ON THIS DATE in 1976, Mary Rodas was born. At fourteen the Salvadoran American was hired as a $200,000 a year vice president of marketing for the Catco toy company. Her job duties? “If an idea’s good enough, I say so,” she told the Associated Press in 1990. “If there’s something to improve, I say what needs to be done to fix things up.”

Rodas showed her value when Donald Spector, CATCO’s founder and CEO, created a cloth balloon ball he called the Balzac. Spector thought he had a winner, but Rodas told him, “This is boring. Let’s change it.” She wanted to alter it in various ways, including dressing it up in neon colors, and Spector, wisely, took her advice. The result was a toy that brought in $30 million in sales in its first year.

By that time, Spector had been hearing and heeding the young woman’s wisdom for nearly a decade, beginning when the then-four-year-old had offered him floor-tiling advice. Accompanying her father, a Salvadoran immigrant and assistant building superintendent, to work one day, she saw Spector’s kitchen retiling efforts and whispered to her dad, loud enough for all to hear, “He’s doing it wrong.” Spector was charmed by the girl and became a sort of surrogate uncle, frequently asking her advice on toy-making and marketing decisions. Eventually he gave her a title, vice president of marketing, and more than $200,000 worth of compensation.

Called “an industry legend” by the Associated Press, Rodas would become the youngest person ever admitted to the Hispanic American Hall of Fame.

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