Q&A: Toy Inventor Russell Hornsby

Toy inventor and king of all plush rodents, Russell Hornsby found a way to make it big during the recession. The CEO of Cepia, a seven-year-old outfit in St. Louis, launched his line of Zhu Zhu Pets in fall 2009, just as parents were feeling the pinch most. But the toy hamsters, in high demand since hitting the shelves, were priced to go easy on the wallet — good thing, as kids can’t get enough of them. Hornsby talks to Adweek about toys and innovation.

Adweek: What was your first invention?
Russell Hornsby: The Nerd. It was a latex-covered stress ball filled with corn syrup.
What do you wish you invented?
I admire everything accomplished by [inventor, and mechanical and electrical engineer] Nikola Tesla. He was brilliant. His legacy will stand the test of time.

How do you get inspired to create?
I observe the world around me. The greatest of successes fit seamlessly into our world and lead people to ask the simple question, “Why didn’t I think of that?”

What was your favorite toy as a kid?
Robby the Robot.
Who would you want to play you in a movie?
Robert Redford in The Natural. You have to always believe in the underdog and in yourself.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the last year?
The world is always ready for innovation. By looking at things differently, you can revitalize a market and change the game.

What was your biggest mistake?
We all have our lists, don’t we? Yet, ultimately, life is the sum of these mistakes.
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Besides my children, Zhu Zhu Pets undoubtedly has been that once-in-a-lifetime brass ring that everyone strives to get.
What are three words you would use to describe yourself?
Passionate, innovative and simple.

What are three words others would use to describe you?
Creative, hardworking and kind.

What book is on your nightstand?
Pretty Little Lilly and the Magical Night. My daughter Ashley [Hornsby] wrote it and it is a beautiful tale.
What’s on your iPod?
The Beatles