Five decades ago, while in his early-20s, Roland Mack boarded a flight to the US that swiftly led to major changes for one of Europe’s longest-running business dynasties.
(Bloomberg) — Five decades ago, while in his early-20s, Roland Mack boarded a flight to the US that swiftly led to major changes for one of Europe’s longest-running business dynasties.
His family had made a living for almost two centuries crafting everything from trailers to carousels to roller coasters for carnivals. But after visiting several amusement parks on that early 1970s trip — including Disneyland — Roland and his father decided to create something similar in their native Germany.
Now, after building one of the world’s largest theme parks, the Macks are expecting 2023 to be one of the busiest years for their Europa-Park, which drew about 6 million visitors last year. They plan to continue expanding even as rising inflation curtails consumer spending.
The family has a net worth of about $350 million, mostly through owning the Rust, Germany-based resort, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Sales “are a bit ahead already compared to 12 months ago,” Europa-Park co-founder Mack, 73, said in a recent interview of the park, which ends its summer period next month. “We’re hopeful it will be the best season ever.”
A representative declined to comment on the closely held company’s finances.
Europa-Park covers 95 hectares (235 acres) in Germany’s southwestern corner with more than a dozen roller coasters and themed areas based on nations including France and Greece, as well as fairy tales from the Brothers Grimm. It plans to open a Croatia-themed area next year, complete with a roller coaster inspired by Nikola Tesla, who was born in the Balkan nation.
The family’s amusement park bet highlights one of its biggest transformations across a dynasty spanning almost a dozen generations. They started out in 1780 making wooden wagons, then moved into building stagecoaches as well as circus trailers to serve Germany’s traveling carnivals and showmen. Over the years, those orders shifted to carousels, mobile homes and movable candy shops before they developed one of the first portable roller coasters early last century.
Roland’s father, Franz, took over the business in the 1950s. He and Roland later steered it from making portable rides toward building permanent attractions for theme parks, which had been growing in popularity with the opening of Walt Disney’s namesake California project in 1955, followed six years later by the first Six Flags park in Texas.
That decision resulted in an export boom for the Mack family’s ride-making business, which now makes everything from traditional tea-cup rides to roller coasters fitted with spinning carriages.
“It was an important step in our family history,” Mack said of the strategy shift.
After repeated attempts to find a site in Germany, the family opened Europa-Park in 1975 in a fishing village on the Rhine River with only a few thousand residents at the time.
The decision was initially met with skepticism, but that evaporated after about 250,000 visitors arrived during its first season. The family has continued to expand Europa-Park, which now includes hotels built to resemble medieval castles, Italian piazzas and Portuguese monasteries.
They also spent more than €175 million ($192 million) building a Nordic-themed waterpark, which opened just before the pandemic began. With many lockdown measures lifted during summer months, the family’s theme parks avoided the worst financial hits from the crisis.
Annual visitors to Europa-Park roughly doubled over the past decade, fueled largely by returning customers, according to documents seen by Bloomberg.
“There is always something new,” Mack said. “People like to come back and see what’s going on.”
The Macks reinvest most of the proceeds from their amusement empire, leaving them with few debts. In a rare foray outside their main business, the family in 2020 bought one of France’s oldest vineyards — Chateau Ollwiller in Alsace — and its accompanying castle for an undisclosed amount. The vineyard’s produce is now for sale on Europa-Park’s website.
The Macks control their business empire through a trust-like structure for different branches of the family that helps pass on wealth and avoid a sudden break-up of their fortune.
In addition to Roland, eighth-generation members of the dynasty include his brother Juergen, 65, who has helped to lead Europa-Park for more than three decades. Their children are also involved in the business, overseeing divisions that include hotels, virtual reality and human resources, though members outside the family hold key positions as well.
Mack said his biggest dream is to see Europa-Park and its related businesses remain under family control for generations to come, but he’s realistic the dynasty may end at some point.
“There’s a big hope we can stay family-owned for two more generations,“ he said. “Beyond that, it’s difficult to tell.”
–With assistance from Patrick Winters.
More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.