Five years before we edged to financial catastrophe, an unlikely rehearsal was played out by toy giant Lego. In as long as it takes to develop a new model Star Wars range, it went from massive profit to near-fatal loss. The question is, how did it happen? And more to the point, how did this toy story get a happy ending?
Minifigure heads on the Lego production line in Billund, Denmark, where two million Lego pieces are made every hour. This machine, one of several similar ones in the factory, can paint different expressions on each side of the heads
Beneath the Lego museum at the Lego headquarters in Billund, Denmark, is a locked, secret room whose contents have been known to make grown men cry. I ask my guide Jette Orduna, head of Lego’s archive, what’s in there, but she won’t say. Instead she asks me the year I was born. 1965, I say.
She leads me into a basement room, mostly comprising a floor-to-ceiling, gunmetal grey filing system. She slides back one of the cabinet walls, each of which has shelves piled high with old Lego boxes in mint condition. The label on the shelf reads 1972, when I would have been seven years old. I don’t burst into tears – as more than one adult visitor has done – but I definitely feel a catch in my throat and a moistness in my eyes as I see, arrayed before me, my early childhood: the ambulance set, the police car set, the Shell garage set, all exactly as I remember them from more than 35 years ago.
Such is the power of Lego. Since its first interlocking brick was launched in 1949 it has become more popular than any toy in history. Every second, seven new boxes of Lego are sold; for every person in the world, there are 62 Lego pieces; Lego people – mini-figures, as they’re known – outnumber real people. You’d think it would be impossible to to go wrong with a brand as beloved as that. Yet five years ago, the impossible happened.
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