Cards on the table with Cartamundi
The winner of the Family Business Award of Excellence explains its vision and its plans for the future.
- Cartamundi is strongly committed to its stated purpose of ‘Sharing the Magic of Playing Together’, interweaving digital and physical brand experiences as an investment for the future
- The Family Business Award of Excellence recognises the committed entrepreneurship that Cartamundi cultivates in all its business layers
In 2020 Cartamundi was the seventh winner of the annual Family Business Awards of Excellence®. On the eve of the 2022 edition – there was no 2021 edition due to the pandemic – we made a virtual visit to three key protagonists of this family business: CEO Stefaan Merckx, Chairman Jean-Louis de Cartier de Marchienne, and Director Frederic de Somer.
As the proud winner of the Family Business Award of Excellence, Cartamundi has come a long way. Can you briefly explain this success to us?
Jean-Louis de Cartier: “Cartamundi as we know it today was founded 52 years ago by the de Somer and de Cartier de Marchienne families. They had been producing playing cards here in Turnhout for 200 years and decided to join forces for this activity. This joint venture avant la lettre proved a fantastic move, sending a strong signal to the outside world. Certainly also because both families decided to hire an external management. At that time, this was far from usual in a family business where both families owned 50% of the capital. And this external management remains the key to our success formula to this day. In this way, the committed shareholder group with talented representatives of both families has been able to support the external management, which in turn has been able to strengthen itself in all areas (diversity, geographical spread,…). All this explains how Cartamundi, as a small Belgian company, is today the world market leader in playing cards and board games.”
We are a company that gives everyone opportunities and that makes the difference: not only for top management, but also for middle management and employees on the shop floor. – Frederic de Somerdirector –
In addition to a strong board of directors and rock-solid management, Cartamundi has another important asset: its employees.
Frederic de Somer: “Absolutely! Cartamundi started in 1970 with 0 employees. Today we are 3,000 ‘Cartamundians’ worldwide, all with entrepreneurship in their genes. We are a company that gives everyone opportunities, and that makes the difference: not only for top management, but also for middle management and employees on the shop floor.
To foster continued team engagement and spirit, we rolled out a ‘One Group, One Team’ programme through the executive committee. Our current CEO, Stefaan Merckx, too has directed and given further shape to this programme right from day one of his appointment. The aim is for all divisions and countries around the world to come together as ‘One Group, One Team’ and share that buzz.”
Cartamundi is in full transition with the digitalisation of the game world. It has also seized a number of opportunities during the pandemic, despite the many limitations. Can you explain this a bit?
Frederic de Somer: “Corona is not the first crisis we’ve been through. We’ve had other difficult years in our history, where we’ve had to pull out all the stops to get back on top. We owe this success to our 50/50 governance model, combined with a strong top management team and the strength and perseverance of all our employees. In this way we’ve been able to overcome each crisis pretty quickly. This also applies to the recent pandemic, where, for example, we were able to switch quickly to producing high-quality mouth masks via Medimundi, a consortium in which we have operational leadership. We felt we owed it to society to do our bit for public health.
Even during the pandemic, we found that our physical game products continued to perform well, despite the rise of digital. In fact, demand has increased. This indicates that people need to be together and play together: ‘Sharing the Magic of Playing Together’, to say it in the words of our purpose. Moreover, forecasts show that while games are on the rise, physical games too continue to grow in popularity.”
The essence of the Cartamundi DNA can be traced back to the combination of family ownership and professional external management that constantly challenge each other in a positive way. – Jean-Louis de CartierChairman of the Board –
On your website you call yourself ‘The brand you don’t know you love’, while the board games you produce are legendary?
Jean-Louis de Cartier: “Yes, you can say that. When we took over the Hasbro plants in the US and Ireland in 2015, we immediately doubled our sales. And when we say Hasbro, we’re thinking of board games like Monopoly, Cluedo, Trivial Pursuit, Risk, etc. Board games are still an important part of our revenues today and we are by far the world market leader in that segment. Gradually, in addition to our traditional area – playing cards and board games – we have also developed a digital side. 2013 was an important year here, in which we founded Cartamundi digital following a targeted acquisition. Today we are continuing firmly on this path, with a number of ground-breaking new products. This illustrates one of our greatest qualities at Cartamundi: we have been world leaders in traditional board games and playing cards for many years, but at the same time we have the openness of mind and the intellectual strength to develop and expand new products, such as Medimundi and the whole digital range. The essence of the Cartamundi DNA can be traced back to the combination of family ownership and professional external management that constantly challenge each other in a positive way, boosting entrepreneurship at all levels.”
People have a need for ‘social bonding’, and they want to experience this through traditional but also through digital games. – Stefaan MerckxCEO –
To return for a moment to the ‘best of both worlds’ combination of ‘traditional + digital’ at Cartamundi: why are you surfing the digital wave, and what are your ambitions in that market?
Stefaan Merckx: “Our vision is that consumers are continuously stimulated by a wide range of entertainment solutions. As stated earlier, our focus is on our purpose ‘Sharing the magic of playing together’, with an emphasis on togetherness. During the pandemic, we found that people have a need for ‘social bonding’, and that they want to experience this through traditional but also through digital games. Wanting to share positive emotions with one another is inherent in human nature. Emotions are therefore the common thread in our story. Even during the pandemic, we found that digital had not gained the upper hand over physical: indeed, the demand for physical games, just like that for digital games, increased enormously during the entire health crisis. But what we think is especially important, is to offer a unique brand experience. We are currently conducting tests for this in America. We offer digital versions of physical games, such as Hearts or Rummy, and we interweave the physical and digital brand experience, for example via QR codes on the playing cards that link to a unique version of the online playing card. The consumer no longer notices the difference because it becomes one and the same brand experience, so to speak. In addition to digital versions of playing cards, we launched a second platform around ‘fan engagement’, Hro, pronounced “hir-(ˌ)ō”). Hro is a new platform that includes digital and physical card distribution, combining blockchain technology and in-store presence. With this platform, we are moving to other entertainment brands and are looking for examples of Hro’s in the world of e-sports, regular sports, the film industry, comics, etc. We are partnering worldwide with companies such as Warner Bros. to develop unique digital NFT1-experiences (fantasy games or apps) and also to live those experiences in the physical world. This is a unique asset at Cartamundi: the world of board games and card games is becoming a sub-segment of the broader entertainment world, in which we have found a niche based on gamification. And we want to focus even more on that in the future.”
Why does Cartamundi want to become so strong in digital?
Stefaan Merckx: “For us, digital is ‘just’ a technology. What interests us first and foremost is to offer the consumer a brand experience that is as unique as possible. The great thing about digital is that it offers an almost infinite spectrum of new brand experiences, with which we try to meet the needs (as social players, collectors, …) of our consumers.
Finally, how do you see Cartamundi’s future?
Jean-Louis de Cartier: “In the context of the FB Award of Excellence, I would like to say that we are committed to our future as a family business. We are working hard to bring the next generation on board, in order to guarantee continuity. It is our job to pass on a healthy company to the next generation, with a vision and a purpose, but above all with the desire to continue that entrepreneurship that is so strongly present in our genes.”
BEKIJK DE VIDEO
1. NFT = non-fungible token, a link (type of ownership) on a blockchain of an account to a unique (non-exchangeable) digital item via a smart contract (Source: Wikipedia)
The business model of the family business Cartamundi is based on a committed shareholder group, strong external management and excellent employees. With this, Cartamundi has made its name as the world’s leading producer of traditional board games and playing cards. At the same time, Cartamundi is paying close attention to the digitalisation of its game activities. In so doing it is keen to honour its purpose, ‘Sharing the magic of playing together’, interweaving physical and digital brand experiences into a single unique game experience.
This article was originally written and published by EY Belgium.
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