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ASCM Insights

Barbie and the Bullwhip Effect


Toy icon Barbie has had more than 200 jobs — pretty impressive, as she’s only been around since 1959. She’s worked as an astrophysicist, a park ranger, a chef, an entrepreneur, a veterinarian and even a chief sustainability officer. But no matter where her career may take her, she’s sure to impress.  

This week, Barbie has taken over the news in a spectacular fashion. The 60-year-old doll is starring in her own movie, and it’s already making a big impression: The film has raked in more than $470 million, Mattel shares have jumped 33% in recent weeks, and experts say related toy sales will close the year at around $75 million.

Although Barbie is the headliner this month, the woman behind the doll is the real star in our eyes. As The Wall Street Journal reports, Mattel cofounder Ruth Handler was the first person to decide to advertise toys directly to kids: Mattel spent $500,000 on a one-year commitment to run commercials for its toys during Disney’s then-brand-new children’s show, The Mickey Mouse Club. By year end, sales were skyrocketing.

Beyond innovative marketing, she had an innate business acumen. “Handler might be best known as Mattel’s cofounder and Barbie’s creator, but she was a supply chain innovator,” notes Talking Logistics. She understood the bullwhip effect and the benefits of on-demand data.

In fact, she was unsettled by the six-week lag between sales and reporting that was typical in the 1950s. To get information faster, she enlisted her own “private army of employees” to visit retail stores and find out how many dolls were selling each day. Suddenly, Handler and her team had gained access to near-real-time sales data. “She had better information after one day than her rivals were getting in six weeks,” the Journal states, “so Mattel could make smarter decisions faster than the competition.”

Building a digital empire

The analogue nature of Handler’s data collection and reporting is probably what’s most impressive; after all, in the late 1950s, there were no computers or digital spreadsheets to track sales and collate results. Yet, she transformed her company anyway.

Fortunately, today we have a much more straightforward path to transformation: ASCM’s Certified in Transformation for Supply Chain (CTSC) program, which equips you with frameworks, strategies, processes and tools to effectively manage any end-to-end supply chain transformation. With CTSC, you’ll learn to apply systems thinking to develop, analyze and validate transformation concepts; identify tools and technologies that enable effective and sustainable advancement; and much more.

Plus, gain supply chain transformation know-how at ASCM CONNECT 2023: North America in Louisville, Kentucky, September 11-13. Real-world transformation will take center stage, with educational sessions showcasing the journeys of best-in-class companies Colgate Palmolive, DuPont, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and more. Join the biggest names in supply chain for three days of engaging speakers, action-oriented education and incredible ideas to advance your supply chain.

And be sure not to miss the After-Dark Party, movie night and lots of other ways to make great memories with your supply chain friends from around the world. Just like Barbie, be a successful and driven professional, but take time to kick back and have a little fun too.

About the Author

Abe Eshkenazi, CSCP, CPA, CAE CEO, ASCM

Abe Eshkenazi is chief executive officer of the Association for Supply Chain Management (ASCM), the largest organization for supply chain and the global pacesetter of organizational transformation, talent development and supply chain innovation. During his tenure, ASCM has significantly expanded its services to corporations, individuals and communities. Its revenue has more than doubled, and the association successfully completed three mergers in response to both heightened industry awareness and the vast and ongoing global impact driven by supply chains. Previously, Eshkenazi was the managing director of the Operations Consulting Group of American Express Tax and Business Services. He may be contacted through

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