June 23, 2010
An interview with Upper Deck president Paul Meyer
The native New Yorker has had several high-level positions at companies such as Shuffle Master and has worked in toy manufacturing, video game developing and publishing, and consulting.
“I would love the company to find the next big thing,” Meyer said. “You do that by thinking outside the box. You do that by extending the company’s reach.”
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR FOCUS AT UPPER DECK THE PAST TWO MONTHS?
It’s not designing trading cards. The company clearly needed lots of improvement in internal communication, I found. Now, I have weekly staff meetings.
As I told the people here, we have to eliminate triangular communication. A good example of that, during one conference call (last week), we talked about some soccer cards we have in inventory in North Carolina. Wouldn’t it be great if the customer taking those could take them before the World Cup is over? The Director of Operations talked to the Director of Sales and there it was.
I am also in the interim filling in the CFO role. I am currently President, COO and CFO. I think (my strengths are) communication, financial planning and resource allocation.
HOW WILL YOUR PAST HELP YOUR CURRENT ROLE?
- I think my specialty is motivation, teamwork and encouragement. However, I love to collect input, but ultimately someone has to make a decision. The process can’t keep going on and on. I run a multi-national company. I’ve been part of consumer product companies, industrial product companies, technology product companies. I put this one in consumer product range.
WITHOUT HAVING EXPERIENCE IN TRADING CARDS, HOW MUCH DO YOU HAVE TO RELY ON THE INPUT OF OTHERS?
- I do rely on them. We have a brand manager Josh Zusman, who is great. Our contacts with the NHL and NHLPA love him. His boss is great. I don’t have that kind of ego or pride of authorship that I am going to sit here and insist that all new products, product briefs and the type setting has to be reviewed with me. That’s not been the issue. Product quality and innovation has never been an issue here at Upper Deck. If I thought it was, I would plug into it.
One of my concerns, though it sounds a little pejorative, is to make sure we’re prepared for what I call the digital evolution. Even for people collecting trading cards, this is a different business today than it was when I was a kid.
HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THE LOST LICENSES?
- Upper Deck lost the baseball license, the NFL, the Yu-Gi-Oh license and the World of Warcraft.
As you have seen, the company scaled back infrastructure in terms of trying to match cost and revenue. There‘s no question that we are in a rebuilding mode. The NHL licenses we have are pretty prized. We think the CLC (NCAA) license has lots of potential.
WHEN IT COMES TO LICENSING, WHERE DOES UPPER DECK GO FROM HERE?
- Topps has the MLB license. It will be hard to get it back. The company (Upper Deck) is in a rebuilding phase. We’re not going to get the baseball or the NFL licenses back anytime soon. What the company is doing is focusing on its premier license, which is NHL. Then doing a bunch of other licenses that don’t rank with MLB and NFL, but can be built over time.
In a sense, this company is back to being like a bit of a start up. That’s kind of what we and I have been presented with. We like to maintain good relationships with our licensors. We have CLC, we have MLS, and we have Major League Lacrosse. We still have some exclusive licenses for Upper Deck Authenticated with worldwide distribution. It is back to baby steps. I think the challenge here and opportunity is to keep moving it forward.
HOW EXCITING IS IT FOR YOU COMING IN - IN A SENSE - ON THE GROUND LEVEL?
- That’s the opportunity. That’s what I see. The question is the time period in what the company is now and when it will start to get back to its former glory and splendor. Everyone knew Upper Deck.
HOW HAS SOCIAL MEDIA AND BLOGS AFFECTED THE HOBBY WORLD?
- It has affected every world. Information spins around those sites at the speed of light. Part of the issue, more than just the hobby world and collecting community, is we communicate much differently now. Personally, I stop following stuff because there is so much misinformation out there. One of the blogs I saw about me said when I took over Shuffle Master in November 2007 the stock went down. I am sorry, but I never took over Shuffle Master. I worked for the head of Shuffle Master, who worked for the Board of Directors.
All this stuff affects not only the hobby, but everyone’s world, because information flies so quickly. There is just no legitimizing it. No one is responsible for what they say. There is no accountability for accuracy.
HOW DO YOU COMBAT THE NEGATIVE PUBLICITY FROM THE LAWSUITS?
- What we try to do is emphasize the positive. The litigation and judgments are what they are. We can’t pretend we didn’t have MLB and Konami.
There was a lot of buzz and negativity about how far behind the company was in redemptions, now we are getting some positive buzz because we are just knocking that down by emphasizing and prioritizing where cash goes.
We’ll do press releases in the positive. My own pr philosophy is you don’t saturate the wires - I think when a company has something to say, positively, it says it. I think in time what will happen is if we maintain good relationships with our partners and constituents, the judgments in litigations will start to fade into the background. I think that’s all we can do about it.