The Toy Maker

By Rebecca Laurenzana

Jeremy Padawer (’99) admits it didn’t take long for him to realize that his law school experience might not turn out exactly as he hoped.

“The storybook scenario is to be in the top 10 percent of the class and be completely passionate about the law,” he says. “For me, that was a fairy tale.”

However, the self-professed “average law student” now knows a thing or two about turning fairy tales into reality. Just tune into Nickelodeon’s NickToons channel to catch Monsuno, an animated children’s show that Padawer executive produces and co-created. The series and its toy line are slated to launch in more than fifty countries by the end of 2012.

The Monsuno cartoon and toys are a global effort between Nickelodeon, Topps, Michael Eisner, Fremantle Media, and leading toy design and marketing company JAKKS Pacific—where Padawer works as executive vice president of marketing and entertainment brand development.

This kind of success, however, seemed like a far-off dream when Padawer was confronted with a school full of intelligent and dedicated classmates and his own mounting debt.

“I found myself a little desperate to be great at something and even more concerned about cash,” Padawer says. His answer to both conundrums was to explore a side business online. “I resigned myself to being an average law student, an above-average entrepreneur, and a way below-average sleeper. I averaged about five hours a night.”

A (nearly) overnight, online success

Padawer devoted his days to law and his nights to learning HTML coding. He eventually developed a series of websites where consumers could buy and sell collectible items. As a child, Padawer loved anything considered collectible—autographs, sports memorabilia, toys, coins, and stamps.

“I focused my online efforts on the subjects I knew and loved—collectibles, toys, and the concept of buying and selling on a secondary market,” he says.

By combining a lifelong love with a business venture, Padawer had half the formula. The other half involved playing the system of a young search engine called Yahoo!.

“Yahoo! was nothing more than a phone book,” he recalls. “It was an alphabetical search engine. I named all of my websites with two A’s—AAbsolute Beanie Babies and AAbsolute Furbies. I treated the Internet like a phone book, and as a result, 20,000 unique visitors per day enjoyed the sites.”

Both passion and the motivation to pay off law school debt fueled his effort to create one of the most successful networks of collectibles online. By early 1997, only eight months after beginning his entrepreneurial ventures, Padawer was debt free with a thriving business.

Padawer took some of the money from his early Internet interests and bought generic domain names. The sale of Padawer’s act.com domain to Symantec in 2000 still stands as one of the largest domain name sales in the history of the Internet.

“If you can sleep a few less hours and create value then that is amazing,” he says.

He’s confident that his success can be replicated with good old-fashioned hard work. “I had good timing, but you can, too. It’s never too late. Minimize your debt. Work at night. Bust your ass. Be a little haggard. Enjoy it later.”

Tinkering with the toy maker

Law school was not the last stop on the educational road for Padawer, who went on to earn his MBA at Vanderbilt University in 2001. After Vanderbilt, he was recruited as a brand manager at Mattel, the world’s largest toy manufacturer.

Geoff Walker, the general manager at Mattel Europe, noticed Padawer’s potential and hired him out of Vanderbilt’s MBA program to work in the entertainment business at Mattel Toys.

“His critical thought process, legal perspective on business decisions, entrepreneurial spirit, and sheer love for toys and collectibles separated Jeremy from other employees,” says Walker.

In 2003, Padawer was recruited to JAKKS Pacific to head up Entertainment Brands. In six years, Padawer’s divisional sales increased by more than 500 percent, as he managed and acquired WWE, Pokémon, Dragonball, Marvel, and key Disney boys’ brand licenses. He was promoted to head all divisions of JAKKS Pacific in January 2010 as the executive vice president of Boys, Girls, Consumer Electronics, and Innovation brands as well as taking the reigns as executive producer of all new entertainment.

“JAKKS has always been focused on the intellectual property of major studios,” Padawer says. “It’s a blessing and a curse. The blessing is that you ride the wave of great IP, as long as you know how to pick appropriately. The curse is that you own nothing more than a categorical right to manufacture.”

A merchandising monsoon

Padawer proposed in late 2008 to revolutionize JAKKS with fully developed entertainment franchises. Late that year, Padawer co-created Monsuno with a simple concept.

“We wanted to pair a great theme with an innovative, highly-demonstrable play pattern and engage the greatest creative minds in the industry to bring it to life. I wanted to attack entertainment from a different angle, by leading with a great toy idea and then owning the franchise.”

The theme? Monsters. The play pattern? Monsters that spring out of holsters when spun, transforming magically in mid-air and landing battle-ready. The creative minds? Fremantle Media, Michael Eisner, Topps, and a team of excellent writers.

Monsuno brings to life a dream-like world where the power to control beasts and monsters lies in the hands of children. Buy-in from the toy and cartoon giants suggests that the entity will resonate with young children, who are already watching the show in the United States.

Sander Schwartz, president of Kids and Family Entertainment at Freemantle Media and former chairman of Warner Brothers animation, contributes Padawer’s success with Monsuno and other ventures to his strong business sense and educational background.

“Jeremy exhibits a unique combination of intelligence, education, charm, and personality,” says Schwartz, who works with Padawer on Monsuno.

Padawer could be considered a renaissance man. He thinks of education as only being one piece of the puzzle in building a successful career and future. Jared Wolfson, JAKKS Pacific marketing director, co-creator ofMonsuno, and producer of kid’s entertainment, agrees, crediting Padawer’s confidence, respect, and trust to his success in the business world and beyond.

During the past five years, Wolfson has traveled the world with Padawer and fondly recalls him greeting everyone he met with a hug—including a group of conservative Japanese business people.

“Although, often the nontraditional approach, it is always memorable and leaves a positive lasting impression, especially when coupled with his incredible knack for building both business relationships and meaningful friendships,” Wolfson says. “Jeremy’s passion and enthusiasm is an inspiration to many. People want to work with Jeremy.”

Following his heart has lead Padawer, the “average” law student, to accomplish his dreams.

“When I walk in my office in Malibu and look around this very cool place, it looks like my room as a kid,” Padawer says. “There are toys and collectibles everywhere. I guess one big difference would be the wall of windows overlooking the Pacific Ocean.”

If Padawer could give one small piece of advice to today’s students it would be to follow their passions.

“Take risks,” he says. “Build a portfolio of expertise. View your law degree as one layer in a multilayered cake. Don’t define yourself too quickly in life and when all else fails, just go for it.”

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