals are inked, do you work on a product line together or does someone go first and then consult the other?


Julie: We typically align on which region will take the lead. Of course, if it is for a specific territory, or if a licensing partner has leads in a specific territory, that determines who has the lead.  If it is a global initiative, we will jointly decide given resources required, and which market has the best design or marketing expertise for the project or category.


Mary:  Alpesh would generally decide on which market or team will lead a specific project.  As Julie said, there is expertise in certain categories, so Toomies Bath & Toddler toys are developed out of the UK based teams.  Our Games business is strongest in the UK so the UK product, graphic and marketing team lead that development. But we review status weekly with the US team so we all hear latest updates together and can move quickly to make decisions.  Conversely, the US product development and marketing team tend to lead plush, girls, boys, and vehicle development.  We aim to be fluid depending on workload and skill sets. 


What is your favorite (or most successful) collaboration and why?


Julie: Games!  Mary is an expert in the games category, and I have learned a lot from her in terms of key attributes to look for, inventors and companies to work with, and how to pitch games to buyers.  If you have never witnessed Mary playing a game as she pitches (a MUST!)- just watch-out! She is very competitive! 😊


Mary: Julie!  In fairness, I only started working on the games category through the collaboration with the UK based Drumond Park brands starting some 10 years ago. I have learned a lot during that time though.  When I came to TOMY, I then had the opportunity to work with the team on the very successful TOMY children’s games which include the Pop Up franchise where we sell over 650k units per annum across Europe.  Games is a specialized category where we receive hundreds of inventor submissions per year.  We don’t always get it right, but we do get it right more often than not. I find it thrilling when I see a concept that stands out and we as a team think it is a winner.  The well-priced “5UP”, which just launched this year, is one such example. And yes, Julie did see me play it obsessively through New York Toy Fair! 



How might a consumer marketing campaign differ from UK/Europe to USA? 


Julie: I would say size and scale given the different sizes of the market. We spend more in the US to get visibility.


Mary:  Reaching consumers has become extremely complicated and costly…and is constantly changing.  We all know TV viewership has fallen to low levels but other ways of reaching consumers do not necessarily have the same impact in terms of a link to a sales lift.  Given the size of our games business in the UK, for example, we must invest significant amounts of money to maintain our #1 position in adult games and travel games and our #2 position in children’s games. Having top class agencies to guide us and a tenacious and inquisitive marketing team is more important than ever.



Not every day or week goes smoothly. As peers, what information do you share and how do you interact to maintain the productive relationship that you have?


Julie: Our global marketing teams meet weekly to ensure communication is flowing and everyone has the latest/greatest information on product development initiatives and general business updates.  Things move quickly and the lead region has to react quickly – sometimes that may mean a pivot that works for some markets but not all – that real time communication allows us to quickly align and make any necessary adjustments. 


Mary:  Also great is that we are all very passionate about growing our combined businesses.  There are no egos, no postulating, no games.  We have a straight-talking culture.  If something is not looking to be successful, then we will pivot as Julie said.  “Fail fast” is a phrase that is often used.  Equally, if there is a tough decision to make or a difficult situation to face, I have complete faith in the team around me whether here in Europe or in the US or Australia to be supportive and to come to the right outcome.  There has been more than one occasion where either I have messaged Julie, or she has messaged me with a quick “Are you ok?  or “Can I help?” Just knowing support is there is often enough to deal with a difficult problem.


TOMY is celebrating a 100th milestone this year? To what would you attribute TOMY's longevity?


Julie: A steadfast dedication to innovation and quality. TOMY is known for this, but I don’t think everyone can fully understand the day-to-day commitment the global teams have to deliver on that promise.  I would also say the people – we have employees who have been with the company for 50 years, and we have employees who have left and come back because they believe in the mission.  It’s a special place when that happens.



You both recently attended Nuremberg Toy Fair. What inspired you while there?


Julie: I didn’t get to venture out of our stand much due to meetings, but we did have the model of the lunar robot Takara TOMY created called SORA-Q.  Japan’s space agency, JAXA, used it to take photos of the moon.  It was super cool that our parent company was part of this historic mission, but even more important is the hopes that it inspires children around the world to reach for the stars (no pun intended!).


Mary: What makes me proud is the way in which we showed a new direction for TOMY.  We are known in Europe for our strength in the infant & preschool, arts & crafts, wheels and games categories and we had loads of new products across all these categories which were so well received.  In addition, what we did at Nuremberg, was to lead with our new kidult categories (Mocchi Mocchi, Warhammer Plush, Twinchees collectibles, Jixelz Remix) – perfect timing given 29% of purchases in the UK in 2023 were to Adults/Kidults (Circana data 2023).  We also brought two brands to the front of our booth: Fatbrain, with the amazing Airtoobz, and Mood Bears. Mood Bears are proving to be an invaluable tool to help children talk about feelings and emotions amid growing mental health issues since Covid.


In a 6-word micro essay, advice for the toy industry?


Mary: Lead & inspire; Adapt or die.  I guess that could be said for any industry, but I think it’s particularly relevant for the challenges the industry is facing now. People need leadership and product needs to meet the needs of a changing consumer.


Julie: Don’t be afraid of the “new” – the new brands being pitched, the new companies/vendors to work with, the new channels of distribution, the new product lines that may be untested or unproven.  Consumers are looking for innovation, but it can be challenging or intimidating to take a risk – and we are seeing that on-shelf.  Give the “new” a try – you may just find the next big thing that no one saw coming.


The Oscar’s just happened. Favorite movie of 2023 for you? 


Julie: Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour Concert Movie! We couldn’t get tickets to the concert, so my daughter and I went to see the movie.  Loved seeing all the little girls there (ok – and adults too!) dancing and singing out loud, yelling Taylor’s name like they were at the concert.


Mary: I’m not a great movie watcher to be honest. Most of my spare time is spent either horse riding or competing at show jumping. When I’m not doing that there is always something to do around our small holding whether that is looking after the sheep, repairing fences and hedges, or tending the vegetable patch!


Julie: Mary, that sounds like a British movie in the making.


And that’s a wrap!


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