Mark Tasman (HCB, ’75) knows the toy business. Over the past few decades, Tasman’s company, Peachtree Playthings, has grown from a start-up to a multi-million dollar enterprise with products sold by major US retailers including Walmart, Target, and Costco.
A native of Cleveland, Tennessee, Tasman followed in his older brother’s footsteps when he came to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, as a student in 1971. He originally planned to attend law school but pursued a marketing major at the Haslam College of Business instead. “Marketing caught me as an interesting part of business,” says Tasman. “Sales remains the biggest part of what I do, so I’ve used those skills throughout my career.”
In the late 1970s, Tasman moved to Atlanta to take a job with a company that represented toy manufacturers. Four years later, he started his own similar company. “It was pretty difficult for a while,” he says. “I was young and single, so I didn’t have any obligations in that regard and could handle being broke.”
Four years later, the company began to grow. Eventually, it became one of the largest in the south representing toy manufacturers. Tasman was one of the first people to represent Chinese manufacturers directly to retail chains in the Southern states. “That increased my understanding of manufacturing in Asia as well as importing, which became a unique part of our business,” he says.
Around 1990, Tasman started to see a downturn in the market. “Many toy store and department chains began to weaken and go away,” he said. Confronting the necessity of being able to sell outside regional boundaries, the company decided to make goods under its own label. Over the next few years, Tasman and his team formed Peachtree Playthings and started to develop and sell their own products. Eventually, he moved his focus entirely to the new company. Today, Peachtree Playthings make toys, children’s products, stationery, arts and crafts supplies, and back-to-school goods.
Tasman’s talents as an entrepreneur run the gamut of business. “He’s truly a self-made man with experience in manufacturing, importing, exporting, and retailing,” says longtime friend and former Knox County mayor Mike Ragsdale (HCB, ’75, ’81). “But it’s his amazing interpersonal skills that set him apart. People trust him because he’s honest and unfailingly thoughtful.”
When Tasman’s daughter, Jordan, came to UT as a student, he enjoyed getting reacquainted with the college and the university. “I’d been going to football games for years, but I didn’t have a deep understanding of how the university has changed and grown,” he says. “When I took a tour, it was like pulling back a curtain and I started to see all these extraordinary things I hadn’t noticed before. In particular, I was very impressed with Haslam.”
Since then, Tasman has become involved through giving, visiting classes as a guest speaker, and recently joining the Department of Management and Entrepreneurship’s advisory board. Anne Smith, department head and King and Judy Rogers Professor in Business, says she looks forward to learning from him. “Mark Tasman brings a global entrepreneurial perspective to our board.”