Brian Goldner, Hasbro Executive With Hollywood Vision, Dies at 58
Brian Goldner, who transformed Hasbro, a traditional maker of toys and games, by rethinking its many brands as properties that could become films …
Brian Goldner, who transformed Hasbro, a traditional maker of toys and games, by rethinking its many brands as properties that could become films, television series and online games, died on Monday at his home in Barrington, R.I. He was 58.
Hasbro announced the death but did not give a cause. Mr. Goldner had received a diagnosis of prostate cancer in 2014 and took a leave of absence from the company the day before he died.
Mr. Goldner, who was named Hasbro’s president in 2008, oversaw a company whose brands include My Little Pony, Monopoly, Dungeons & Dragons, Power Rangers and Nerf.
One of his most notable successes was persuading Hollywood executives that Hasbro toys and action figures like Transformers and G.I. Joe were as film-worthy as Batman or Spider-Man.
“We had relegated these brands to an experience that was limited to the playroom floor or the kitchen table,” Mr. Goldner told The New York Times in 2009. What he envisioned for the company was something more expansive.
The Transformers — toy robots that can turn into vehicles or beasts, which Hasbro introduced in 1984 — were adapted into six big-budget movies that, since the release of “Transformers” in 2007, have grossed about $5 billion worldwide. Mr. Goldner was an executive producer on all those films and a producer on two G.I. Joe movies.
To coincide with the opening of “Transformers: Age of Extinction” (2014), the fourth film in the franchise, Mr. Goldner challenged his design team to recapture the toys’ original magic by making them less complex so they could transform with the push of a button rather than in a dozen steps.
“We’ve made incredibly sophisticated robots, but it can be like a 1,000-piece puzzle,” he told The Times in 2014.
For much of his time at the company, which is based in Pawtucket, R.I., Mr. Goldner espoused a brand blueprint that reimagined Hasbro as a play and entertainment company.
“He came into a traditional toy company that was making stuff, and he believed we weren’t in the business of making things but in the business of storytelling,” Rich Stoddart, the interim chief executive of Hasbro, said in a phone interview.
But, Mr. Stoddart added, Mr. Goldner encountered some skepticism with his plans.
“Some people said, ‘Yeah, yeah, it sounds nice,’” he said, but Mr. Goldner had to keep pushing to bring his vision to reality. “He didn’t waver because he believed to his toes that it was the right strategy.”
Mr. Goldner further pushed his effort to tell stories using Hasbro brands in 2019 with the $3.8 billion acquisition of Entertainment One, a Canadian production studio that is also known by the shorthand name eOne, which was already producing the popular children’s series “Peppa Pig” and “PJ Masks.”
eOne gives Hasbro the ability to produce its own programming, rather than make it only in partnership with Hollywood studios, which the company has done with its Transformers and G.I. Joe movies, and with its “Battleship” (2012) movie, part of an ultimately failed deal with Universal Pictures that was to have included films based on the games Monopoly and Candy Land.
“What we’ve found is that as all of the big studios have streaming services, they are increasingly holding on to their own I.P.,” Mr. Goldner told CNBC this year, referring to intellectual property. “Therefore, it gives us the opportunity as an independent to go out and present world-class, powerful brand I.P. to these streaming services like Netflix, Apple, Amazon, and several others who used to have access to other people’s content and are now looking for great brands.”
Between 2022 and 2023, he added, eOne would produce two to three movies and three or four streamed programs every year.
Among the projects in development are Power Rangers and Dungeons & Dragons films, and TV series based on the board games Risk and Clue and on Transformers. The film “My Little Pony: A New Generation” had its premiere on Netflix last month.
Eric Handler, an analyst at the equity trading firm MKM Partners, said by phone that Mr. Goldner had taken “the Disney approach to creating a virtuous circle and monetizing brands beyond the toy aisle.”
He added: “Toys are still the core of Hasbro’s business, at least for now. But Brian recognized that you can do so much more with its brands and build them across franchises that cut across toys, consumer product licensing, movies, TV shows and theme park attractions.”
Under Mr. Goldner, Hasbro also became a toy and game licensee for the Walt Disney Company’s Marvel universe of characters, including Iron Man and Spider-Man, and continued its licensing of “Star Wars” characters, which began in the 1970s.
Brian David Goldner was born on April 21, 1963, in Huntington, N.Y., on Long Island. His mother, Marjorie (Meyer) Goldner, was an investment adviser. His father, Norman, worked at Eaton, a power management company.
After graduating from Dartmouth College in 1985 with a bachelor’s degree in government, Mr. Goldner was hired as a marketing assistant at a health care company. He then worked at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, where he rose to director in charge of entertainment before leaving to become an executive vice president of Bandai America, a subsidiary of a Japanese toy company.
He became chief operating office of Bandai but left in 2000 to join Hasbro as executive vice president and chief operating officer of its Tiger Electronics subsidiary, which makes the Furby robotic toy and many other products. He climbed quickly, becoming Hasbro’s chief operating officer in 2006. The success of the first “Transformers” movie helped lead to Mr. Goldner’s appointment in 2008 as president and chief executive. He was named chairman in 2015.
Mr. Goldner is survived by his wife, Barbara (Genick) Goldner; their daughter, Brooke Goldner; his mother; and a brother, Bradford. A son, Brandon, died of a heroin overdose in 2015.
In 2018, Hasbro acquired the Power Rangers television and toy brand (originally the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers) from the billionaire Haim Saban for $522 million. For Mr. Goldner, it was a reunion: He had worked with Mr. Saban when Bandi had been the Power Rangers’ global master toy licensee.
“From time to time,” Mr. Saban said when the acquisition was announced, “Brian would say to me, ‘So when are you coming to Hasbro?’”
It took a while, but Mr. Goldner finally added the Power Rangers to Hasbro’s ever-widening constellation of merchandising, television and movies.