“The Swiss are extremely fond of playing cards…”

The digital age was supposed to kill analogue pleasures stone dead, but no one appears to have told Chris Van Doorslaer, CEO of games manufacturer Cartamundi. 

If you thought that playing cards were relics of yesteryear, you’d be wrong. Business is bullish and leading the global charge is Cartamundi, a Belgian company. Unsurprisingly, CEO Chris Van Doorslaer clocks up air miles aplenty (possibly more than any of our past interviewees) every year, which provides him with plenty of travel tales to tell…

Be ready to adapt “We have businesses in 120 countries and I make around 100 flights per year. I was the guest of honour at a dinner in China once, when they brought out a huge fish. They cut portions for everyone and it looked incredible, but they saved me the head because of my honorary status. A great big, ugly fish head. I ate it with great difficulty, but I was respected for it and I think it helped our working relationship.”

Travel smart “Once, I was about to check into a delayed flight out of Brazil and just in front of me was a man so out of it that he had to be supported by two others. He could hardly stand up. It turned out he’d taken a pill to calm him down, because he was terrified of flying, but the flight was late and he’d got his timings wrong. I learned that tablets and business travel don’t mix.”

Trust in your partners “We did a deal in Japan and began a joint venture with another company. It was quite an unusual move and I was uneasy. My counterpart asked me if I thought we’d made the right decision, and then explained that his grandfather had founded the company and he just wanted us to do the right thing. I agreed that we needed to make his grandfather proud and with that, he wrote a note on a scrap of paper and gave it to me. The translator read the note and I could see that he was amazed. He explained that it was a traditional samurai oath and something that you give a person to say that you trust them completely. We made the deal and are still partners with them today.”

Make an effort “I made a trip to India for my first proper meeting with our joint-venture partner over there. It was to be a formal dinner, so I bought some traditional Indian clothing to respectfully celebrate their culture and show that I was prepared to make an eff ort. I turned up and they were all in suits and ties – the most Western outfits they could find, I expect. So we both had the same idea, both gave the occasion the consideration it deserved and, again, we are still working together.”

Some decisions are difficult “We acquired a factory in Switzerland, and made the decision to close it and move operations to Belgium. Now, I should explain that the Swiss are extremely fond of playing cards – they broadcast tournaments on TV and even the radio – and are the number-one market in Europe per capita. So, our decision made the television news and the front page of the papers. There was uproar. We put our point forward that the factory just wasn’t sustainable and that this was a necessary move. We invested in the local area and sponsored national events, and I think they understood in the end.”

Be sensitive “Dealing with different cultures and needs can be difficult, but it’s a crucial part of international business. Just organising a buffet can be a minefield: no pork for some, no beef for others. I remember giving feedback on a budget meeting and I asked a question of one of my Japanese colleagues. It turned out that he couldn’t answer. A bad move. In their culture, to not be able to give an answer to something is seen as humiliating – and doubly so if it’s in front of others. You make mistakes, but you learn.”

This interview was carried out by SIM7’s Simeon de la Torre and first appeared in easyJet Traveller magazine. To read the latest issue (and the entire back catalogue of magazines), visit: http://www.ink-live.com/emagazines/easyjet-inflight