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A true toy story

PHUKET: Jody Houton interviews Ferenc Fekete, the man responsible for keeping billions of children happy while eating fast food, and endless cries of 'by the power of Grayskull.'

By Jody Houton

Monday 16 July 2012, 11:07AM

1. Hi Ferenc. Welcome to Phuket, where are you from?

I was born in Budapest, Hungary, and grew up by the river Danube, or ‘Duna’ as we Magyars (Hungarians) named the great river.

I left my old home right after completing my education. During the next 20 years I lived and worked in the US, and then spent 20 years in the Far East, mostly in Hong Kong.


2. Why did you move to Phuket?

I love the simple life here. I have a grown son and three more youngsters. My life now completely revolves around them.


3. I believe you used to have a rather interesting job...

In the 1960s the most dynamic toy company in the world was Mattel. I was hired by them in 1969, to do design and engineering work, and then became Vice President of all boys toys design and development.

After much innovation and exciting products, I moved to Hong Kong to head a company inventing, designing and manufacturing promotional toys, gifts and novelties.

My primary client was McDonald’s, but we also did some really nice promotions for Nestle, General Mills, Johnson & Johnson, Ferrari and others.

Some of the successful products for McDonald’s were [helping to sell] an incredible number of Happy Meals, as many as 40 million each month in North America alone.

I also worked on the Mattel Flying Aces Attack Carrier, which was an aircraft carrier capable of launching two Corsair aircraft. This was one of my favourites.

Then, in the mid-80’s, Castle Grayskull of the Masters of the Universe, and the collection of Smurfs were all designs that I contributed to.


4. Do you still design toys?

Yes, I am still working, consulting for a large Chinese company, mostly on ideations (generation of ideas).


5. What is the essence of a good toy?

A good toy must create excitement. A smart toy is inspirational and challenging.

It can be funny or magic, or tricky to handle (therefore its use promotes skill and dexterity). It must be able to occupy a child's imagination.


6. In your opinion, what has been the greatest toy ever invented?

I think one if not the best toy ever invented was Barbie for girls and Hot Wheels for boys, but I am biased as I spent many of my working years on both brands.

Ruth Handler, the inventor of Barbie, was a very special lady to work for, and so was her husband, Elliot.


7. If you were to design a toy for the Phuket market, what would it be?

Phuket is a small market. To make a toy or novelty idea marketable here, first I would set strict criteria.

The product should be competitively priced and manufactured in Thailand, with minimal imported components. While the design should be aimed at the local kids, it should be attractive and interesting so foreign visitors would be tempted to buy as well.

I would consider toy concepts with multiple use, to get more for the locals’ hard-earned money.

Here is an example: To promote the kids to brush their teeth, a combination of toothbrush/cup which plays 2 minutes of popular music when it is being used.

The decoration of the cup would be thermochromic or LED to serve as a night light.


8. Do you believe toys should ever be regulated?

Nowadays, toymakers are much more regulated in terms of toy safety, especially all those products shipped from China with excessive heavy elements on the painted surfaces.

However, there are no regulations on what type of toys can be made, whatever a marketer can sell, there will be some factory who will make it.

Exceptions are the US regulations on gun-like toys, following several police shootings of children who were in fact holding toy guns.

However the rest of the world, don’t care about this and there are all kinds of real looking gun toys on the market. My humble opinion is that there should not be any toys sold that directly promote violence.

I think nowadays toys are not as imaginative due to the fact that most everything is copied from licensed properties, movies and cartoons.

The Masters of the Universe for example was created from ground zero and then when its popularity started to decline, they made a movie. Whereas with He Man’s replacements: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X Men and the others, it was the other way round.


9. Do you think technology has had an adverse effect on toy design?

As long as there are children, there will be toys.

Digital electronics changed the whole landscape, the video games market becoming ever more popular for kids aged 7 and above. Smart designers take on advanced technology and are able to design toys like indoor flying helicopters, which were impossible or very costly before.


10. But with kids owning iPads and iPhones, are toys still important?

After all these years, I still never tire of watching the excitement glow in the eye of little kids when they first get a new toy.

I must say that toys are an important part in the development of a child. What would Christmas be without toys?

When their parents are busy (as they always are) good toys keep boys and girls happy. Innovative toys inspire kids and motivate them to learn more. How about all those little girls that sleep with their dolls or soft toys? They can not even sleep without them.

So yes, good toys are very important!



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