Working for Play: Erin Sullivan, MBA’04

From the Fall 2015 edition of Vanderbilt Business

Would working at a toy company really be all fun and games? Erin Sullivan can tell you.

She has worked at Mattel since landing a marketing internship while a student at Owen. Now senior director for Fisher-Price marketing, she has handled virtually every Mattel brand, except dolls, in her 11 years there.

Erin Sullivan

“There are times when I’m at work, and I think I can’t believe I’m working, because I’m playing with a toy or playing games, and I’m doing it to see if it’s fun. You need to be able to see the world from a child’s point of view,” she says. “At the same time, it is a Fortune 500 company. There are stockholders and expectations, and the job definitely requires a mix of creativity and analytic ability.”

Sullivan, who majored in political science at the University of Michigan, tried numerous occupations that helped her hone her interests to marketing before she arrived at Owen. When the time came for her internship, Mattel rose to the top of her list.

“I wanted a big company that had a group of good marketers, because not having a marketing background, I wanted to learn from the people around me,” Sullivan says. Several Vanderbilt MBA alumni also worked at Mattel, so networking helped her land the internship. “It was a game changer.”

It might surprise people to know she finds similarities in Owen and Mattel. “Both are collaborative. At Mattel, as a marketer working with design, finance and operations, I collaborate with people who don’t report to me and may have a lot more experience. I have to convince them to follow my lead,” she says. “It takes a good mix of humility, confidence and Type A passion. I saw that at Owen as well.”

Sullivan has worked with some of Mattel’s best-known brands, including Hot Wheels; licensed action figures for Batman, Toy Story and Disney Pixar’s Cars and Planes; and created marketing strategy for games such as UNO, Scrabble and Pictionary. Now she is working with Fisher-Price preschool brands.

A new mom, she is finding the Fisher-Price products she markets are the ones she prefers for her infant son. “It brings a whole new level of gratification to the work I do,” she says. “I can clearly see how they impact my child.”

Sullivan says that while marketing fundamentals stay the same, there are differences in marketing techniques for different brands.

“That’s what makes it fun,” she says. “That’s why I’ve been at Mattel for so long. It doesn’t get boring.”