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One could say that Joe Vittoria's been around the block, professionally, that is. Dubbing himself as "an old finance guy," Vittoria has worked that side for many multinational firms and brands whose interests range from man-made fertilizers to cutlery, from appliances to human-powered radio/lanterns. He's even been on the consulting side with PricewaterhouseCoopers, advising executives of major consumer packaged goods companies on implementing change and executing operating strategies.
Thus, when asked about his recent move to Orange, Conn.-based PEZ Candy Co., it was a bit surprising to hear Vittoria say his affiliation with America's most loved interactive candy would be "till the end of my career."
Once Vittoria started to explain himself, it's easy to understand why.
"I got hooked on PEZ as a business opportunity about 15 to 20 years ago," he explains. "In fact, at one point I pursued acquiring the brand but was informed by a representative of the ownership that a sale of the brand would never happen."
The privately held company was founded by Edward Haas in 1927 and continues to operate in Traun, Austria, with the Haas family still retaining a significant ownership position.
At that point, the closest Vittoria thought he would get to PEZ was through his personal collection of dispensers dating back 40-50 years.
Consequently, it was a favorable twist of fate when in 2003--through a joint professional contact--the company's management contacted Vittoria about replacing the retiring Scott McWhinnie as president and CEO.
As Vittoria explains, "When I went to tell my family that I was considering a move to PEZ Candy Inc., even my kids said, "Cool!"
For Vittoria, the company and its brand go well beyond cool. Brought to the United States in 1952 by Haas as a smoker's mint--it was even dispensed in a cigarette lighter mockup--PEZ, as a mint, failed to meet expectations in the US market.
Undaunted, Haas believed the delivery vehicle and the product could work. By adding fruit flavors to the tablets and then fashioning a three-dimensional head onto the dispenser. Haas hit upon a winning formula and audience--children.
This simple yet satisfying novelty quickly captured the fancy of Baby Boomers who were just beginning to explore the world of toys, television and treats.
"This brand has--what we call in the business--legs," says Vittoria. More importantly, it has the legs of a marathoner; the brand's appeal just doesn't quit, capturing a broad range of consumers, from grandparents, parents and children, to collectors, ethnics and higher-income households.
"Candy always excites the kid in all of us," Vittoria asserts. "PEZ definitely excites the kid in us because it's also a wonderful toy, thanks to its interactive nature. The question for many has been, is PEZ a toy …