CHICAGO—After guiding Little Tikes Co. through a difficult period, Gary Kleinjan is out as the president of Little Tikes in a management shuffle announced Aug. 11 by Tikes' parent, Rubbermaid Inc.
That same day, Little Tikes also fired a shot against rival toy maker Fisher-Price, which hired away two former Little Tikes officials in recent weeks. Little Tikes filed a lawsuit in Summit County Common Pleas Court in Akron, Ohio, asking for an injunction to stop the two men from sharing inside information about Little Tikes with Fisher-Price.
Rubbermaid Inc. announced a management switch that moved Kleinjan from president and general manager of Little Tikes, a position he held since 1994, to a corporatewide post of president of sales and corporate accounts at Rubbermaid. Kleinjan essentially swapped positions with Cal Eller, who had held that post for about the past four months, according to a Rubbermaid spokeswoman.
Eller, 48, becomes Tikes' new president and chief operating officer. Before taking the sales and corporate accounts post, a newly created position, he headed Rubbermaid's Seasonal Products business. His background is in retailing — before joining Rubbermaid, Eller was executive vice president of Venture Stores, a Midwest retail chain.
Kleinjan, 48, is a 17-year Rubbermaid veteran. In his new position, Kleinjan will handle all divisions of the Wooster, Ohio, company.
Rubbermaid announced the switch Aug. 11, the second day of the National Hardware Show in Chicago. Two other executives also are switching jobs: David Gibbons, 53, president and general manager of the Home Products division, now will head Rubbermaid Europe. The man who held that post, Larry Porcellato, 39, takes Gibbons' old post leading Home Products, the company's largest division.
Spokeswoman Lorrie Paul Crum stressed that all four executives are remaining with Rubbermaid. She said the job swaps are part of Rubbermaid's restructuring.
In a prepared statement, Wolfgang Schmitt, Rubbermaid chairman and chief executive officer, said: ``We are broadening the global experience of our management team to ensure they get all of the seasoning they need to lead Rubbermaid into the next century.''
Neither Kleinjan, who attended the National Hardware Show, nor Eller, who was not in Chicago, could not be reached for comment on their job changes.
At the company's Hardware Show booth, Crum said the change at Little Tikes is not a reflection of recent tough times in the rotationally molded toy industry.
Throughout 1996, Rubbermaid pointed to Little Tikes as a financial drain, although company officials insist the toy business turned around in the second quarter of this year.
She said the job swap between Kleinjan and Eller is a ``lateral move'' for both men.
Asked if it was a demotion for Kleinjan, Crum said: ``Absolutely not. Every one of these executives are with the company because they are capable. These moves reflect a positive statement on our part on each of them.''
Crum also confirmed the lawsuit against Fisher-Price, but said Rubbermaid would have no further comment.
In July, Fisher-Price hired two former Tikes executives: Kevin Aker and Kevin Curran. Aker was Tikes vice president of research and development, but he left recently to start his own design firm in Hudson.
His first client? Fisher-Price, who has hired Aker as a consultant.
Curran, who headed sales and marketing at Little Tikes Europe, has joined Fisher-Price as senior vice president of research and development.
He originally left Fisher-Price to go to Little Tikes.
In the lawsuit, Rubbermaid asks the judge to stop Aker and Curran from working for any toy company for one year.
Fisher-Price began rotationally molding toys in 1995, but the company has scaled back since then, closing a major rotomolding plant in Medina, N.Y. Mattel Inc. owns Fisher-Price.
Fisher-Price's president is Gary Baughman — who was president of Little Tikes for several years before leaving in 1994 for Tyco Toys Inc.
Mattel merged with Tyco Toys this past March, and Baughman was named Fisher-Price president.