Cartamundi, the manufacturer of playing cards and board games based in Turnhout in Antwerp province, has been awarded this year’s Family Business Award, organised by consultancy EY.
Cartamundi may have had a turnover of €500 million in 2020, and operate factories in 18 countries worldwide, producing board games by the biggest names in the business, but it is still a family firm.
The company has only two shareholders; the entire shareholding is divided equally between the families of Jean-Louis de Cartier and Frederic de Somer, both descendants (seventh and sixth generation respectively) of the families that originally, in 1970, joined together to produce playing cards.
Since then, the company has picked up contracts to produce board games for names like Hasbro (Cluedo, Risk, Trivial Pursuit, Monopoly), Mattel (Uno, Scrabble) and Disney (Mickey Mouse, Frozen, Stars Wars). If you’ve ever played one of those games, chances are you were handling Cartamundi merchandise.
There’s also a good chance you have a pack of Cartamundi cards in the house, and if you ever play on the tables at the casino or on a cruise ship, the cards there may very well be from United States Playing Cards Company, which Cartamundi took over in 2019, under brand-new CEO Stefaan Merckx.
Merckx, like his predecessors, is not related to either of the founding families, and that is a conscious choice.
“Cartamundi exudes the passion, courage and values of a true family business, built by two separate families, who have very consciously let professional, non-family CEOs and managers lead the company, and who want to keep it that way in the future,” explained prize jury president Guido Vanherpe, CEO of La Lorraine Bakery Group, which won the award in 2016.
Asked last month by De Tijd to explain the company’s success, the two descendants of the founders agreed.
“The unique form of governance,” said De Cartier.
“Because each family has exactly half the shares, you arrive at a specific dynamic. We are always obliged to reach an agreement, even if we initially disagree on something. The only solution is to convince each other and talk. In this way you arrive at an agreement, which usually implies a better solution than the one where you arrive alone.”
But the family dynamic is not allowed into every corner of the business.
“In addition, we have a clear agreement: no family members in the company, neither as CEO, nor in the layers below. As a result, we can always enter the market to attract the best people. They can grow freely without the risk of meeting someone from the families sooner or later. As a result, this company is run very efficiently, by a combination of shareholders with independent management,” De Cartier said.
“If too many members of the family claim a job in their own company, they sometimes start working with their elbows and blood can flow,” added De Somer.