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Manny Stul has been named the EY World Entrepreneur of the Year 2016, capping the remarkable rise of a boy born in a refugee camp who has gone on to conquer the world toy market.
The Australian took over a small business called Moose in 2000 and in 15 years had increased sales by 7,200 per cent to create the sixth-biggest toy brand in the US, a remarkable feat for a non-US company.
His win marks the second-year in a row that a former refugee has won the award. Last year it was Mohed Altrad, of Altrad Group, the Syrian émigré who grew up in the desert and ended up building a multibillion euro French construction products group.
Mr Stul accepted the award to huge applause and spoke movingly of his parents who were Holocaust survivors. He appealed to people to give to charity.
“You know better than the government what to do with your money. Do something positive.”
Rebecca MacDonald, chair of the independent judging panel and executive chair of Just Energy Group, a Canadian power supplier, said: “He comes from a very humble background and has built a fantastically strong business and it has grown in the face of technological disruption. It has a global reach. He gives back personally and through the company.”
Mr Stul triumphed over 54 other entrepreneurs who, like him, had already won their national Entrepreneur of the Year events. A total of 49 countries were represented this year at the World Entrepreneur of the Year event in Monaco.
Mr Stul’s story charts a rise from extremely humble beginnings. His parents fled Communist rule in Poland in 1949 and he was born in a refugee camp in Germany.
The family were given sanctuary in Australia and he arrived in the country when he was seven months old. He spent the first three years of his life in a refugee camp in Australia and the following three years in a house that his family had to share with three other families.
Mr Stul dropped out of university and laboured on a construction site to raise enough money to start a business. His life as an entrepreneur started soon afterwards, in 1973, with a gift company called Skansen, which floated some 20 years later for more than A$15m ($11m).
He spent time travelling the world before taking over what was then a struggling toymaker called Moose in 2000.
Moose’s Shopkins characters beat Barbie in 2015 to become the Toy Industry Association’s Girl Toy of the Year in the US. Moose supplies the likes of Toys R Us, Walmart and Amazon and sells in more than 80 countries. The company has created characters with their own TV shows, online games and other spin-offs. The Melbourne-based business also makes a range of electronic pets.
Moose’s progress has not always been smooth. In 2007 the company had to recall its entire stock of Bindeez craft toys after they were found to be contaminated with a harmful chemical. Moose said a Chinese manufacturer was to blame. “Everyone said it was impossible to survive the recall, yet we pulled through,” Mr Stul said.
The plight of refugees has been a theme all week at the World Entrepreneur of the Year forum, which culminated in Saturday night’s winner’s award ceremony.
The keynote speaker for the forum was Amal Clooney, the human rights lawyer.
Born in Lebanon, she told delegates she wanted to help Syrian refugees and appealed for private sector support for a new charitable foundation that would help educate Syrian child refugees as well as establish a body to scrutinise the conduct of courts around the world.
Businesses have to “step up and take some responsibility” she said.