What can we learn from the Fisher-Price Rock ‘n Play recall?
Presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article published with permission from Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
In mid-April, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) and Fisher-Price issued a voluntary recall of a product linked to the deaths of 32 infants since 2009. What took so long?
The infants apparently died of accidental suffocation as they rolled over in the Rock ’n Play Sleeper unrestrained.
In its recall announcement, Fisher-Price, owned by Mattel, claimed the infant deaths occurred because the sleepers were used “contrary to safety warnings and instructions.” A number of pediatric experts, however, have found the product is too dangerous for infants.
Some see regulators failing to act decisively and fast enough.
“Their job is to create stability and safety and to act as a countervailing force versus commercial interests that would want to innovate, perhaps in reckless ways,” said Robert Hurley, professor of leading people and organizations at Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business on the Knowledge@Wharton radio show on SiriusXM. “Regular people are not going to read the fine print.”
Fisher Price is also being criticized for allowing the design to go forward and its reaction to the problem. A changing lineup of CEOs at Mattel, steady revenue and stock price declines and the fallout from the Toys ‘R’ Us bankruptcy may have caused management to overemphasize growth at the expense of safety or compliance.
“It’s a paradox — growth versus safety, growth versus stability,” said Prof. Hurley. “So many times when we run companies, we don’t balance that paradox.”
Critics have also called out Fisher-Price’s response that came from a general manager rather than Mattel’s CEO. Mattel may have restrained its response due to a desire to avoid further inflating the headlines and as protection from expected lawsuits.
Fisher price may need to take steps to reclaim lost ground in trust and brand value, such as showing a deeper level of remorse than Mattel’s initial recall statement. Hiring a new CEO who has a record around quality and safety and helping spearhead an industry-wide effort to uplift toy safety standards may also be beneficial.
“Fisher-Price should take every opportunity to repeatedly note their No. 1 goal is children’s safety,” said Wharton marketing professor David Reibstein.
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Where do you see the oversights or faults that led to the tragedies surrounding Fisher-Price’s Rock ’n Play Sleeper? What do you think of the reaction from Mattel and Fisher-Price and what should be its next steps?