Glenn Abell is the managing director for LEGO in Australia and New Zealand. That's a job most of us would kill for, but how do you get there, and how do you stay on top? Plus: the background story behind the awesome LEGO Build project for Chrome.
Picture by Jack Everett
Abell has enjoyed a long career at LEGO, working his way up to local MD after a series of sales and marketing roles. "I've got a relatively broad background when it comes to what our company looks for," he said.
Sadly for LEGO maniacs, that background doesn't include lots of playing with LEGO as a kid. "I did play with LEGO as a youngster, but I wouldn't say it was always my first choice. Eight-year-olds today can absolutely smash me. I'm still not a very good builder of LEGO."
Abell's bigger challenge is to keep building LEGO sales locally. The brand has the advantage of being long-established and familiar to Generation X and Y parents. LEGO has been on sale for 50 years in Australia, an event the company is celebrating with the year-long LEGO Festival of Play, which has included life-sized LEGO installations in Martin Place and Broken Hill.
Nostalgia will only take you so far, however. "It's always a challenge to market the product in changing economic circumstances. The toy industry globally is a relatively flat industry. We've had a good run of double-digit growth, and we've been lucky enough to weather the softening in the industry."
LEGO hasn't shied away from technology, with a successful range of co-branded console games and a highly active online community. The Festival of Play has also included tech elements, most notably the recent LEGO Build site co-developed with Google that lets people construct with virtual LEGO on a map of Australia.
"The Chrome map was a serendipitous thing with Google," Abell explained. "They approached us and said 'we've got a really good idea' and we partnered with them. We have a great product, they have a great product. It gave us a way to tap into a very on-trend medium but do it in a way that's very traditional. It was one of those opportunistic things you need to take advantage of in this day and age. Things just pop up online that might appeal to you. You have to be playing in that space."
For keeping himself organised, Abell relies heavily on the iPhone. "The iPhone has literally changed my life and how I do things," he said. "The world becomes much, much smaller." Abell isn't a heavy app user, mostly sticking to the built-in calendar and email apps. That said, the local LEGO team often nominate an 'app of the week', a cool application a staff member has discovered that's worth sharing with others.
The one downside Abell faces, like many of us, is ensuring he switches the phone off. "Some of it is to my detriment because you spend more time on your phone. It changes the way you live your day to day life. You feel naked without the phone." But at least it's easy to build a holder for it using LEGO.