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Playmobil mogul still in the game at 80

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Playmobil mogul still in the game at 80
Photo: DPA
14:35 CEST+02:00
Generations of children all over the world have one German man to thank for hours of fun. Playmobil owner Horst Brandstätter reached the ripe old age of 80 on Thursday, making him our German of the Week.

Even after overseeing the production of 2.6 billion Playmobil figurines in his lifetime, Brandstätter is showing no signs of slowing down.

Every morning at breakfast the franchise owner studies two pieces of paper – his golf partners for the day and a detailed report from his business managers.

While others of his age may often decide to take a step back from the running of their businesses, Brandstätter is still an active boss and says he can be found in the office every day "apart from Sundays."

Brandstätter, who has been awarded the prestigious Federal Order of Merit medal for a lifetime of special achievement, now presides over a business group with a yearly turnover of €591 million and 3,700 employees.

Having lost his father at a young age during World War Two, Brandstätter says he was made to learn the qualities which would later stand him in good stead at the helm of one of Germany's biggest toy manufacturers.

"Because a lot was put on me I learned to see my ideas through," he said. "Whenever I was convinced of something, I tried to see it through, with all my strength."

He believes it was this determination which helped him step up to take over his father's toy-making business, especially when he came up against much older and more senior partners.

Brandstätter's toy firm struck gold when one of its designers came up with a toy that allowed parents to keep on collecting parts piece-by-piece, until they slowly began to build up a whole miniature world for their kids to play with.

At first, admits Brandstätter, he had not appreciated how versatile and robust the idea of Playmobil had been. “You can't see it in the product itself, it all happens in the child's head,“ he said.

Still, nearly forty years later Playmobil is not and never will be cool, said Brandstätter. Instead the beauty lies in that it allows kids to understand their environment. “Our range has a lot of what children see on the street,“ he said.

Brandstätter has always kept the easily-recognizable figurines as neutral as possible so that children can “give the figure a character depending on the game being played.“

Also, the company has a strict rule to avoid any hints of violence in its toys – even Playmobil cowboys were only given guns after the kids themselves asked for them. Though some Playmobil riot police figures appeared.

Apart from that, not much has changed since 1974 when the first figures - a knight, a Native American and a builder - were presented at a German toy convention, with the biggest shift being an increased range of products aimed specifically at girls.

Although Brandstätter is still very much an active boss, he says he has put most of the day-to-day running of the business in the hands of his former marketing chief Andrea Schauer.

“If the captain is the only one who knows where the compass is and he goes overboard, the ship will get lost. My management have to learn to reach decisions without me,“ said the 80-year-old.

This allows Brandstätter to spend winter in Florida, pursuing his second passion, golf - at least for part of the time. “I need golf because my body needs movement, fresh air,“ he said.

But it isn't all relaxing on the golf course - he still has his managers send him a detailed report on business developments every single day.

And if there's something he doesn't like, he steps right back in. “A whole load of faxes go back and forth every day,“ he said.

DPA/The Local/jlb

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