Meet the 28-Year-Old CEO Who's Disrupting Christmas
OUT: Jolly old elves // IN: Vertical digital solutions
If this were anyone else’s office, you might find yourself lost in the view.
Situated on the 56th floor of a gleaming skyscraper in San Francisco’s Embarcadero district, the floor-to-ceiling windows open to a breathtaking vista of the bay, the water glittering far below and the fog-draped hills of the East Bay far beyond.
With the kind of vision on display inside, however, there’s little temptation to play sight-seer here.
A shockwave rippled through the holiday industry earlier this year when control of Christmas was wrested from the hands of its longtime head, Kris Kringle, in a surprise hostile takeover. Business analysts were stunned by the acquisition, and more than a few passionate op-eds were penned decrying the move.
New CEO Brantwell Hask is undeterred by the criticism, though. He’s possessed by a vision to reshape the beloved holiday, and determined to see it through.
Listening to him describe this vision, it’s hard not to become a believer yourself.
“Everyone loves Christmas,” Hask states matter-of-factly, pausing from a round of pull-ups to sip from the steaming yerba mate pot an assistant has just placed on his desk—a four-inch-thick slab of Calacatta marble that seems to float weightlessly above the tatami-mat flooring. Hask is dressed smartly as always, wearing a tight black Issey Miyake tee and cream-colored linen pants that flutter and flow as he strides about the space, speaking animatedly.
“It has terrific brand awareness. Tremendous mindshare. That kind of emotional equity is hard to find in a brand. Even Facebook at its peak couldn’t touch the kind of metrics that Christmas hits year-in, year-out.”
He pauses to ponder one of the many antique swords that dangle from the ceiling.
“But let’s be real. Kris Kringle—despite all his strengths—often acted like he wasn’t running a business at all.”
As soon as the ink was dry on the deal in August, Hask was quick to make changes.
The first and most visible change, of course, was the controversial relocation of Christmas’s headquarters from its longtime home in the North Pole to here in the heart of Silicon Valley.
“I know that surprised a lot of people, but frankly, it was a no-brainer. Should’ve happened years ago. We need to be able to recruit top talent, and up there? Well, it’s a hard sell to get someone to move to the North Pole when they’ve got offers in Menlo Park and Cupertino. If we stayed there, we’d be reliant on a local population—elves, mostly—that simply lack the skills we need to move this company forward. Sure, they’re great at some things, but we need hardcore coders, not candy canes.”
He pauses long enough to press a sleek black button discreetly placed on the wall, itself a striking sheet of shiny black resin. The button’s purpose is unclear, but the confidence with which he presses it is intoxicating.
“We’re already planning to expand our operations. In the next four quarters, we’ll be opening additional headquarters in Miami, Rio, Johannesburg and Baku. Access to emerging markets is huge for us.”
The other most visible change is the rebranding.
Hask laughs when I bring it up.
“Right, right. Christmas. The word is familiar, but it’s weighted with all sorts of things we need to be getting away from. You hear ‘Christmas’, what images does that conjure for you? Chestnuts roasting over an open fire?” He scoffs. “I can get that on any street corner in New York City. That’s not engaging me as a user. Also—this has to be said—there’s some lingering, er, religious connotations with the word that limit our ability to penetrate new markets. I mean, Christmas,” he says, emphasizing the word.
“You’re taking out half your potential user base right there.”
In September, Hask announced the parent company’s new name—PolarX.
“PolarX embodies the values we’re living by moving forward. Lithe. Agile. Imperative. Web3. Architecting dynamic realities. Blockchain.”
An assistant floats wordlessly into the office, placing a small wooden crate on the desk before quickly backing out of the room, careful not to make eye contact. If there were any doubts about Hasks’s ability to engender loyalty in his staff, it’s not evident here. Hask glances at the crate. His daily lunch has quickly become the talk of Silicon Valley—a simple salad of raw thistles, reeds, sedge and cattails, topped with a glistening red filet of raw goose meat.
Hask reaches in and places a fistful in his mouth, continuing to orate between bites.
“Look, I’m not here to criticize anyone. Kris was a legend in his time. I grew up idolizing the man. When I was ten years old, I thought he was the greatest CEO on Earth. But this company has not kept up with the times.”
He pauses to work through a tough bite of salad, his mouth bleeding slightly.
“Do you know how big our sugarplum division was? Billions.”
He snaps his fingers, and a projection appears on the lacquered wall.
“Look at this inventory list we found. Little tin horns, and little toy drums. Rooty-toot-toot and rump-a-tum-tums. Curly haired-dolls that tootle and coo. Elephants, boats, and kiddie cars, too?”
He snaps again, and the wall returns to black.
“Kids today don’t want rump-a-tum-tums. They want vertical digital content.”
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He shakes his head.
“Kringle’s data-gathering apparatus was appalling. It was something out of the 1950s. Do you know how we collected data? We had kids come to us with their demands. Phyiscally. Tens of thousands of mall Santas hired every year, each of them tasked with collecting gift requests in P-to-P meatspace dialogues.”
He wipes a drop of blood away from his mouth.
“In this labor climate, it’s hardly feasible to raise a workforce like this each year. There were rumblings of unionization, and we can’t have that—and that’s before we get into the potential for visibility misalignments. Our brand was highly exposed in this model. Each and every one of these so-called ‘Santas’ was representing themself as our CEO directly to the end user. Even with rigorous, expensive training, we were seeing far too much variance in our consistency of brand image.”
Hask’s striking blue eyes twinkle as the conversation shifts toward the app.
“We needed to flatten that experience. So we developed LiST.”
LiST—which rolled out on Apple iOS this week, with the Android version expected in 3-4 weeks—is PolarX’s killer app, the most vital step in executing Hask’s vision for a 21st-century operation.
“Instead of driving to the mall during a limited set of hours, waiting in a long line, and then verbally communicating product requests to a representative, kids can now enter their holiday lists themselves—either by selecting items from our brand portal, or by scanning QR codes at any of our thousands of retail partners. That’s only the beginning, though—by Q4 next year, the list-aggregation utility will be a fully-immersive metaverse experience.”
Hask walks over to one of the massive, seamless glass windows overlooking the bay, and presses his whole body against it, as if mimicking the pose of a Garfield doll suction-cupped to the rear window of a 1986 Cutlass Ciera. He holds this pose for several wordless minutes, appearing to have slipped into a deep meditative state.
“What’s amazing,” he begins again, startling this reporter after the long silence, “is that parents basically have to download LiST. Their kids will insist on it. That’s the sort of market penetration that even Meta would kill for.”
Hask’s greatest challenge, of course, will be turning PolarX into a profitable company. Under the Kringle regime, the company’s financials were a black box, but it’s widely believed that Christmas never once turned a profit. Hask spent eight trillion dollars on the acquisition, and the monthly interest soon due to the banks that provided the lion’s share of his financing is substantial.
“We have to get away from the gift-based model,” Hask states flatly. “There’s no money to be made there. We spend trillions each year on product development, acquisition, distribution and so on, and… we give it away for free. Our customers love it, but customers also loved MoviePass. At a certain point, you have to identify your revenue streams. You have to do some serious growth-hacking.”
He removes a flashlight from a concealed drawer, and holds it up to his hand, entranced by the light shining through the flesh of his fingers. He continues to speak while still staring at his glowing hand.
“In the end, what we’re doing with LiST goes all the way back to Kris’s original vision.”
His head snaps up, and he tosses the flashlight aside.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping,” he sings, “he knows when you’re awake. He knows if you’ve been bad or good—” He stops with a chuckle.
“Do you know how much that data is worth?”
—Scott Hines (@actioncookbook)
UPDATE (12/14/2022): Shortly after this profile was published, Brantwell Hask was taken into FBI custody in the Virgin Islands. He is currently facing a number of charges including wire fraud, money laundering, and conspiracy to commit Aggravated Grinchery.
Neither Hask nor PolarX was immediately available for comment.
Enjoyed this piece? Then you’re sure to love last year’s Christmas effort, my New Yorker-style longform investigation into the truth behind the story of Rudolph, The Red-Nosed Reindeer, ALL OF THE OTHER REINDEER.
I love that even with Christmas the android app is 3-4 weeks behind
Your ability to channel this sort of breathless profile of a tech leader is disturbing.