Q&A: ALAN HASSENFELD BY
Alan Hassenfeld is Hasbro’s past CEO, current Executive Committee Chair and an indomitable champion of worthy causes around the world. Like his father, he believes in living charity; doing good things and making the world a better place. He’s touched millions of lives, including mine. Not only is Alan a visionary far beyond our industry, he’s willing to give advice and help if asked (and I ask often!). I’ll never forget his reaching out to me when my mom battled cancer, even offering to recommend and refer specialists. He leaves an indelible mark on the hearts of all who know him and it has been an honor to interview him.
Stephen and Alan Hassenfeld, circa mid-1980s
How did your family first enter the toy industry? That story begins more than a century ago in Eastern Europe, where in the spring of 1903 anti-Semitic mobs slaughtered dozens of Jews, including children, and burned and pillaged more than 1,000 Jewish stores and home in the city of Kishinev. When word of this pogrom reached the Hassenfeld family, who lived in a small village in what is now Poland, they feared for their lives. So Osias Hassenfeld and his wife, Chaya Reich Hassenfeld, decided to arrange for two of their sons – Hillel, 17, and Henry, 14 – to make it to the safety of America. To support themselves, they began to peddle textile remnants that they purchased from Manhattan’s thriving Garment District. Yes, they sold rags, setting the stage for what literally would become a rags-to-riches story and a long history of family and corporate philanthropy. Soon enough, the teenage brothers in that long-ago time learned that many of the textiles used to make clothes were manufactured in Rhode Island. Cutting out the middleman, as it were, they began to buy their remnants directly from the textile factories up here. Eventually, they moved to Rhode Island, where they had a bright idea: why not take the best textile remnants and use them to line wooden pencil cases? Pencil cases were popular with schoolchildren in the early 1900s, and were usually sold with pencils, sharpeners, and other items. A deluxe, plush-lined version, the Hassenfeld brothers imagined, might be winners. They were. Henry and Hillel, who meanwhile had helped bring their family and others to the U.S., began to prosper. Their business grew, and from their original Providence headquarters, they moved to Central Falls, a manufacturing city next to Pawtucket. Enterprising and creative, Hillel and Henry -- joined now by brother Herman and other family members – began offering paints, crayons and modeling clay in their boxes. And, not long before the Second World War, they filled them with play pill bottles, stethoscopes, microscopes, needles, medical charts and dental mirrors. These Junior Doctor and Junior Nurse kits were Hasbro’s first true toys, and they were enormously popular. Hasbro continued to grow. Who has been involved and who is involved now? Well, we’ve just discussed the founders of Hasbro. The next generation included my father, Merrill, Henry’s son, who joined the company in 1938 after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania – my alma mater, I would note. After the start of World War II, when the threat of German submarines and even planes attacking the East Coast gave rise to an adult corps of so-called Air Raid Wardens, Dad was instrumental in introducing junior air-raid warden kits. These included kid-size arm bands, whistles, flashlights and warden’s caps, which were solid inside, yes, Hasbro boxes. The old formula still worked. But it was a new product that really began to launch Hasbro to what
2/7/20 5:26 PM