2017 WIT Empowerment Day Speakers & Industry Experts

Empowerment Day Co-Chairs

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Deb de Sherbinin – Principal, Perk Consulting

Deb de Sherbinin is principal of Perk Consulting, a product and marketing agency specializing in helping companies develop, brand, and launch products and apps. With over 25 years’ experience building world-class brands and growing startups, she has developed and launched hundreds of products in the toy and game world. Her expertise includes strategic planning, brand management, product innovation, public relations, promotion and product licensing. Deb serves on WIT’s Executive Board, and also co-chairs the Empowerment Committee and Communications Committee. She received her BA from Boston University and MBA from Boston College’s Carroll Graduate School of Management.

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Nancy Zwiers – CMO, Spin Master

A classically trained brand-builder at Procter & Gamble, Zwiers joined the toy industry in 1990 with Mattel, where she held a number of progressively senior positions. Nancy takes child’s play seriously. As founder and CEO of the consulting firm Funosophy Inc., Zwiers spent the past 16 years helping over 200 clients—from industry leaders to start-ups in toys, youth entertainment and interactive games—build and expand their brands. Zwiers has been a strategic thought-partner and facilitator for many industry executives and has helped in strategy development for many successful franchises. She has conducted extensive research on kids and play and has led multiple invention teams to licensing success.

Speakers

Marie Buerkle_2017 ED

Ann Marie Buerkle – Acting Chairman of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Ann Marie Buerkle has served as a Commissioner at the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) since July of 2013. She was named Acting Chairman of the agency on February 9, 2017. On July 24, 2017, President Donald J. Trump announced his intent to nominate Ms. Buerkle to be permanent Chairman and to an additional seven year term to the Commission. Prior to joining the Consumer Product Safety Commission, Ms. Buerkle served the people of Upstate New York’s 25th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. During her time in Congress, Ms. Buerkle served on the Oversight & Government Reform, Foreign Affairs, and Veterans’ Affairs Committees. She served as Chair of the Veterans’ Affairs Subcommittee on Health. While in Congress, Ms. Buerkle was also appointed by President Obama to serve as a United States Representative to the 66th Session of the General Assembly of the United Nations. While in Congress, Ms. Buerkle strived to work across party lines on policies that would improve the nation’s economy, reduce wasteful government spending, provide tax relief to the middle class, and ensure veterans had access to the resources and care that they earned. Prior to being elected to Congress, Ms. Buerkle was appointed, in 1997 by then Attorney General Dennis Vacco, as an Assistant New York State Attorney General representing the State of New York on behalf of Upstate Medical University, a role she held for 13 years. Ms. Buerkle graduated from St. Joseph’s Hospital School of Nursing as a Registered Nurse in 1972 and in 1977 she graduated from Le Moyne College with a Bachelor of Science Degree. In 1991, Ms. Buerkle attended Syracuse University College of Law, graduating with a Juris Doctorate degree in 1994. In addition to her professional accomplishments, Ms. Buerkle has six grown children and seventeen grandchildren.

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Anne Marie Kehoe – VP Toys, Walmart

With 35 years of General Merchandise experience in retail, Anne Marie has led Walmart’s Toy Team since 2010 as VP of Toys. Her career there began in 2003 as a Merchandise Manager for Paper Goods, and in 2004 she was appointed VP and Divisional Merchandise Manager Intimate Apparel. In 2007, Anne Marie was promoted to General Merchandise Manager for Shoes/Jewelry and Accessories. She has also served as VP, Category Planning, Apparel. Ann Marie is very active inside Walmart in the Global Women’s Initiative and Made in the USA. She is a member of the United States Naval Reserves, having served two years active duty and seven years active reserves. Anne Marie has a BA in finance from the University of Wisconsin.

Norma Rosenhain ED 2017

Norma Rosenhain – CEO, Creata

Norma is the founder, owner, and CEO of the Creata Group of companies, including Creata, a global agency that delivers play through consumer insights, gifts with purchase premiums, sales promotion sweepstakes, packaging, digital solutions, and retail products for some of the world’s largest companies:  Centa IP, a global licensing agency; Ultimate Source, a retail toy company which designs and produces original brands including global rights to Hijinx Alive – a new patented interactive toy technology; and Build A Bear retail stores in Australia and Asia. However, she is most proud of having produced over 15 billion toys, distributed to 120 countries, without causing harm to any child. On Australia Day 2015, Norma was given the Officer of the Order of Australia Award, “For distinguished service to commerce, through business model innovation, to philanthropy, particularly supporting disadvantaged families in Asia, and to Australia – China relations.” The Embrace International charity was established by the Rosenhain family in 2006 to provide orphaned and abandoned children in China the love and care they deserve. In addition to her teaching degree, Norma holds an ACTL, LTCL, and FTCL in music.

Industry Experts

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Avi Levine – VP, Star Funding, Inc.

Star Funding has been providing purchase order funding, factoring, and other working capital solutions to consumer product and toy businesses for over 18 years. Working with innovative startups and existing businesses, Star Funding has helped 100s of businesses achieve their goals with creative financing solutions.

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Benjamin Dermer – VP, New Ideas and Innovation, Spin Master Ltd.

Benjamin Dermer heads up Inventor Acquisitions and Outside Innovation at Spin Master Ltd, a company known for its openness to inventors. In a given year, Ben sees over 3,000 new concepts, leading the process of trying to figure out what’s new and cool in the world of toys. A 15-year veteran of the company, he works closely with inventors and designers around the world, helping bring to market original toys and games such as Bakugan and Zoomer, and marrying new inventions with blockbuster entertainment properties like Paw Patrol and Star Wars.

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Denise Vannucci – Partner, Blue Plate Media Services, LLC

A founding partner of Blue Plate Media Services, Denise oversees all media operations and supervises agency staff across media platforms, including TV, digital, mobile and social. Working in tandem with emerging, mid-tier and global toy accounts, Denise works to ensure that the right media mix is employed to drive brands forward. She oversees standards and practices and creative campaign executions for the BPMS roster and often educates the industry about smart and effective media tactics. Across her 34-year career, Denise held leading positions at Macmillan Publishing and Weiss Watson (BBDO/Omnicom) and founded Yellow Advertising & Design, where she worked across a multitude of accounts, ranging in industry from textiles to consumer package goods to luxury travel. Denise has a BFA from New York School of Visual Arts.

David Becker ED 2017

David Becker – President, Blue Plate Media Services

An industry veteran, David Becker has worked closely with many leading toy companies, helping to grow their respective brands in North America and across the globe. He has over 30 years of experience in advertising and branding across a range of industries from toys, entertainment, education and apparel to publishing, licensing and consumer package goods. Recipient of the New York Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award, David has dedicated his career to helping emerging, mid-range to mature companies impact the market through smart thinking and a “collaborative” approach to brand building. A founding partner of Blue Plate Media Services, and 13 year affinity partner with Toy Association, he works closely with toy companies to help drive retailer sell in and consumer sell through. Prior to joining Blue Plate Media, David’s entrepreneurial career included senior marketing and product development agency positions at BBDO, American Marketing, DBECK Industries, and Thorn EMI’s Musicom.

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Gina Anzalone – Membership & Programs Coordinator, American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA)

A Florida native, Gina moved to Chicago to attend Roosevelt University. After graduating in 2009 with a degree in Hospitality, Tourism and Event Management she began working for hotels in downtown Chicago as a Convention Service Manager and continued to do so for six years. In her role she planned mid to large scale conferences, working directly with the clients on all the logistics of their events. While she continued to excel in her role, Gina also wanted to make a difference with her work, and make a positive impact on the community so she sought out a new opportunity with ASTRA. In August of 2016, she joined the ASTRA team as the Membership and Programs Coordinator. In her new role, she interacts with current and potential members and assists with programs such as Neighborhood Toy Store Day.

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Jerry R. Welch – Co-Founder and General Partner, Bambini Partners, LLC

Jerry is Co-Founder and General Partner of Bambini Partners, LLC, a strategic advisory firm focused on companies in the toy, infant/ juvenile, family and pet consumer products industries. Before founding Bambini Partners, he was the CEO of nFinanSe Inc.From 1996 to 2005, Jerry was the CEO of FAO Schwarz and its predecessor companies, during which time he combined The Right Start, Zany Brainy and FAO to form a retail holding company with over 300 stores and $700 million in sales. From 1993 until 2001, he was also a Managing Director and Partner in Kayne Anderson Investment Management, a large Los Angeles-based private equity firm. Jerry is very experienced in the public capital markets, having been CEO of five public companies and taken two companies public over his 40-year career. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee with a B.S. in Business Administration and a Major in Finance.

Jill Sasso_2017 ED

Jill Sasso – Senior Director, Human Resources & Governance, Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC)

Jill joined WBENC in January 2015, and serves on the leadership team, overseeing human resources strategy and organizational development. She is responsible for the overall talent management of the organization as well as program, policy and culture development. Jill also oversees WBENC board governance and leads various programs within the organization, including NextGen and the Legacy of Leaders EnCORE Advisory group. Prior to joining WBENC, she served on the leadership team of WBE firm, Point 2 Point Global Security, Inc., and as SVP of Human Resources. Jill holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Texas. She and her husband Kevin live in McKinney, Texas.

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John W. Lee II – Co-Founder and General Partner, Bambini Partners, LLC

John is Co-Founder and General Partner of Bambini Partners, LLC, a strategic advisory firm focused on companies in the toy, infant/ juvenile, family and pet consumer products industries. Prior to forming Bambini Partners, he was CEO of Callaway Arts & Entertainment, a publishing and IP development enterprise. John is the former President of Learning Curve International, which he founded in 1993. Regarded as a leader in the educational and developmental toy industry, he has authored numerous trade articles on brand management, product innovation and merchandising. John is the recipient of the 2004 Playthings Industry Achievement Award for Brand Builder for the Thomas the Tank Engine train brand, and the 2005 ASTRA Lifetime Achievement Award. He has served on numerous industry association boards including the TA, ASTRA and NRF. John received his B.A. degree in Industrial / Consumer Psychology.

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Joan Grasso – VP Licensing North America, Entertainment One (eOne)

Joan Grasso heads up all licensing efforts in the U.S. and Canada for the international entertainment company’s leading children’s brands, including global sensation Peppa Pig, the animated hit PJ Masks, and preschool favorite Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom, among other properties. With more than two decades of experience, Grasso is a veteran of the toy and licensing business with an impressive track record of success in brand management and marketing as well as business and retail development.

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Karen Kilpatrick – VP, JazWings

Karen Kilpatrick is Vice President of the innovative online platform powered by global toy giant, Jazwares, which provides creators and innovators an unparalleled opportunity to launch new brands. She is also the author of Pumpkinheads, an award-winning children’s book series, and has authored several short stories for adults. Karen and her two daughters are the creators of MeBears (JazWings brand) and GiGi and the Grumplings. Previously, Karen founded, built and sold several online businesses in the legal services industry. Earlier this year, Karen was awarded the 2017 Rising Star by Women In Toys, Licensing and Entertainment. She is a graduate of Georgetown University and the NYU School of Law. Karen currently resides in Florida with her three children.

Kelli Couchee

Kelli Couchee – Account Director for Licensing Expo International

After a successful career supplying branded and licensed apparel to major department and specialty stores, Kelli transitioned from exhibitor to Account Manager with MAGIC Marketplace Apparel Trade Shows. At MAGIC, Kelli specialized in working with apparel and accessory licensees. After her first visit to The Licensing Expo, she was hooked, and is now Account Director for Licensing Expo Las Vegas, Brand Licensing Europe in London, Licensing Expo China, and the newly launched Licensing Expo Japan in Tokyo. As Account Director, Kelli works with Licensors and IP Owners of major brand names, as well as emerging brands, and has a passion for discovering and nurturing new brands through licensing. Now celebrating her 10th year at the Expo, she lives and works in Santa Monica, California.

Kimberly Carcone – VP, Market Events, The Toy Association

Kimberly joined the Toy Association (TA) in September of 2007. With nearly 35 years of experience in nonprofit and corporate event management, marketing and publishing, her expertise spans numerous industries including performing arts & cultural affairs, interior design & architecture, hospitality, travel, pharmaceutical, legal, and for the past 10 years, the toy industry. Prior to joining the TA, Kim held leadership positions at ALM Events, a division of American Lawyer Media, E.W. Williams Publications, Miller Freeman, Inc., VNU Business Media, The American Society of Interior Designers and the Council on the Arts for the City of Long Beach. She studied Association Management at the George Washington University and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the State University of New York College. Kim is also a producer of independent film, a breeder of thoroughbred race horses, a strong supporter of the Arts and an avid beach lover.

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Laura Zebersky – Chief Commercial Officer, Jazwares

Laura oversees Jazwares’ global licensing, marketing and sales efforts. Under her leadership, Jazwares has successfully launched Peppa Pig, Minecraft, Tube Heroes and Terraria. She has been instrumental in developing Jazwares European presence and works closely with retailers and licensors around the globe to build Jazwares North American and International business. Laura plays a key role in identifying trends and developing the global product, marketing and launch strategy. After obtaining her undergraduate degree from the American University, Laura went on to pursue her Juris Doctor at the University of Miami. It was here, that she met her future husband and founder of Jazwares, Judd Zebersky. Following a successful run as a trial attorney, she joined Judd in 2006 at Jazwares. Laura is the proud mom to three beautiful teenagers, and is an active part of her community as co-founder of ‘Jazwares Cares’, which is dedicated to helping children and teens in need.

Leila Nosrati

Leila Nosrati – Consultant, Master Toy Advisors

Leila Nosrati is an accomplished merchant with 15 years of experience managing several of the largest product categories at the world’s leading toy and baby products retailer. Through her consulting firm, Master Toy Advisors, she uses her extensive product knowledge and passion for toys and licenses to guide marketers in developing financially sound assortments and retail strategies, and in perfecting their pitches and presentations to retail buyers. Leila received her MBA from Columbia Business School and her BA from UCLA, and was honored as the 2013 Wonder Woman of Toys in Retail.

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Lisa Wuennemann – Director of Marketing, PlayMonster LLC (formerly Patch Products, LLC)

Lisa loves promoting play. As PlayMonster’s Master Marketing Monster, she has spent 20 years making a career of playing with toys to help develop and market the best games and toys for children, families and adults. Lisa has been with PlayMonster (formerly Patch Products) for 15 years, where she delivered fun to brands such as Arby’s, KOA Kampgrounds, Pizza Hit, Curves, Six Flags and Princess Cruises. She manages PlayMonster’s radio, digital, TV advertising and influencer marketing, launching top brands like Chrono Bomb, Yeti in My Spaghetti and My Fairy Garden, and bringing play to guest celebrities on The Ellen Degeneres Show with party games 5 Second Rule and The Game of THINGS. Lisa also manages new product development, brand and innovation research, and inventor relations. Lisa’s hard work, dedication, and playful spirit have made her a respected leader and friend in the toy industry.

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Marian M. Bossard – SVP, Global Market Events, Toy Association

Marian manages the Toy Association’s (TA) two go-to-market events: the North American International Toy Fair, the largest toy trade show in the Western hemisphere, and Fall Toy Preview, the by-appointment-only event targeting long-lead buyers where toy manufacturers privately show their newest product lines. With partner Leftfield Media, Marian is responsible for Play Fair, TA’s first B2C event for kids, families, and fans; and with Balluun, she launched ShopToys365 – the play trade’s only social digital marketplace. She also oversees PlayCon, TA’s bi-annual industry education and networking event. Marian also develops and executes international trade missions to emerging markets to assist TA members in growing their businesses within the U.S. and abroad. She is an Advisory Board member to the Jacob Javits Convention Center, NYC & Company, CEIR (Center for Exhibition Industry Research), IAEE and WIT. Marian is a 1977 graduate of Rutgers University.

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Matt Phillips – Executive Director, Tier 1

Matt Phillips has over 10 years of ecommerce and big box retail experience. He worked for the nation’s leading billion-dollar plus sporting goods and toy manufacturer & distributor BSN Sports. He grew ecommerce business by being a platinum vendor on Amazon’s VendorCentral and a platinum seller through Amazon’s SellerCentral. In addition he also grew business with Wal-Mart, Sam’s Club, Groupon, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Staples, eBay, Academy and others. After selling to Amazon he became a vendor manager and category leader for Amazon’s deal and flash sale team where he placed products on Amazon’s 2nd most visited URL behind only the Amazon.com homepage and drove events such as Amazon’s Prime Day. He currently advises brands in many categories on retail and Amazon best practices as well as leveraged his retail industry relationships to get product placement. His experience as both a buyer and seller with large retailers and brands provides him with a unique perspective and retail experience that has provided value to both brands and retailers over the past decade.

Maureen McHale ED 2017

Maureen McHale – President, McHale Design

A real life “Wonder Woman,” Maureen McHale has successfully grown McHale Design from a one-woman, home-based, graphic design start-up into the most sought-after branding firm in the toy and licensing industries. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2015, McHale Design employs 10 full-time designers to develop brand design, package design, brand and entertainment style guides, web design, and apps for top-tier clients including Walmart, Disney, Playmates Toys, and SpinMaster. Maureen’s layout for success includes cultivating deep client relationships, over-delivering on creativity, and keeping one step ahead of the latest technology trends. An official Wonder Woman in Toys, her creativity and commitment earned her the Women in Toys Entrepreneur of the Year award in 2009 as well as recognition from Print and Package Design magazines for design excellence. The mother of three grown children, Maureen lives and works in Long Beach, CA.

Michel Martell ED 2017

Michele Martell, Esq. – Principal, Martell Media House

Michele Martell is an attorney who has worked extensively in the entertainment, consumer products and technology space. Her consultancy firm, Martell Media House, provides business and legal affairs guidance for clients across a spectrum of industries – from film & TV, to toys & games, to VR & AR. She managed the intellectual property portfolio of trademarks, copyrights and patents for The Jim Henson Company, and has worked with brands ranging from My Little Pony to Mr. Men to the WWE. In 2012, Michele helped establish the first Immersive Media (3D/VR/AR) film program in the US, at the University of Texas at Austin, and serves on the Advisory Council for the Denius Sams Videogame Academy at UT Austin. Michele is licensed by the State Bars of California and Texas, and divides her time between Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA.

Pablo Garrahan – Founder and Executive Producer, Fiction Films

A native of LA, Pablo has been immersed in Hollywood his whole life with roles as Producer, Director, Creative, Editor and Account Manager. He has worked in business affairs at Walt Disney Pictures and freelanced at DreamWorks.

As founder and Executive Producer of Fiction Films, Pablo has brought to life campaigns for Disney, ABC, Paramount Pictures, DreamWorks SKG, Mattel, Spin Master, and Jakks Pacific.  He has worked on many top brands from Disney Princess, Transformers, and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, to promos for ABC’s Speechless, Dancing with the Stars and The Bachelorette.

Fiction continues to strategize and create content for brands that reach revenues of $250M or more. The company is committed to bringing the best stories to life utilizing the brightest storytellers in the industry.

Pablo serves on the board of a non-profit dedicated to youth enrichment and lends his storytelling skills to many programs including WIT.

Robert Yusim

Robert Yusim – President, Product Counsel

Robert Yusim is President of Product Counsel, a leading expert at helping companies launch their new consumer products using Direct Response Marketing Strategies. In 2006, he initiated the DRTV craze in the Toy Industry with Spin Master, launching many brands including Moon Sand, Pixos, Air Hogs, Havoc Heli, and many more. Since 2011, Robert has worked with many Companies to help them launch their brands including Wubble Ball, Zippysack, Laser X, Floam, Pom Pom Wow, Stompeez, Kurio Tablet, Gemmies and others. Robert also works with inventors to help them license their innovations.

Shelby Mathis

Shelby Mathis – Small Business Ombudsman, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission

Shelby serves as the Small Business Ombudsman at the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. Through her office, she aims to provide information to businesses in a fashion that is clear, easy to understand, and consistent with agency policy. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in Chemical Engineering, a Juris Doctorate, and is a licensed Patent Attorney. Shelby sincerely enjoys assisting businesses, so if you have questions on the requirements associated with a consumer product, please reach out to her directly.

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Stacy Lellos – VP, General Manager, KLUTZ

SVP and General Manager of Klutz, Stacy Lellos is an award-winning marketer and trailblazer in the publishing and toy worlds, having held a variety of executive-level positions at Scholastic and Toys“R”Us. Stacy held several roles at Scholastic, culminating in VP, Marketing and Multiplatform Publishing, where she helped drive the marketing campaigns for Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and many others. She also led the digital development team, increasing brand engagement through social media, apps, and mobile gaming. As VP, Brand Marketing for Toys”R”Us, Stacy led brand strategy for the global retail chain. Stacy took over the helm of Klutz three years ago, steering the company’s award-winning book and activity kits for kids. She has successfully leveraged Klutz’s 40-year history while innovating with dynamic, diversified products that spark creativity in every child.

Stephanie Azzarone

Stephanie Azzarone – President, Child’s Play Communications

Stephanie Azzarone is founder and president of Child’s Play Communications, specialists in promoting kids’ brands through public relations and social media. Her key areas of focus are toys, family technology and children’s entertainment. Stephanie is the winner of multiple awards including the Bulldog Award for Social Media Innovator of the Year and the Stevie Awards for both Lifetime Achievement—Business and Innovator of the Year, as well as the Grand Stevie Award. Her clients have ranged from start-ups to leading brands such as Disney, Warner Bros., Sony, DHX Media, Entertainment One, Hasbro, Spin Master, K’NEX, GUND and ASTRA. An avid biker and kayaker, Stephanie lives in New York City.

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Steven Heller, Esq. – Founder, The Brand Liaison

Steven Heller is a trademark and licensing attorney and founder of The Brand Liaison, one of the licensing industry’s leading boutique licensing and brand management agencies. The Brand Liaison staff is among the most diverse in the industry with experts across a broad range of product classifications. Also known as “The Professor,” Steven is a renowned public speaker and a professor of business and law at both the graduate and undergraduate level. He has conducted seminars and lectures on numerous business and law topics including his books and seminars on “Trademarks, Patents and Copyrights” and “How to Use Licensing and Franchising as a Means of Business Expansion.”

Sue Warfield ED 2017

Sue Warfield – Director of Member Relations,
American Specialty Toy Retailing Association – ASTRA

Sue Warfield has worked in retail and toys for over 30 years. With a passion for retail, she has held a variety of positions with retailers including Dayton’s Department Stores and two major retail chains in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. Sue worked up through the ranks including store manager, training, buying, and director of retail operations. In 1990, she started her own retail consulting firm, Retail Specialties, working with clients throughout the U.S. to develop training programs and improve their day-to-day operations. Sue entered the world of toy representation in 1995 and retail store ownership in 1999, when she and her husband opened a north woods furnishings and décor store. She joined ASTRA in 2000 and has served on the board for seven years, including the position of Chair. Sue began her position as Director of Member Relations in August of 2014.

Tanya Thompson

Tanya Thompson — Director Global Product Acquisition, Gaming, Hasbro

Tanya Thompson is passionate about changing the world through play. She is the Director Global Product Acquisition and Inventor Relations for Gaming at Hasbro, Inc. Tanya’s began her career as an educator, where she inspired her students in mathematics by using games and puzzles. She’s been in the toy and game industry for ten years, eight of which have been in the role of Inventor Relations for both manufacturers and retailers. Tanya’s board service includes Chicago Toy and Game Group (chitag.com), HATCH (hatchexperience.org), and SNAP Math Fairs (mathfair.com). Her proudest accomplishment is raising three beautiful children with her husband Chris!

Veronica Walters_2017 ED

Veronica Walters — Director of Sales, Funko

Veronica Walters a Seattle, WA native who began her career in the toy and game industry in 2001. Passionate about social and fun activities, this was a natural fit for her from the start. Veronica helped grow Front Porch Classics from a group of dads with a few cool classic game ideas to garnering honors as the #1 “Game of the Year” in 2003 with their Old Century Baseball game. From there, she worked for a number of other board game companies, helping them gain worldwide retail exposure. In 2013, she decided to add a new skill-set to her resume — collectibles and licensing — and joined Funko, where she is currently the Director of Sales and manages key relationships across the nation. In her spare time, you can find her in the shoe department ogling and collecting various styles of footwear!