Toymakers Extraordinaire

Toymakers Extraordinaire

Judd and Laura Zebersky, J.D. '93
Judd and Laura Zebersky, J.D. '93

Judd and Laura Zebersky’s, J.D. ’93, path to leading one of the biggest toy manufacturing companies in the world was not a traditional one.

The couple met in 1990 during 1L orientation at the University of Miami School of Law. By the end of the year, they were not only dating but running their own side business, charging attorneys $50 an hour to do legal research. Judd opened a law firm after graduating, and Laura joined a year and a half later. Still, Judd—a business owner at heart who started a boat-cleaning business in Oyster Bay, New York, when he was still in high school—soon took off to China to explore the possibility of starting a toy company.

Twenty-six years later, Judd is the founder and CEO, and Laura is the president of Jazwares, a multinational company with more than 1,300 employees that manufactures toys, costumes, and pet products for some of the biggest licensors in the world, such as Disney, Star Wars, Marvel, Fortnite, Pokémon, Halo, and CoComelon, as well as their brands including the plush sensation Squishmallows. Their company has expanded to more than 20 offices worldwide, distributes products in more than 100 countries, and was purchased last year by Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company owned by Warren Buffett.

Despite that meteoric rise, the couple has made a point of sticking to their roots by allowing their employees to explore job opportunities unrelated to their work experience or college degrees. Jazwares offers leadership training, mentorship programs, and life coaching, and actively encourages employees to try new career paths.

“We have lawyers who work in operations. We also have people that started as designers now running our sustainability department,” Laura said. “We offer to rotate people into different roles to help them explore other opportunities and become comfortable in new career areas where they can excel. My path for sure has been a crazy road, but that was because I was given an opportunity and then empowered to thrive and shine.”

The Zeberskys credit their education at Miami Law for much of their success. They say the ability to break down situations, compartmentalize different issues, and identify the best argument or plan of attack all came from their time in Coral Gables. And that’s why they remain actively involved with the school. But like everything else with their career, they do so in their own way.

Laura was a guest lecturer for a class at the U that introduced law students to careers outside of the law. Judd has served on the law school’s Entertainment, Arts, and Sports Law LL.M. Advisory Board and is now a Dean’s Advisory Council member. The couple recently made a gift to the UM School of Law Dean’s Vision Fund because it allows great flexibility in how the money is used, giving the dean the discretion to address changing needs.

And when scanning resumes for new hires, they always keep an eye out for Miami Law grads.

“We will give our time to the U,” Judd said as Laura flashed the iconic UM gesture with her hands. “We love the U.”

The last few years have seen their company reach new heights. While the global COVID-19 pandemic destroyed countless businesses and ravaged entire economies, Judd and Laura were happy to see that Jazwares not only endured but continued to grow. With so many families quarantining at home, parents were buying toys to entertain their bored children.

Jazwares acquired new licenses and businesses and launched new divisions, including costumes, pet toys, and a Squishmallows pet bed that regularly sells out on Amazon. That growth reached the point where they got on Warren Buffett’s radar.

Since 2016, Jazwares operated as a subsidiary of Alleghany Capital Corporation. But last year, Berkshire Hathaway moved to acquire the entire Allegheny portfolio.

At first, Judd and Laura were skeptical about being folded into such a massive company known more for investing in traditional blue-chip companies than toy makers. But after a few meetings with Berkshire Hathway’s leadership, the Zeberskys saw how like-minded they were.

“They are long-term thinkers, they care about leaders, they care about companies. We have always been the same,” Judd said. “In the toy business, things don’t happen right away, so we have always cared about longevity.”

When the deal was finalized last year, Laura called it a “pinch me” moment. The company even created a set of Warren Buffet Squishmallows plush toys at their inaugural showing at the annual Berkshire Hathaway Shareholders Festival to commemorate the moment. “Jazwares is a gem,” Buffett told Reuters last year. “And Judd and Laura are the ideal Berkshire managers.”

The accolades kept coming. In 2023 alone:

  • Jazwares was included on Fortune’s list of Best Workplaces in Manufacturing and Production
  • Jazwares was included on Fast Company’s list of Best Workplaces for Innovators
  • Laura received the Visionary Leader Award, one of the “Wonder Women Awards” granted by Women in Toys, Licensing & Entertainment
  • Judd was named one of the top global 50 entrepreneurs by The Business Report
  • Judd and Laura were named the “License Global Influential” of 2023

The company is expanding its footprint in South Florida to manage its continued growth. With space running out in their headquarters in Sunrise, Florida, they’re moving into a new 135,000-square foot facility in Plantation in 2024 that can accommodate the more than 400 employees that work there.

Despite all of that, Laura and Judd remember how it all started. That’s why they have never pushed their children to follow their educational or career paths. Their eldest daughter went to law school in New York and works as a public defender. Their second daughter is a sales manager in California, and their third child started his own technology business.

“Laura and I always encouraged our kids to take courses they may or may not like,” Judd said. “Because all of a sudden, you may find something that you love.”

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