Gary Swisher - 75 Toy Ideas in 2 Days Led to Hot Wheels Internship and More!
Why and how did you get into the Toy and Game industry?
I was an Industrial Design student at Arizona State University, and Mattel decided to have a toy invention competition at the school (I think the head of D&D at the time loved golf and Tempe is the place to golf in the winter)…My instructor asked all of us to come up with 75 toy ideas over the weekend to show to him on Monday…it was the most fun weekend of “homework” I had ever done…I was hooked!
I didn’t win the competition, didn’t even get an honorable mention…my Infra Red “Stun Guns” batteries went super low while showing them off to my classmates prior to showing the judges. They only had a 12” distance for the judges (a panel of local retailers Mattel brought in) but immediately following the show to retailer judges, we went in an interview room and showed Mattel folks…they liked the thinking behind it and I ended up with an internship in Hot Wheels, that turned into a job…I was a Hot Wheels guy for 23 years of my toy career, and loved every minute of it.
What trends do you see in toys or games that excite or worry you?
I’m excited that experts are now recognizing the connection between Play and Learning, toys have always been tools for the imagination, and if you exercise your imagination, like any muscle…it grows, and imagination is gaining in power amongst researchers looking at what successful people have in common, great imaginations. I do worry about screen time for kids, some apps are great for your imagination, but others are simply entertaining, and while that has a great place in a kids world, it shouldn’t replace imaginative play.
What advice can you give to inventors who are presenting new toy or game ideas to you?
Always think about what problem you have observed that your invention is solving. If you have a well thought out “problem” you will have the attention of everybody in the room.
What was your favorite toy or game as a child?
The toys that I played with more than any other…Hot Wheels, I played with them until I was far too old to be playing with toys, I had a little brother, so I used him as an excuse! In fact, when my brothers (one older, one younger) both went to the Gulf war, Larry Wood (Mr. Hot Wheels) came up with an idea to send them Hot Wheels cars and Tracks as a care package. Larry had served in the military and said “he would have loved that”…my brothers got the care package, it was a huge amount of track with a fair start release…and a case full of cars. Quickly Hot Wheels became the activity of choice (maybe some gambling occurred???) and guys were calling home to their families to send their best cars from their youth with the next batch of cookies from home. Gotta love a toy that can make you forget about the world around you and just have a good time!
What inspires you?
I love to bring smiles to people, and especially to kids. There is nothing like taking a kid to Disneyland for the first time, or sharing a toy with them that they have been dreaming of, one that has a magic to it that they can play with over and over again, and never get tired of it.
Where were you born?
I was born in Mesa, Arizona…a great place to be from, lots of open desert surrounding it, but boy those summers are HOT!
Where did you grow up and how did that influence who you are today?
I lived in the desert east of Mesa, Arizona we backed up to wide open spaces, and my parents were pretty trusting of us, they let us explore, and have adventures…limits were few and far between. I think that led me to be the kind of person I am, always looking for what is next, and open to fresh thinking, each day is a new opportunity to find something you’ve never seen before.
Do you have any kiddos?
I have a wonderful wife and three amazing kids (our kids are all grownups now), and a brand-new granddaughter! I couldn’t be more proud of all of them, my oldest son works at Google as a software Engineer, he always loved solving problems, my younger son works at Mattel in Marketing on WWE, he has always been super creative and open to any challenge. And my daughter just graduated from TCU and is an Interior Designer, she is a super talented artist with an knack for making things around her beautiful.
Do you prefer scary movies or happy endings?
Most of the shows I DVR have the keyword “Comedy” in them. I look for entertainment whether it’s in movies or TV shows that make me smile…it’s the best medicine you can get. I am guilty of being a fan of “The Voice”, my wife and I watch it and just smile at the people getting a chance to expand on their talent, and the experts that show just how much they are real people, that love to poke at each other in the funniest of ways.
Favorite movie of all time?
There are so many movies and I love so many of them…but this questions seems to come up more often than any other…so I had to think real hard about it, and I came to the resolution that Princess Bride is my all-time favorite movie. It has that generational connection of a grandfather and his grandson, with a great adventure, and a cast of characters that can rival any movie ever.
Do you have any special talents?
I love to make things, I build just about anything, furniture, remodeling, I even built garage doors for my house…it just felt like I could, so I did. I also love to paint, I started in watercolor and now do mostly oils, I love to combine the paintings and the building…My son Billy has been the recipient of most of my “Active Art” as he has been the one that inspires it during our creative conversations.
What do you want to be when you grow up?
When I grow up, I want to be a kid…there is no better life than that of a kid!