Every time that Robert Eckardt, the CEO of Mattel, opens his mouth, he simply digs a deeper hole for his company. His TV appearances have been particularly and spectacularly bad. He has come across as very uneasy, overly dogmatic, and strident -- think Nixon versus JFK. It must drive his PR people nuts.
Eckardt’s latest display of "foot in mouth" disease is his open apology for Mattel's failures for safety lapses related to the manufacture of defective toys in China. Make no mistake about this. The ultimate audience for this apology was not the U.S. Congress or U.S. consumers. Rather, it was a classic kowtow to the Chinese.
While it has gone largely unreported in the United States, there has been significant backlash in China against America because of the product recalls. The source of the backlash is propaganda issued by the Chinese government, which controls the Chinese press. The Chinese spin basically is that "the Americans made us do it."
One gambit the Chinese are using to produce this is the faulty design argument. The other gambit is that American manufacturers are putting so much pressure on us to cut costs, we really can't help ourselves and must build crappy products.
This is all a bunch of Chinese nonsense designed to whip up nationalist sentiment against America. Mattel is feeling this pressure in China. In particular, the Chinese government is dramatically increasing its regulation of what Mattel is doing as a way of putting pressure on America to back off.
Mattel is not the only company suffering from this pressure. In the food sector, China is reportedly now inspecting 100% of all U.S. food imported into China. This is not good regulation. It is simply harassment.
So now Mattel is apologizing to China in the hopes that China won't be increasing Mattel's costs of doing business in China. In the end, all Robert Eckardt will accomplish will be to establish himself as the poster child of how not to manage a crisis and he will wind up being the star of some Harvard case study on what not to do.