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Global Economy

How Lego wants to reinvent itself

A box full of plastic bricks: That's not how the Lego story begins. Instead, the Danish founder and carpenter Ole Kirk Kristiansen initially focused on the production of wooden toys – boats, trains and airplanes. The name Lego didn't come about until a few years later, and even then Kristiansen wasn't thinking about small, colorful plastic bricks.

Lego is a pandemic winner

He copied the idea around ten years after the company was founded, according to Casper Schrøder, a journalist from Danish radio who has been following the company for years: "When Lego started making plastic building blocks in the 1940s, the inspiration came from a British company called Kiddicraft, which is officially part of the company's history. So no, Lego didn't invent the Lego brick." They just let themselves be inspired, says Schrøder: "And they've been doing that very well for decades."

In terms of sales, Lego is the largest toy company in the world – larger than brands such as Hasbro or Mattel, the Barbie manufacturer. Lego is still in the hands of Ole Kirk Kristiansen's descendants today. And the numbers look good, the family business is considered a pandemic winner: because when many people were sitting at home, they needed employment for themselves and their children.

A success story with depths

But the company's history is far from just a success story, reports Danish journalist Schrøder: "Computer games suddenly became very popular in the 1990s. They stole time from the children, and they didn't play Lego as much anymore." It was a shock when Lego slipped into the red in the mid-1990s. Because the company had missed breaking new ground: "The success was always there – that became a problem."

In 2004, Lego was on the brink of bankruptcy and, for the first time in the history of the family business, brought in an external manager. He had a simple but effective plan: full concentration on the business with the stones – and not getting bogged down with watches, clothes or amusement parks. Instead, do little good. One relied on the big brands like "Star Wars" or Harry Potter. The plan worked and sales increased again.

Stones should be green and sustainable

The task now is to make the company future-proof and thus also more sustainable. Lego is working on its image and wants to make clean plastic toys. But the changeover is not easy, says journalist Schrøder: "Lego has invested a lot of money in the last ten years to develop greener, more sustainable bricks."

However, the development is not far off yet: "It is very, very difficult to achieve that. The stones should last a long time, have the same quality and be compatible with old stones. All of this with the use of sustainable materials." These new bricks should go into production by 2030 at the latest, Lego writes on its website.

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