Thomas "Tom" Kalinske (born July 17, 1944) is an American businessman, best known as having worked for Mattel 1972-87, reviving the Barbie & Hot Wheels Brands, launching Master of the Universe, then being promoted to CEO of [Mattel] from 1985 to 1987. Next he was CEO of Matchbox, and then was recruited to be the president and CEO of Sega of America from 1990 to 1996, and the CEO and COB of Leapfrog 1997-2006. His aggressive marketing decisions during his time at Sega, such as price drops, anti-Nintendo attack ads, and the famous "Sega Scream" TV campaign, are often cited as key elements in the success of the Sega Genesis. He is currently the Executive Chairman of Global Education Learning, a company dedicated to children's education in China.
Kalinske's education includes a bachelor of science degree at the University of Wisconsin in 1966, an MBA at the University of Arizona in 1968, and attending the Strategic Management Harvard Business School in 1976.
Previously, Kalinske was CEO and Chairman of educational toy company, Leapfrog, which grew to over $600M in revenue becoming the largest education toy company in the US. He was President of Knowledge Universe, a company that Mike Milken and Larry Ellison each invested $250 million into for the purpose of using technology to improve education. According to Oregon Business magazine in 2011, the company was "the largest single private provider of early childhood education services in the country", with 40,000 employees on three continents and the biggest market share in the United Kingdom, Malaysia and Singapore. Many education companies came out of Knowledge Universe, including LeapFrog, K-12 , Knowledge Beginnings (the largest preschool chain in the US), Spring Plc, and Vistage (Executive Education).
While CEO of Sega of America the company grew from $72 million to more than $1.5 billion and the market value of Sega grew from less than $2 billion to more than $5 billion. The Genesis and Game Gear systems were highly successful during this time. Later the commercial failure of the Sega Saturn in the US was exacerbated by Sega's announcement during E3 1995 that the system was available in selected stores effective immediately instead of on the planned date of September 2, 1995, which had been dubbed “Saturnday”. Kalinske was generally completely against releasing the Saturn early, but was forced to do so by Sega of Japan. With few games and consoles in stock, the pre-selected retailers simply weren’t ready to begin distributing the machine, and those left out of the loop were so offended by this move that they refused to distribute the Saturn at all.
On July 11, 2006, Kalinske gave an exclusive interview to Sega-16 via an hour long telephone conversation, reflecting back on his Sega days. Tom is quoted several times in IGN's 2009 article "IGN Presents the History of SEGA", and extensively in interview excerpts in The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven Kent.
Kalinske served on the board of directors of the Toy Manufacturers of America for twelve years. He served on the Board of Blackboard 2005-2012. He currently serves on the Board of Cambium Learning Group, the Board of Genyous (a cancer drug development company), and the Board of WCEPS (Wisconsin Center for Educational Products & Services). He is Emeritus Advisor to both the UW Business School, and Univ Arizona Eller School of Management, and is Vice Chairman of LeapFrog Inc.
Blake J. Harris's book Console Wars, released in May 2014, is a retelling of Tom Kalinske's efforts to overthrow Nintendo. The story is formulated in a third person narrative which was assembled based on more than two hundred interviews carried out by the author with former Sega and Nintendo employees. A documentary from the book's author is in production, and the book is being adapted by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg as a feature film.
For his work at Mattel, Universal Matchbox, Sega, and Leapfrog, Kalinske was a 1997 inductee into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. He has received the NYC Boy Scout's Good Scout Award, the Starlight Foundation Man of Year Award, the University of Wisconsin Business Partners "Distinguished Fellow" Award, and the Video Software Dealers Man of Year Award.
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