Bill Walters, SVP, TOMY International: The TOMY ag toy guru and real-life farmer looks to his future

by TOMY | 17 Apr 2024

Biographies and Interviews



Bill, congratulations on a great career and a new chapter beginning this summer. You have a really unique background in this industry I would love for you to share.


Thanks, Mary. Well, I’m from Iowa - born and bred. It couldn’t have been more perfect that I’ve spent my entire professional career at TOMY on ‘Ag toys’ when my real life has always revolved around farming. Our family farm in still going strong today!


I did move out-of-state for 8 years when I joined the Air Force and was assigned to Shaw AFB in South Carolina. After I served in Desert Shield/Desert Storm, I attended the University of SC where I completed a B.A. in Business Management.


In 1993, a job posting for a customer service position at ERTL brought me, and my young family, back home. From that position, I was promoted to manager of consumer services, then moved to the marketing side. I progressed into a team leader position on agriculture toys and vehicles in 1999. Over the last 25 years, I was promoted from Managing Director to Vice President, before reaching my current position.


After June, I’ll stay on part time to ensure a smooth transition, transferring preschool responsibilities to Jennifer Wulfekuhle, recently promoted to Director- Farm Toys, and Noah Pasker, Associate Product Manager, who will look after replica.


How do you approach the handoff after all these years?


I think mentoring the next generation of leaders is very important. I am committed to ensuring the transition goes smoothly.  With Jennifer being named Director, TOMY is giving the team time and space to allow the knowledge transfer to happen seamlessly-- with me less focused on the day-to-day business management.


Tell us a little bit about the Ag toys developed at TOMY.

Fred Ertl Sr. was the first person to create diecast farm toys – meaning real replicas vs. the earlier cast iron toys that lacked detail. Fred lived in Dubuque, Iowa and was a mold maker. He decided he wanted to make toy tractors, so he melted aluminum in his basement furnace and poured the molds. In 1946, he also helped establish the first licensed deal in ag toys by partnering with John Deere.


Having had early success, Fred eventually needed a larger manufacturing facility and worked with the city of Dyersville, Iowa to break ground on our current office. That was 65 years ago in 1959.


Did where you grew up influence your work?


Yes. I grew up on a 150-acre farm with three sisters. We actually played with ERTL toys that looked like the farm equipment around our property. I am a fan going way back.



What has kept you in Iowa?


Open spaces, the trees, and the changing of the seasons. I really enjoy this part of the country. I garden and explore nature with my family -- and this is home.


You’re the Internal Eco Committee Chair at TOMY. What does that entail?


The Eco Committee started with a desire to adopt practices that could lessen our impact on the environment from both a toy and operations perspective. We ask ourselves what more could we eliminate, swap, or make recyclable, and have achieved measurable improvements.


In a more unique endeavor, the Dyersville team have made strides to protect the North American monarch butterflies’ habitat by planting a natural prairie on a portion of TOMY’s land. With this natural prairie, the native plants that monarch butterflies feast on, like milkweed, nectar plants, and other native flowers, will thrive. As monarchs are a migratory species, this will provide them a place to go when they migrate from California or central Mexico to the northern portion of the United States and Canada in the spring/summer months. As is the case with several other species, a large portion of the monarchs’ natural habitat has been taken over by urban development: We’re all very happy to offer them this habitat.


To what do you attribute the enduring appeal of ag toys?


Farming has been around forever and has larger than life elements to it that captivate children. At the earliest age, children are prompted to imitate the sound a cow makes, dig up dirt with play tractors. Parents rightly perceive farm play themes as wholesome, peaceful, and natural for children to explore. Farm toy play brings real world wonder down to a child’s size. It’s a very positive experience.


How have you seen product change across your tenure?


Monster Treads was so much fun for the team to imagine…Monster Trucks meets ag toys! Having that kind of license to expand traditional play formats has been great.


Also, the new design technology that has come to bear on design has allowed us to make feature elements even more interesting and realistic in an age-appropriate way.

Do you have a reflection on TOMY’s 100th milestone?


It’s amazing to think about the amount of change in the product offerings, the global expansion, the perseverance through market changes, and all the talented people who have imprinted on childhood through play with our products. I’m proud I was one of those people.


You were inducted into the National Farm Toy Museum Hall of Fame? In lieu of having a yellow or green jacket bestowed upon you, what was the experience like?


I got overalls. Kidding aside, it was a real honor to be inducted alongside icons like Fred Ertl, Sr. and Jr. It meant a lot to me to be thought of as someone who shaped the ag toy business. The Ertl’s produced special runs of toys and gave the proceeds to Dyersville as seed money to build the museum: TOMY is also a supporter of the museum.




What will we find you doing outside of TOMY?


We still have the family farm and keep it running. As everyone knows, there is no shortage of things to do on a farm – working on the barn or fixing equipment and fences. I also have four grandkids now. I look forward to spending time with my wife, kids, and grandkids as well as traveling. I will always be available to TOMY but using the time in my day a little differently.


What do you think about the next generation of TOMY leaders?


We have a great team and it’s very satisfying to know TOMY will always do the right thing. As I make my transition this summer, I will transfer all the information I can and feel confident the team will continue to make good decisions in collaboration with their colleagues and business partners.



Thanks for the contributions, Bill!!!



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