"In 1999, when the San Francisco Giants asked if I could make a Willie Mays bobblehead, I said, 'Sure I can.' Actually, I had no idea what they were talking about." That's Malcolm Alexander, an Australian counterterrorism expert who moved to America and founded Alexander Global Promotions in 1996 — an improbable route toward becoming the king of bobblehead dolls.
Bobbleheads date back to 16th-century China and were popular in America in the 1950s and 1960s. But they'd become retro relics by the time the Giants called Alexander. He made 35,000 Mays dolls for the Giants, plus some extras that he sent to other teams. "Suddenly I'm getting calls from marketing VPs of the Yankees, the Twins, the Rangers — people you'd spend all year trying to talk to."
Five years later, Alexander has manufactured over 18 million bobbleheads in more than 5,000 characters. That's a testament to his use of high-quality ceramics and attention to details: His Barry Bonds doll has an earring, and his Allen Iverson has tattoos. His biggest hang-up: getting athletes to approve designs. "They'll say, 'It's too chubby, there's not enough muscle definition.'" Maybe the dolls just haven't discovered steroids yet.
A version of this article appeared in the August 2004 issue of Fast Company magazine.