Seldom has the expression self-made man applied more to an entrepreneur than it does to Mads Munk. After starting his business life with a humble flower stall, the founder and CEO of the Danish M2 Group is soon to float an international entertainment entity on the UK stock market and is looking to recruit a new board of directors from the UK financial and entertainment sectors.
Until a few years ago, M2 was known as Denmark’s biggest production company and leading advertising agency. Now, while it remains hugely influential in its native Denmark, it has rapidly developed into something far greater: an international film and entertainment group with offices in London, Denmark, Mumbai and Bangkok. It has grown from a mere six staff in 1998 to 230 employees and 340 freelancers today – and has just posted its most successful figures yet (a pre-tax profit of £2.9m for 2014).
Munk left school at 16 and moved to London where he lived in the YMCA in Hampstead and made a modest living taking bets for a Danish bookmaker. “It was dealing with all those big bets that I first got a taste for business,” he says.
After returning to Denmark and a few early adventures (a flower stall, a popcorn business – so profitable he still refers to popcorn as, “white gold”), Munk eventually started M2 Film in his apartment. “Back then we had people working in my living room, even in my kitchen,” he remembers.
Now, 17 years later, M2 has come on a bit since those days. It now regularly wins international awards for its TV, viral and cinema advertising created on behalf of international clients like Carlsberg and Coca-Cola, and for its animation work producing branded TV shows, principally for Lego, for whom it has made Lego: Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Brick (basically, Lego does Indiana Jones), Lego Batman, Lego Pirates of the Caribbean as well as the current enormous global successes, Lego Friends (just ask your kids) and Lego: Legends of Chima, (yes – with an ‘m’) translated into 18 languages.
A charismatic and ambitious CEO, Mads Munk explains his secrets of success as he prepares to launch a new international entertainment project on the UK stock market:
What did you learn from your early days?
The biggest thing I learnt was always give people more than they are expecting. When I had my business selling popcorn, the profit margins were out of this world – hence my nickname for it, ‘white gold’. But I quickly realised that the other people in the trade were not giving so much. They were selling popcorn at say, £2, so I started selling at £1 and making sure that the people operating my popcorn machines were friendlier and more charming than the competition. Very soon my sales and profit were going through the roof – and I used those profits to buy my first computers which became the seeds out of which my production company was born.
How does that lesson translate to running an international corporation?
I always say to the people I work with that ‘give people more’ means, for instance, if someone asks you for a glass of water during a meeting, fetch it yourself and put ice cubes in it. It costs nothing but it shows you are motivated for perfection. If they ask for a cup of coffee, make them the best cup of coffee you can – so all my staff are sent on barista training courses. It creates the right atmosphere for staff and clients alike. Now, extend that idea out. In our business when clients come to us they often have a fairly strong idea about how they want their commercial or animation to look. So we do it their way, because the client is the boss. But then, in our own time, and at no extra cost we will make the version we think is going to be the best. We don’t impose our creative ideas on the client we just make the one they want and we also make the one we want. Nine out of ten clients will choose our version. They came to us because we are the specialists, so we try to lead them to do something innovative.
Tell us about the shift from production company to entertainment group?
I always employ people who are smarter than me. Some CEOs are threatened by smart, ambitious employees but I will go anywhere in the world to seek out talent. That’s why we opened our new CGI animation studio in Soho a year ago – because this is where the talent is. The M2 Group consists of five companies: M2Film in Aarhus, which is a full service production company; All the Way in Aarhus, which is a digital design agency; Duckling in Copenhagen, which provides post-production; Picture This Studio in Bangkok specialising in animation and M2 Entertainment in London, a creative studio that develops and produces entertainment products.
This international spread means that we’re different from most players in the industry because for them each project is like a game of basketball – lots of people have to touch the ball before it ends up in the net. Likewise, many film and animation companies use many subcontractors but the constant international expansion of the M2 Group means we have core competencies in our own companies – in other words we’re already standing by the net and the ball (and the profit) seldom leaves our hands. We’re not wasting energy, or money, and we can change things in a heartbeat.
We work hard to ensure that we are able to compete with manufacturers all over the world, and that requires internationalisation. The record profit figures we’ve just posted are primarily down to an increased focus on efficiency and reduced production costs.
In recruiting a board for your latest venture, what do you look for in a director?
Working as we do with international entertainment brands we are always looking for ways to take that intellectual property into new global markets in ways that have never been done before. For that reason, I look for a breadth of experience, either in the financial or entertainment industries or in business in general – an international perspective and an ability to work in a business that may be an entirely new concept but still requires those core skills of giving people more and of thinking creatively, without international boundaries, about the global market.
You may not have heard of the M2 Group yet, but your children will have watched their products. As Munk says, “There are no limits to where we go next.”
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