LOS ANGELES - In the seven years since chief executive Robert Eckert took over Mattel Inc., the world's largest toy maker has gone from struggling with sagging sales and unhappy shareholders to a leaner, more profitable company.
Now, the man credited with that turnaround is on the defensive, forced to explain to Congress how some of his decisions resulted in three high-profile recalls involving millions of Chinese-made, lead-tainted toys not long before the holiday shopping season begins.
"The real issue or question lies with not so much how he's handling it all, but how the heck does this happen on his watch?" said Linda Bolton Weiser, analyst with Oppenheimer & Co. "Why wasn't he aware that there appears to be a quality and monitoring and testing issue in his company?"
Eckert declined an interview request from Associated Press.
Among other things, Eckert, 53, put the company back on track by closing what was then Mattel's last US factory in favor of less expensive plants and subcontractors in China and Mexico.
The move was in line with what other companies had done for decades. More than 80 percent of toys sold in US stores are made in China, and other toy makers have also been stung recently by recalls of Chinese-made products.
But Mattel had cultivated an image of being an industry leader when it came to controlling its production in China.
Apparently, the controls were not strong enough, and the recalls have left Mattel fighting to maintain its reputation as company shares have fallen about 9.4 percent since Aug. 1.