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Manny Stul – EY Entrepreneur of the Year 2016

October 11th, 2016 by Chris St Cartmail

EY’s Entrepreneur of the Year Awards is an annual celebration of the energy and strength of businesspeople the world over. The awards aren’t just about individuals; they shine a light on the passion and spirit that continues to reinvigorate the business world and beyond.

Manny Stul

Manny Stul – EY photo

This year’s winner is Manny Stul, the chief executive of Australian toy company Moose. Manny’s award marks the second year in a row that a businessman from a migrant background has been given the honour; last year’s award was given to Mohad Altrad, an inspirational Frenchman born a Bedouin in the Syrian desert. Mohad went on to emigrate to France where he made billions through an inspired turnaround of a small French scaffolding firm, now the multimillion pound construction company Altrad.

Manny Stul came from a similar background of upheaval. As the son of Polish refugees, he spent the first three years of his life in an Australian refugee camp when his parents fled their homeland under threat of what Communist rule might bring in 1949. But it’s more than a migrant history that unites these inspiring entrepreneurs; it’s a shared strength of character that has helped them overcome personal and business strife.

Mohad said upon accepting his EY award: “Companies are not just there to generate money year after year and then you become a billionaire — this is not the objective. The objective of life is to help humanity.”

Manny’s comments over the years suggest a similar foundation of morality; in fact it’s something he he credits as helping him overcome his most difficult and critical time in business.

Exceptional Growth

Manny founded his first business of note in 1973: a gift firm called Skansen. Some 20 years later Skansen floated for more than AU$15 million (£7.76 million). But it is for his skill in running Moose that Manny is most celebrated.

He took over the struggling toymaker Moose in the 2001, along with Jacqui Tobias and Paul Solomon. Between the takeover and 2015 Manny and his team grew revenue from $10 million (£7 million) to more than $600 million.

The massive growth alone is worthy of note, but the skill with which Manny steered the company away from almost certain failure when disaster struck make this a truly impressive success story.

Avoiding Administration

In 2007, a safety breach in one of Moose’s toys brought the company perilously close to failure. A chemical in one of its most popular toys was found to turn into the potentially deadly gamma-hydroxy butyrate when mixed with water. It turned out that a Chinese supplier was to blame, but Moose still took the brunt of a nationwide recall and numerous lawsuits.

The way in which Stul handled the situation and brought the company back from the brink cemented his position in the business hall of fame. At the time, he told Fairfax Media, the company was advised “to just go into voluntary administration”. But Manny took it upon himself to steer Moose out of the storm.

“We had all these American insurance companies coming after us, because the payouts were going to be huge,” Stul added. But instead of administration, Stul opted for a mammoth 10-day negotiation with creditors. The talks enabled the company to stay afloat in the wake of the health and safety breach, but more than that, it took the firm to new heights in the years that followed.

Personal and Professional Accountability

Manny took personal responsibility for ensuring that such a safety disaster did not happen again, even going so far as to accept full liability for what happened and putting himself at risk of criminal prosecution should another safety breach take place at the company.

There’s little doubt that Manny’s strong sense of morality had a part to play in the company’s survival; his business skill and personal accountability proved a powerful combination. The entrepreneur credits his parents for his morals: “They both had a very strong work ethic and were very moralistic and clear cut about what’s right and wrong.”

Confidence subsequently soared within the business. In 2015, Moose’s Shopkins characters were named the Toy Industry Association’s Girl Toy of the Year in the US and international stockists such as Amazon and Toys R Us all continue to sell Moose’s in-demand toys.

Back on Smooth Waters

Overcoming the disaster tested Manny. But he brought the company back to calmer waters and eventually growth. In calmer times, he cites a focus on product and a deep understanding of his company as the secrets to his success.

Speaking to the Financial Times at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year event, Manny revealed that more than 60 per cent of Australian office resources are dedicated to product development. He believes very strongly that a great product is essential, along with a knowledge of all areas of the business, and he’s gone on to prove that at a remarkably impressive level.