For turning rubber bands and cardboard into high-octane fun.
Stacy O'Connor leads a team of creatives at Hot Wheels who scrape together whimsical racetracks—in which die-cast cars might fly past dinosaurs only to slam-dunk through a basketball hoop—from little more than cardboard, tape, and glorified rubber bands. These are prototypes, of course, though none of their final Hot Wheels products rely too heavily on high-tech electronics anyway. Recent hits include a looping track that sticks to walls with no residue and a pinball machine that you play with cars. For O'Connor, inspiration comes from real wheels: On weekends, she drives her 475-horsepower, turbocharged Mustang up to Hells Kitchen—an infamous motorcycle bar in Lake Elsinore, California (where she's been known to pick a fight on the pavement)—keeping her fists on the wheel as she chases down Harleys and crotch rockets on Ortega Highway. "There's nothing like seeing the guy behind the pack swing his head around because he hears something roar behind him," she says.
Even a moment like that carries a business lesson to her: O'Connor knows not to approach execs at Mattel with a new project until it has an irresistible momentum. "If we show something too early and no one gets it, it gets what we call 'the stink' on it," she says. Her job is to ensure the smell of burning rubber instead.