New Orga CEO Plans Aggressive Expansion

Germany-based smart card supplier Orga Kartensysteme has again made a change at the top, replacing both its CEO and board chairman

Despite the so-called "synergies," the Guenther family hopes to achieve between Orga and GHP, the companies remain separate. When the family took over Orga in February of 2003, it set up GW Card Holding "to make sure the business of GHP was not affected by acquiring Orga," says Jaster. That includes any liabilities burdening Orga that the family's due diligence didn't turn up.

Keeping the companies separate could also limit the amount of capital available to Orga, although Jaster says the family is fully committed to funding the vendor, including its expansion plans.

Financial Strength
At the same time, he says the return of growth to the smart card industry and restructuring that slashed about 17% of Orga's workforce, down to 1,000 employees, has returned the vendor to financial health. It will likely turn a profit this year, and in 2005, he predicts.

But he reveals little in the way of financial data about the privately held company. He says Orga has little debt and cash on hand of about 10 million euros. That's on top of additional cash reserves of GW Card Holding, which he declined to disclose. The Guenther family also closely guards its own finances, and Jaster declines to release details on the Guenther Group.

Jaster is also vague about the reasons for the departures of Garcia and Gottwald, the former board chairman. In a statement, Jaster credited Gottwald with "restoring Orga to health." In an interview, he characterized Gottwald's role as an interim one, to help lead the restructuring and stabilization of the company.

As for Garcia, whom Jaster credits with stabilizing the company and restoring trust, the new CEO says Garcia, who was not a shareholder, was not the right person to lead a rapid expansion of the company.

"Is Mr. Garcia bringing the right ability into the company in order to drive the company at the (proper) speed?" Jaster says. "If you want to grow fast, it's a clear understanding what (is needed) is the commitment of the shareholders."

Employee Optimism
Despite the job cuts the past 18 months, Jaster and the family have been able to restore at least some confidence and enthusiasm among employees, according to one former executive, who asked not to be identified. Employees see advantages to the Guenther family's interest in Orga compared with the vendor's past owners, the German federal government and a venture capital firm.

"That's his (Jaster's) message he always gives to employees: We are looking for a long-term investment in this company, and we want to build up a big smart card manufacturer and solid smart card manufacturer. We are not looking for selling."

Orga has tried to stay on top of research and development and plans to come out with a 256-kilobyte SIM card later this year, the largest on the market. It is also among the first to have demonstrated applications for popular Java-based handsets that make use of high-end SIMs.

Jaster, however, emphasizes the importance of selling fulfillment services in addition to SIMs or other smart cards. "Get the card to the customer, make sure the customer gets the card, we will manage that for you."

Orga will need to get many millions more of its cards to customers around the world and perhaps make an acquisition or two if it ever wants to reach its goal of climbing to No. 3 in 2007.