Business Now - December Issue

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Business Now Winter 2021

In Depth What’s in store for Malta’s hospitality industry in 2022

38 Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses Ta’ Betta Wine Estates’ own brand of chateau chic

62 Interview Business Coach Nathan Farrugia on regaining focus after the trials of COVID-19

80 Industry Greats The rich history behind Valletta’s iconic Caffe Cordina

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Official Partners

Cover Story Architects speak out against overdevelopment












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RE-DEFINING THE FUTURE

Rebecca Anastasi speaks to Ravi Kiran, co-Founder and CEO at SmartCow, a global AI engineering company based in Malta intent on developing integrated technological systems to ameliorate the way societies live and work.

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HOSPITALITY: RISING FROM THE ASHES OF COVID-19 Following an unprecedented and sustained blow dealt by the pandemic, Sarah Muscat Azzopardi talks to General Managers of local five-star hotels about what’s in store for 2022.

38 Interview

LEADING WITH PURPOSE, THROUGH GOOD TIMES AND BAD

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Cover Story

OVERDEVELOPMENT: HOW CAN MALTA TURN THE PAGE?

Five leading architects talk to Jo Caruana about addressing Malta’s development issues.

Sarah Muscat Azzopardi talks to leading business coach, author and TEDx speaker Nathan Farrugia about the struggles business leaders have faced since the start of the pandemic; and why rejuvenating mental strength and focus should not wait till the festive season.

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Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses

CRAFTING A UNIQUE BRAND OF CHATEAU CHIC

Sarah Muscat Azzopardi discovers the arduous yet rewarding journey that took Ta’ Betta Wine Estates from “chateau garage” to “chateau chic”.

Meet the Artist

Young Entrepreneurs

Christopher Chetcuti, son of the late sculptor and painter Joseph Chetcuti, explains the intensive labour of love involved in bronze casting to Sarah Muscat Azzopardi.

Rebecca Anastasi speaks to brother and sister Jean Paul Farrugia and Christina Micallef – the young entrepreneurs behind sustainability brand ReRoot – about their drive to enable an eco-shift towards a zero-waste lifestyle.

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CARRYING ON AN ANCIENT ARTISTIC TRADITION

Industry Greats

THE STORY BEHIND ONE OF THE OLDEST CAFÉS IN EUROPE

Sarah Muscat Azzopardi sits down with the second and third generations of the business – John and Luca Cordina – to discover the rich history behind the iconic Caffe Cordina.

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SOW THE SEEDS, ACT FOR THE FUTURE

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Editorial

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Editorial

IN THE FINAL EDITION OF BUSINESS NOW FOR 2021, we turn our attention ahead to the coming year, touching base with some of the island’s leading industry figures for their outlook. First, we discuss overdevelopment, the need to protect our heritage, reconfigure planning processes and the importance of responsible design with leading local architects in our Cover Story; and in an exclusive interview, Ravi Kiran, co-Founder and CEO at AI engineering company SmartCow, discusses the company’s work on integrated technological systems to ameliorate the way societies live and work. Meanwhile, leading GMs of local five-star hotels reveal how they coped through the trying months of the pandemic and what lies ahead for Malta’s hospitality industry, while business coach Nathan Farrugia explores the struggles that business leaders have faced due to COVID-19, and how they can rejuvenate their mental strength and focus. Also, in this issue, we meet the siblings and young entrepreneurs behind Malta’s first plastic-free, zero waste shop, ReRoot, and chart the impressive history behind one of the oldest cafés in Europe – Valletta’s own Caffe Cordina. Finally, we discover the story behind the inspiring design of boutique winery Ta’ Betta and delve into the exciting world of bronze casting with Christopher Chetcuti from Funderija Artistika Chetcuti, the only artistic bronze foundry in Malta.

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PUBLISHER Content House Group 3, Level 2, Mallia Buildings Triq in-Negozju, Zone 3, Central Business District, Birkirkara CBD 3010 Tel: 2132 0713 info@contenthouse.com.mt www.contenthouse.com.mt EDITOR Sarah Muscat Azzopardi DIRECTOR OF SALES & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT Matthew Spiteri CORPORATE SALES & BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT MANAGER Godwin Buttigieg SENIOR OPERATIONS & ACCOUNTS EXECUTIVE Sue Ann Pisani CREATIVE DIRECTOR & DESIGN Nicholas Cutajar COVER PHOTO Bernard Polidano FOLLOW US ON

Enjoy the issue, Sarah Muscat Azzopardi Content House Group would like to thank all the protagonists, contributors, partners, advertisers and the creative project team that have made this publication a success. Articles appearing in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of Content House Group. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publishers is strictly prohibited. Business Now is the largest business magazine of its kind published by Content House Group, one of Malta’s largest media organisations. Business Now Magazine is the sister brand of businessnow.mt, Malta’s fastest-growing business news portal. This publication is distributed to leading companies and businesses operating in different sectors including those in the services sector, manufacturing, retail, ICT & software development, importation, shipping and freight, recruitment, accountancy & audit, corporate and legal, communications, new technology and many more. Business Now’s exclusive distribution network also reaches leading CEOs and business leaders. The business magazine is also distributed to iGaming companies, creative and marketing agencies, Government ministries, departments and entities, banks, hotels, and architecture firms, as well as to the waiting areas of private and public hospitals and clinics, car showrooms, business centres and yacht marinas. Beyond the free distribution network, Business Now is also available at leading newsagents around Malta.


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Cover Story

Overdevelopment: How can Malta turn the page?


Cover Story

From fixing policies and radically overhauling the planning system to improving education, prioritising long-term thinking, and encouraging better design, five leading architects talk to Jo Caruana about addressing Malta’s development issues.

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PHOTOS BY BERNARD POLIDANO

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Cover Story

“We have to admit that, despite any good intentions, the current planning regime, sadly, has failed completely.” David Felice

OVERDEVELOPMENT IS CONSISTENTLY MENTIONED as one of the main concerns for people living in Malta. In fact, a recent survey among young people found that nine out of 10 felt that the country’s environment was getting worse – with the majority naming overdevelopment as their key complaint. NGOs and community groups already warn of an unstoppable torrent of development applications impacting rural areas and village cores alike, while, earlier this year, all of Gozo’s mayors banded together in a desperate appeal to the authorities to save the island from being ruined further by construction. Pinpointing the source of the issue is less straightforward. Planning policies are blamed for failing to adequately protect townscapes, heritage buildings and countryside, while the decision-making process itself has often been subject to claims of political influence and a permissive


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“Politicians with a moral conscience need to immediately put damaging policies on a moratorium until we understand where this country should be heading in terms of social, cultural and economic development.” Joanna Spiteri Staines

approach to the most powerful developers. Activists, meanwhile, are accused of trying to halt all development, with developers insisting the country needs the industry in order to progress. Prof. Alex Torpiano, Dean of the Faculty for the Built Environment at the University of Malta and Executive President of Din l-Art Ħelwa, believes part of the problem lies in relying on a market definition for a limit to construction: simply, the idea that when demand stops, supply will too. “Overdevelopment, particularly in the context of a small island, should mean development beyond the capacity of the island to absorb population, while providing adequate water resources, energy and infrastructure systems, and allowing for a good quality of life,” Prof. Torpiano says. “The most pressing issue today, therefore, is the need to establish an appropriate carrying capacity, and then determine a rate of change that can gently stretch that carrying capacity without breaking the system. This is called planning.” Prof. Torpiano says the “radical decisions” needed to improve planning policies have not been taken, while planning is all too often left in the hands of politicians. “This is a terrible mistake, not least because they consider a project proposal in isolation and do not have the ability to gauge the real impact of a proposal on the community in its vicinity,” he says. “In order to remedy the situation, there needs to be a complete restructuring of the Planning Authority. The Authority’s planning function should be reinstated, and resources previously available retrieved. Decisionmaking should be completely free of political influence – this will require much greater transparency in the selection of people appointed on the various boards, as well as a process of audit on decisions taken, so that wrong decisions with far-reaching impact can be nipped in the bud.”

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Cover Story

For David Felice, Executive Director at AP Valletta, “the real tragedy” facing Malta at the moment is not only the issues that normally dominate the news cycle, but the fabric of development zones themselves; the areas where most people on the island live, work and play. “Here there is no urban vision, no desire to make something beautiful. If our urban landscapes are meant to reflect our quality of life, then I fear that the narrative is not an eloquent one. Building is an act of culture and therefore relates the story of who we are,” he says. While he believes responsible and sustainable development is still possible, Perit Felice warns that this will require sacrifice and a commitment to long-term planning, as well as a total overhaul of a planning system currently built around the “lowest common denominator”, rather than creativity, innovation and diversification. “The current state of affairs demands a radical approach,” he says. “Only this can work. We have to admit that, despite any good intentions, the current planning regime, sadly, has failed completely. It has been taken over by the political and more powerful elements in our society. The planning system must become independent and led by those who can devise a vision for Malta and champion its urban transformation. The opportunity to dismantle our form of urbanism, traditionally focused on the privileged, and the ‘environmental anxiety’ this has caused, is a starting point for testing new models of economic, social and cultural programmes.” Konrad Buhagiar, Partner at AP Valletta, believes the current state of overdevelopment is testament to the way Malta has leapt, “in the space of merely 50 years, from a largely rural society to full-blown consumerism.” Fixing planning policies, he says, can only do so much to address the situation: by their nature, they are guidelines open to interpretation by individuals. The only solution, therefore, is education.

“Until we all begin to comprehend the importance of good design in anything man-made, and how central it is to ensuring quality of life in our built environment, I am afraid not much is going to improve.” Chris Briffa

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“There is no recipe for a beautiful environment or even a bright future. It requires technical expertise, of course, but also keen observation, plenty of good will, vision and – although they cannot be avoided – plenty of mistakes along the way too.” Konrad Buhagiar

“We need officials with more ideals and more vision, and activists who are more prepared and hands-on,” he says. “But from what I see around me, our education system is keen to eliminate the independent thinkers and the visionaries, and to encourage those who will toe the line and support the system. This is a very dismal state of affairs.” The problem, Perit Buhagiar suggests, lies in the way we have designed an educational system “based on some form of unimaginative training” to fill particular professions and roles in society. “The abandonment of the Humanities in favour of more technical skills is, in my opinion, a grave mistake. There is no recipe for a beautiful environment or even a bright future. It requires technical expertise, of course, but also keen observation, plenty of good will, vision and – although they cannot be avoided – plenty of mistakes along the way too.” Architect Chris Briffa pins the blame for the problems he sees not only on “bizarre planning policies” but on how easy it has become to construct substandard buildings. Investment and reform, he says, is needed not only in planning but in aesthetic values. “We urgently need to re-establish something similar to what was once known as the Aesthetics Board: an independent designer-based committee, separate from the planning process, which judges projects on their aesthetic merits and not on policy,” he suggests. “Projects scoring high on planning policy but low on aesthetics will need to go back to the drawing board, while projects deemed aesthetically superior could be exempt from certain one-size-fits-all policies and get planning permission.”

Perit Briffa also points to education as the way forward. “I am convinced that one of the reasons why good architecture is fading here is because of the way it is being taught and experienced at tertiary level. The Faculty of the Built Environment has been left without any form of investment and serious reform for far too long. Good designers are rendered sterile early on, and the system rewards the crafty students, not the talented ones. The only way to get a good architectural design education at the moment is to go overseas. Until we all begin to comprehend the importance of good design in anything man-made, and how central it is to ensuring quality of life in our built environment, I am afraid not much is going to improve.”




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Cover Story

Joanna Spiteri Staines is the Director of Openworkstudio and Nidum, and an expert in the conservation of historic buildings. She also sits on the Din l-Art Ħelwa Council and has extensive experience fighting development proposals she believes are “destroying our built cultural heritage and natural environment”. Current planning policies, she warns, are “lining the pockets of the few” with no attention to quality, aesthetics, or future sustainability.

“Decision-making should be completely free of political influence – this will require much greater transparency in the selection of people appointed on the various boards, as well as a process of audit on decisions taken, so that wrong decisions with farreaching impact can be nipped in the bud.” Prof. Alex Torpiano

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“I think the most pressing issue is for politicians, planners and experts in the field who really care about the country to come together and study the issue,” she says. “In the meantime, politicians with a moral conscience need to immediately put damaging policies on a moratorium until we understand where this country should be heading in terms of social, cultural and economic development.” Perit Spiteri Staines calls for an urgent national discussion on the future of the country – from conservation areas, to urban greenery, rural areas and mobility – with the goal of clear incentives and disincentives to drive us forward. “Malta is the second most densely populated country in the EU,” she continues. “The quality of our urban environment is abysmal. The roads are destroyed by construction vehicles, and there’s a complete lack of planning or design of the urban space. We need to design for a future that is healthy and sustainable. We need to design urban spaces and residences that prioritise real quality of life. And we need to have a handle on our politicians and planners to ensure that the future is one we would want for our children and grandchildren,” she adds.


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Interview

Re-defining the future


BusinessNow

Interview

Precipitating the next industrial revolution, SmartCow – a global Artificial Intelligence (AI) engineering company based in Malta – is intent on developing integrated technological systems to ameliorate the way societies live and work. Here, its co-Founder and CEO, Ravi Kiran, speaks to Rebecca Anastasi on what the future looks like.

IN 2019, MALTA LAUNCHED ITS OFFICIAL ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (AI) STRATEGY, aiming to position the island as one of the top 10 countries for innovative technologies over the next decade, boldly proclaiming Malta as “a disrupter, rather than a follower”, according to documentation published by the Parliamentary Secretariat for Financial Services, Digital Economy and Innovation. For, the island’s sectors – such as iGaming, financial services, real estate and tourism – were said to be uniquely well-suited to “adopt AI solutions as companies look to innovate to provide competitive differentiation and drive operational improvements.” Honing in on the details of how boundaries were set to be challenged, the vision, entitled Malta: the Ultimate AI Launchpad, and covering the period up to and including 2030, also committed to expanding Malta’s economy through 5G and the Internet of Things (IoT) – the latter describing technologies governing devices, such as cars, lights, and thermostats, embedded with sensors connected to the Internet or other networks. However, the details of the role these systems were to play in sectors on the island were scarce, and mainly centred on how telecommunications firms could exploit opportunities in this area. Despite this, and looking more broadly, today, the world stands on the brink of a new industrial revolution which truly harnesses the potential of such technologies, as Ravi Kiran, the co-Founder and CEO of AI engineering company SmartCow can attest. And the firm, which is based in Malta, yet boasts offices in Taiwan, Singapore, India and, shortly, in Italy, is at the forefront of a fundamental shift in thinking about how we work and how we live, heralding a new era of AIoT – Artificial Intelligence of Things, an approach which introduces self-regulating technological systems, and which will have an impact on the ways in which individuals and companies operate. “Today, AI is mostly used for analytics but, over the next five years, we will see AI become more integral to people’s everyday life, and this is where AIoT can really challenge the

way things are currently being done,” Mr Kiran says, giving some practical examples. “For instance, through the use of AIoT tech, the camera at a traffic light junction might not only capture how many people are crossing the road, but might also see that there is no traffic, and will disable the red intersection signal. Another example: AIoT could also recognise what you’ve put in your microwave and cook it at the right temperature without you having to dictate the presets,” he says. Such autonomous, self-correcting systems can have a big impact on automation in industrial settings, and indeed, SmartCow, which was founded in 2016, is working on applications across multiple industries, primarily focusing on the defence, and healthcare fields. The firm also caters to “smart-nation”, in reference to Singapore’s drive to leverage industry 4.0 potentialities, integrating AI-driven technologies within the operations of economy, government and the wider society. Moreover, SmartCow’s remit extends to providing hardware for Nvidia and Google partners, while also providing turnkey solutions – including engineering services, and customisable hardware-software integrations – across the firm’s target sectors. “We saw customers were struggling to productise their ideas,” Mr Kiran explains, “and this is where opportunity lay.”

“Today, AI is mostly used for analytics but, over the next five years, we will see AI become more integral to people’s everyday life, and this is where AIoT can really challenge the way things are currently being done.”

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“The industry is evolving quite fast and there are many challenges for smaller companies like ours which have to deal with constant evaluation.”

Indeed, across its endeavours, it is thus involved in systems of traffic management, safety and security, as well as retail analytics and smart critical infrastructure. Two of the company’s key projects are Roadmaster, an intelligent traffic management software; and FleetTrackr, which uses AI to allow administrators to monitor a slate of devices – whether these are physical objects being used in healthcare, retail, or other endeavours. “Both with Roadmaster, and our management solution, FleetTrackr, we have aimed to package solutions which are more customer friendly. AI currently reaches customers through well-known platforms such as Netflix and Google, as well as through our phones, but we see AI as being more reachable, and more integrated in consumers’ lives over the next two or three years,” Mr Kiran attests. And to meet the challenges of this new era, SmartCow continues to expand. “We have 20 employees here in Malta, but we’re looking to fill an additional 15 roles by March 2022, while also growing the offices in our other locations,” the CEO continues. As testament to the company’s commitment to talent and skill, SmartCow’s highly trained engineers comprise 85 per cent of its staff, with 40 per cent of these being female. “We have many experienced professionals; a few are also fresh graduates from university, although we have a very strict interviewing process so that we can get the best for the company. The AI industry is very complex and there are few firms operating in this space – perhaps only 12 or 13 across Europe – so technology is core to our business,” Mr Kiran underscores, admitting that there has been some difficulty sourcing AI engineering managers. “When the company started, I used to be the lead engineer, and I retained that position for four years before moving on to management. However, we have found it hard to find the right engineering managers since these posts are key to scaling the company. We have tried hiring staff from the traditional software industry, but since we work in a multi-disciplinary manner, we need people who are able to adapt. So, what we have been doing is hiring experienced engineers, training them in AI for two to three years, and monitoring their progress to higher levels,” Mr Kiran says, adding that seeing staff develop has been a rewarding process.

Looking ahead, the CEO stresses that the firm is always “studying the market”, in order to stay many steps ahead. “The industry is evolving quite fast and there are many challenges for smaller companies like ours which have to deal with constant evaluation. However, after our first year of operations, we already had a clear understanding of where the AI sector was moving, and we could plan for it,” he says, describing some of the landmark moments in the company’s development. “We’ve been, for instance, entrusted with one of the largest smart city projects in the world, based in the Middle East. We cannot reveal much at the moment, but due to advances in software, we are able to position the company at the forefront. Just as Apple can only be Apple because of Foxconn,” he says, in reference to the behemoth’s iPhone manufacturer and assembly partner, “we plan to be the Foxconn of the AI industry, so we are determined to keep moving in this direction.” To this end, SmartCow plans on “building more complex and smaller products,” as well as to focus on business’ and organisations’ needs, but also to diversify in developing consumer commodities. Concluding, Mr Kiran lays out the firm’s intent over the next few years, stating emphatically: “we would like to position ourselves as the largest AI engineering company in Europe, handling the larger AI and AIoT products and solutions across the continent.” And doing so with Malta as its base.



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Championing a business registry for all

PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR

Since entering office last month, the new Registrar for the Malta Business Registry (MBR), Geraldine Spiteri Lucas, has been intent on overseeing an entity which can be of service to business owners, public stakeholders and the wider social community. Here, she tells Rebecca Anastasi of her vision to ensure a “proactive company registry” for all involved.


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“My main aim is to instil a mentality of teamwork, across the board, and, therefore, to increase efficiency, and to adequately serve the community.”

“EVERYONE HAS THEIR OWN PERSONAL VISION, AND MINE, as Registrar for the MBR, is to foster a tight team, and work closely with the business community,” Geraldine Spiteri Lucas says as she outlines her drive for action in the new post which she took on in October 2021, after seven years working at the Malta Business Registry. Indeed, the new Registrar’s background promises to stand her in good stead. Dr Spiteri Lucas joined the entity – when it was still known as the Registry of Companies – in 2014, as a Legal Officer, later being promoted to Chief Legal Officer. This experience gives her considerable insight into Malta’s business legislation, particularly the Companies Act (Chapter 386). “I am very familiar with the relevant legislation. In fact, when I became CLO, together with my team, I was drafting proposals to be presented to Parliament with the aim of improving the processes and procedures here at the MBR,” she continues, explaining that this motivation was instilled in her through her direct experience working hand-inhand with other colleagues and businesses. “I knew what was needed because, when I started out as Legal Officer, I was assigned 1,000 companies to oversee, thus helping to understand the operations at the Unit, and the hectic processes to take calls, vet documents and so on,” she explains. This understanding has informed her current approach. “My first priority, on entering office, was

to ensure that the Unit’s employees felt comfortable under my leadership, since whenever there is a shift, there’s always a change in mentality. My main aim is to instil a mentality of teamwork, across the board, and, therefore, to increase efficiency, and to adequately serve the community,” the Registrar insists, clarifying her philosophy: “you need to first take care of internal processes and measures, before you can provide an efficient and professional service.”

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“We need to consider all legal persons, including foundations, associations and cooperatives.”

The latter, the Registrar continues, imposes a commitment on companies to disclose the identities and details of beneficial owners, allowing the MBR to “actively participate” in the fight against money laundering and the financing of terrorism. “The law, in this regard, has been amended, and we are also acting as gatekeepers, safeguarding our economy. To this end, the Registry has been given new, additional powers: we can stop a company from being incorporated; we can insist on further documentation; and we can also conduct on-site inspections.”

Prior to her employment at the MBR, Dr Spiteri Lucas worked in the public sector, and knowledge of the challenges being faced by professionals in industry also informs her approach. “I remember and feel the frustration of practitioners when a document gets stuck at the MBR,” she asserts, explaining that industry also needs to work with the MBR to ensure the reporting is done correctly, and systematically. “In other words, I’m emphasising the need for teamwork both internally, and externally – including practitioners and clients,” she says. Such collaboration, she believes, will result in a “proactive company registry which is useful to third parties.” Her emphasis on action contrasts with the typical passive role played by standard public registries, which tend to exist as a repository for commercial documents. “However, with the influx of foreigners choosing Malta to do business here, some years ago, we started increasing our due diligence procedures, asking for bank references, and introducing the Registry of Beneficial Owners.”

Indeed, the MBR today actively investigates whether the information it has on file is accurate. “The Registry has taken a definitive proactive stance to be in line with EU directives and international standards. We take a risk-based approach in which our Money-Laundering Reporting Officer (MLRO) writes a risk assessment, classifying companies according to their risk profile: high, medium or low. If a company is classified as highrisk, then we have a team of 12 officers in our Compliance Unit who carry out on-site inspections accordingly,” Dr Spiteri Lucas explains. Such inquiries are also held if a public authority files a report concerning the beneficial owners. “For instance, if it turns out that they are not the same as those disclosed with the MBR; we also screen other involvements, such as company secretary, shareholders and so on, and if there’s a positive hit, the matter is then escalated with our MLRO and he will decide whether to submit a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR) to the relevant bodies.” This drive towards enhanced supervisory action has come at an opportune time, as the island tackles the fallout from its relegation to the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list of countries. Indeed, the MBR, according to the Registrar, plays a crucial role in safeguarding Malta’s current and future reputation. “As a business registry, we’re here to promote transparency, and to ensure that all the information available to public authorities and private stakeholders is accurate,” the Registrar insists.


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This effort commenced during Dr Spiteri Lucas’ tenure as Chief Legal Officer and continues until today. “Under my helm, as CLO, we had proposed amendments to the Companies Act; suggested issuance of legal notices; and implemented EU directives to implement bloc-wide regulations within our legislation, including the transposition of Article 30 of the 4th and 5th Anti-Money Laundering (AML) Directive, whereby we were the first in Europe to establish the Register of Beneficial Owners,” she explains. This is part of a drive to “adopt best practices”, the Registrar continues, citing the creation of the Unit’s online system as a jewel in its crown. “The EU is working on having a paperless company register – allowing anyone across the bloc to register a company online, for instance. Here in Malta, we are already implementing the Single Gateway Directive and the Digitisation of Company Law Processes Directive – which outlines this shift – and we’re in the process of developing a new online platform, to better streamline the process, and allow for the registration of digital signatures.” This platform, set to be launched sometime in the first half of next year, is currently in the testing phase. “I would like to ensure that all our employees are familiar with the system, as well as practitioners here in Malta, so there’s some work to get people acquainted with it. However, it’s better to do things properly, and have a successful rollout,” Dr Spiteri Lucas insists. For, “having a fully-fledged portal is essential”, she continues, even in terms of the service being provided to the industry. Even today,

“There are many exciting projects and the next two years look promising.”

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“the MBR’s portal can be used by anyone: individuals wanting to enquire about the financial stability of a company they’re interviewing with; notaries when compiling contracts; or other companies in the throes of mergers and acquisitions. By having our portal literally accessible by anyone, we can show our level of commitment to regulation, and transparency,” she says. The Registrar is clear on her intent: to be at the forefront of ensuring the right businesses come to Malta, and to provide support to those entities which set up shop on the island – whatever form the enterprise takes. “We need to consider all legal persons, including foundations, associations and cooperatives. In the future, I would like us to see more emphasis placed on such entities which have a legal personality since they have been set up for specific social and humanitarian purposes – and they, therefore, also need some support,” Dr Spiteri Lucas insists, as she looks ahead to what the next few years could bring. “There are many exciting projects and the next two years look promising. I’m confident that Malta will get off the grey list in this time – there are many measures being implemented – and, here at the MBR, we are focusing all our energy on helping businesses, ensuring our portal is always up to date, and also supporting other legal organisations such as foundations and associations, and offering support to voluntary organisations, sports organisations and cooperatives when it comes to disclose the beneficial owners with the MBR,” she concludes.


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EuroBridge’s newly appointed CEO Robert Cassar knows how critical it is to hit the ground running in any managerial role. The motivated CEO talks to Lisa Borain about his plans and execution for the first 100 days at EuroBridge.

EVEN BEFORE INITIATING HIS NEW ROLE AT EUROBRIDGE, Robert Cassar began to design a structure which would help him contribute as much value as he could absorb from the business in the quickest time possible. Robert says, “according to the seminal work by Michael Watkins, on the first days in a managerial role, if you join or move to a new leadership position, you’re likely to find yourself in one of five business situations. These are: start-up, turnaround, accelerated growth, realignment or sustaining success. In EuroBridge’s case, it was accelerated growth. However, there is no one-size-fits-all approach towards assisting an organisation in its growth. This is why it was critical for me to analyse the company thoroughly beforehand to truly be able to strategise accordingly.”

PHOTOS BY MARK DEBONO

The first 100 days of a CEO

The CEO’s seven ‘C’s Through Robert’s experience, he has collected a list of things which a leader needs to start tackling immediately and on an ongoing basis. He calls these the seven ‘C’s – each C standing for Chemistry, Customers, Competitors, Contacts, Culture, Core Services and Context. “There are many things coming your way when you are sitting in the CEO’s seat,” Robert explains. “Each of the Cs assist me to address the business in a 360-degree way. One can even use the seven Cs to build or upgrade a company’s strategy, and therefore these are not necessarily only used in transition to a new managerial role.” Robert explains what each C and its counter work means in detail. “The first C is for Chemistry, as in chemistry in building rapport with the directors, understanding their


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vision and aspirations, and finding synergy through the sum of our strengths.”

“One needs to accept that an organisation can’t be everything for everyone and focus on what it does best.”

“When considering EuroBridge’s Customers (the second C), we consider who they are and who our potential customers could be. We must cater to what they currently want and what they will want in the future. Then beyond this, how can we exceed customers’ expectations?” he posits. “When looking at EuroBridge’s Competitors we consider what they are doing better and what they are doing worse than us. We look at who the market leaders are, and why. As a strategy, we then consider where we should position ourselves,” the CEO continues. “We also look at EuroBridge’s Contacts – i.e. our suppliers – and consider who is in a better position of leverage. We then work on how we can build up our rapport with our current ones, as well as finding new ones.” Meanwhile, Robert notes, “EuroBridge’s Culture is all about how we can retain talent and how we can become an employer of choice. Here we look at who the strong members of the team are and who needs development.” “Details of the shipping industry is the Core Services element. The terminology? The calculations? What are the services specifications?” he adds, while finally, “Context is what EuroBridge wants to stand for. What is its history? Where is it going? Where does it want to go?” Of course, Robert applied these to EuroBridge throughout his first 100 days, however, he explains that these seven Cs can be applied in any managerial role, to any organisation, and in any point in time in an organisation’s journey. Remove, improve or outsource Another mantra which assists Robert is one related to understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the business. “There are areas in the organisation which are strong. I found them and worked to improve them. On the

“In EuroBridge, I found an organisation which was already built around empowerment. Micromanaging demotivates people, but also switches off innovation.”

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other hand, there were services or processes which are either no longer feasible or no longer meeting customer demands. I considered which ones we should remove so that we can focus that energy on our strengths. In the first 100 days at EuroBridge, I saw these and aimed to address one and the other. Finally, if a process is not core to the business – i.e. you don’t deem your organisation an expert in that field, find an organisation that is and outsource it. It could be the IT setup, marketing, logistics or freight forwarding. One needs to accept that an organisation can’t be everything for everyone and focus on what it does best.” The people Robert believes that any manager is able to achieve success for their organisation only thanks to their team. This is more challenging when a leader is moving to a new organisation. The new CEO states that, “what was critical in the first month at EuroBridge above all else, was getting to know the culture of the organisation. Depending on the size of the organisation or concerned section to be managed, get to know the individuals, gain their trust and understanding, tap into the different perspectives each individual gives and start confirming to everyone that you are open to listening to suggestions, ideas and explanations of the business.” It’s significant to Robert that he evaluated his team members based on their competence, decision making, attitude towards deadlines, as well as their focus on priority. He states, “EuroBridge was already built around empowerment. Micromanaging demotivates people, but also switches off innovation. We value the work our employees do, but even more so, we value their thinking capabilities, their team spirit, and different perspectives. Many problems we face, in their detail, are quite particular to the organisation, to the country and to the particular point in time. Take for example, the COVID-19 pandemic and its consequences on all aspects of life and business. Now look at all the challenges we had to face in different organisations which were triggered by


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Business

“Respect towards individuals’ ideas and outlook motivates people.” COVID-19. Then, see each individual in your organisation as a potential creative node. Imagine if you would be able to tap into their experience, their perspectives and their non-conventional ways of tackling issues. We need to tap into that, not restrain it, and this respect towards the individuals’ ideas and outlook motivates people.” Another aspect which Robert feels pushes this strategy forward is embracing diversity in the people around us. “Different backgrounds bring different perspectives,” he says. “This is something which should be promoted and not something which should be seen as a problem to a leader. These attributes need to be encouraged and personal attributes, such as inter-organisational relationships, trustworthiness and even their kind of energy are also all-important ways for me to assess a team member’s possible contribution.” Perhaps one of the most difficult yet important aspects of being an effective CEO, however, is self-management. “It’s largely about time management for me,” says Robert, “from prioritising time to plan things efficiently to taking time to step back from critical situations to assess competently. It’s also about allocating time to focus on the processes involved in my efforts towards a desired result. It’s imperative for me that my support system needs to include not just professional, but family support as well.” One last point on people Robert makes is the need to empower team members via delegation. “Delegation doesn’t mean ‘passing the buck’ – let’s make sure not to confuse the two. In fact, sometimes it’s easier for an individual to do something themselves rather than to delegate. Delegation requires effort from both parties, especially in the first 100 days of a business relationship, when one is introduced as the manager in a team. Delegation also requires the ability to be humble because one has to accept that there is more than one way of how something can be done right, and when you’re delegating, rest assured people will find solutions to problems in ways different to those solutions you would have thought of. Embrace that, don’t resist it.”

Getting things done A balance between deep focus and keeping an opendoor policy is a must, and one of the most challenging aspects in management. Robert says, “an open-door policy today doesn’t simply mean a literal ‘open-door to a literal office’ but more so by means of being accessible to the team via other media, such as email and chat services. One however needs to find time to focus on projects and areas that require planning and critical thinking. I find that the best way to manage my inbox is to have a ‘zero inbox policy’. This means that by the end of my day, all emails received are seen to, with priority given to those coming from customers and team members.” “Another way of getting things done is to protect your calendar like it’s the Holy Grail. Make sure you keep your day organised, prepare for it the day before, respect the time given to you by others, especially meeting start times (something which culturally we are a bit deficient in), and the best tip – always end any meeting with a roundup. This can be sent as a bullet point list via email to the attendees so that things are clear to all on what the expected outcome should be. In conclusion, Robert admits that even though he tends to promote the ‘first 100 days setup’, he knows very well that there is no real cut-off between the first 100 days and what happens next. “EuroBridge, or any organisation, is a longterm project, and the first 100 days are not the be all and end all, but only the foundation of what one aspires to be a setup for long-term success.”

“Protect your calendar like it’s the Holy Grail.” ABOUT EUROBRIDGE Established in 1995, EuroBridge Shipping Services started as freight forwarders from Italy and have established themselves as one of the leading freight forwarding companies over the last decade. They now move cargo to/from all over the world in all kinds of modes available and are committed to investing in new technologies. By offering a wide range of services, the company aims to provide the best service to all its clientele. EuroBridge is also connected with a wide range of international and local partners to be able to deliver the right service, at the right level of quality, and for the right price.



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In Depth

Hospitality: Rising from the ashes of COVID-19 Following the unprecedented and sustained blow dealt by the pandemic, things are once again starting to look positive for Malta’s hospitality industry. Sarah Muscat Azzopardi talks to leading General Managers of local five-star hotels about how they coped, and what’s in store for 2022.


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In Depth

THE HOSPITALITY INDUSTRY HAS BEEN AMONG THOSE WORST AFFECTED BY THE COVID-19 PANDEMIC, which brought about an unprecedented situation in which travel and tourism were all but decimated for months on end. Now, after a difficult 18 months, bookings have started to pick up once again, and all signs indicate that the industry is slowing regaining pacing. According to Richard Cuello, Hilton Malta’s cluster General Manager, the first priority when COVID-19 started to spread was to apply measures to maintain the hotel’s team and keep guests safe. “Being a hotel with multiple services and touch points for our customers, this mission was difficult and at some stages confusing for our guests,” he reveals, explaining that the team was constantly receiving different directives from Government, as well as new preventive measures from the company itself. “We had to apply social distancing, special cleaning processes, new hygiene protocols, and modify our service,” he lists, describing managing service expectations with COVID restrictions as a big challenge. “We wanted to continue offering the highest quality and customer care standards during this period, and we had

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the opportunity to remain open during all these months. The main purpose was to keep close contact with our guests, team members and stakeholders,” Mr Cuello says. Still, during the hardest months of COVID, in which Hilton Malta drastically reduced its activity, the General Manager outlines two main objectives: preserving the entire team and using this period to ‘come back stronger’. “We always thought that business would come back rapidly, and we wanted to be sure that we would be ready for that,” he affirms, admitting that while they failed in the expectations of a ‘rapid’ recovery – only seeing business volume coming back many months later – they managed to use the period to come up with several ideas and initiatives to lead the ramp up. “When we started to welcome guests back, we were surrounded by a strong, committed and fully trained team, as well as new products and services ready for our guests. This was the fruit of months of preparation, and the result of many new initiatives from our team members. There have been many learnings out of this period, and we improved in many areas,” Mr Cuello maintains.


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“I personally believe that during this crisis we have seen the need to join forces among all stakeholders in the industry, in order to shape the future we want for tourism in Malta.” Richard Cuello, cluster General Manager, Hilton Malta

Bringing things to the present, the General Manager highlights a very strong trend in leisure travel, which the team expects to further increase during 2022. The main challenge, he notes, remains in the meetings, conference and events segment, where companies are more hesitant to organise larger gatherings.

Moving forward, Mr Cuello describes 2019 as the reference year for Malta when it comes to hotel occupancy, rates and tourism arrivals. “We are expecting to reach those levels of activity in around 24 months,” he reveals, forecasting that Malta will be seeing a strong increase in hotel-beds supply and that private-tourism accommodation will continue to grow aggressively.

“In our industry – and especially in Malta – we depend very much on airline capacity and their flight availability. Airlines have become more reactive and flexible during this crisis, and we expect that if there is an increase in demand, flight capacity will grow accordingly. This will have a very important impact when it comes to flight connections with major feeding markets and will be the gear changer to welcome back large international meetings and events on the island,” he says.

“I personally believe that during this crisis we have seen the need to join forces among all stakeholders in the industry, in order to shape the future we want for tourism in Malta,” the General Manager notes, making reference to the Planning Authority, Malta International Airport and the MHRA, among others. “I am convinced that we will face new challenges – lack of human resources, sensibility for a more sustainable tourism, authenticity, etc, which will need a common long-term strategy and approach in order to compete with other destinations.” On the part of the Westin Dragonara Resort, General Manager Michael Camilleri Kamsky credits a strong recovery plan implemented at the onset of COVID-19 with setting the hotel firmly on the road to recovery today. Of course, he notes, “we have taken all the necessary precautions outlined by the Superintendent of Public Health to protect both our associates and guests, and continue to place these measures at the forefront of our operation.” With travel restrictions in place and tourism numbers continuing to be low until the summer of this year, the General Manager says that whilst business levels were low, the team took the opportunity to complete the hotel’s refurbishment project. “Today, The Westin Dragonara Resort is fully refurbished to the highest standards, in line with our Five Star Superior category. We also looked into improving efficiencies and our product, and focused on training. With regards to business, we enjoyed an excellent patronage from the local market who opted for a staycation rather than travelling overseas – my team and I were delighted to welcome many Maltese and expat families who live on the islands,” he reveals.


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In Depth

Shifting to the current situation, Mr Camilleri Kamsky affirms that from mid-July, when the health protocols stabilised across the world, business started picking up, and from August until the end of October, the Westin Dragonara registered “acceptable levels of business”.

performances. Summer 2022 should give us good results for the individual leisure segment. Hopefully, conference business will follow from mid-2022 and with the combination of both segments, I am hopeful for 2023 and 2024,” he reveals.

“It is good to note that the UK has been the dominant market,” he continues, adding that “going forward, it seems that we shall continue enjoying a good movement of business, albeit very last minute, and taking into consideration the natural dip during the winter months. We forecast a good and positive summer 2022, subject to flights options in line with 2019 frequencies and destinations.”

Alexander A. Incorvaja, General Manager at Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa, describes the past 18 months as “an incredibly turbulent time for our industry,” in which those involved have had to navigate various adversities, including quasi-lockdowns and ever-changing operational and travel restrictions.

Looking into the long-term effects of the pandemic on Malta’s hospitality industry, the General Manager maintains that, while we have to accept that COVID-19 is still with us, all countries today have a better control of the situation. “I believe that unless there is a black swan event, we should continue enjoying a return of good

“It seems a distant memory, but earlier in the year, the only way for a guest to eat in the hotel was through room service delivery. And more recently, we had hundreds of guests all coming down to breakfast at similar times, but only able to order from an à la carte menu,” he affirms, referencing the fact that buffets were not permitted for a period of time, and today still need to be assisted by chefs. All this, he continues, “whilst trying to manage our

“Summer 2022 should give us good results for the individual leisure segment. Hopefully, conference business will follow from mid-2022 and with the combination of both segments, I am hopeful for 2023 and 2024.” Michael Camilleri Kamsky, General Manager, Westin Dragonara Resort

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In Depth

“With five-star category hotels usually operating at close to 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year, we would need to have all channels of business return to ‘normal’ levels to achieve these levels. I do not see this happening before 2023 at the earliest.” Alexander A. Incorvaja, General Manager, Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa

business and cost base, a large proportion of it being human resources. Equally, it was important to ensure that we continued to exceed guests’ expectations in a cleaner and safer environment.” And unlike many local hotels that took the opportunity of the slowdown in business to renovate or upgrade their product, there was no scope for this for Malta Marriott Hotel & Spa, which had just opened its doors in January 2020, following a 15-month, €30 million renovation. “From a business point of view, we did witness a rather unusual phenomenon, that of locals wanting to take small, frequent breaks away from their daily routines,” reveals Mr Incorvaja, detailing the emergence of a staycation market, which he describes as practically unheard of for an island of our size until the middle of last year. “Hotels therefore adapted their operational model to cater for this market, such as providing earlier checkin times and later check-outs,” he explains. Bringing things to the present, the General Manager highlights positive signs in the world of travel. “The global pace of recovery accelerated over summer, and this momentum continues deeper into the year. The leisure segment has been and continues to be of significant importance as we navigate through our recovery,” he affirms, adding that, as market dynamics continue to evolve, “we still need to be ready for any bumps along the road, where hotels, particularly five-star properties, rely heavily on corporate travel and the conference and incentive business – two segments that clearly will not be anywhere close to pre-pandemic levels in the first half of next year.” Divulging his thoughts on long-term effects, Mr Incorvaja states that now more than ever, Malta has become a year-round destination to visit, and not solely for leisure purposes. Having said that, he notes that, “with five-star category hotels usually operating at close to 80 per cent occupancy throughout the year, we would need to have all channels of business return to ‘normal’ levels to achieve these levels. I do not see this happening before 2023 at the earliest.”

However, taking stock of the last 18 months and with more and more guests returning to Malta, he highlights the need to remain focused on offering a quality product, as well as a clean and hygienic environment, while being committed to guest needs, technology and being sustainable. Here, he highlights, “Marriott International recently announced that it is committed to go net-zero by 2050, recognising that the industry has a collective responsibility to protect the world for future generations.”

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PHOTO BY TOMMY COLLIER PRODUCTIONS

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On her part, Robyn Pratt, General Manager at The Phoenicia Malta, describes her experience of dealing with COVID-19 as “a roller-coaster ride”. From the outset, management was focused on taking care of the hotel’s employees, and, she proudly notes, the result is that they did not lay off any employees. “During the months when there were no guests, our team members were put in task forces and worked on various maintenance, painting, and gardening activities in order to keep everyone busy,” she reveals. Bringing this experience to bear on the present, Ms Pratt maintains that, “as a general practice, I believe we have all become more flexible and aware of other departments, as this new mindset is very much needed now by hospitality team members – we can no longer think ‘that is not my department, so not my job’ – we need to think as a team and I believe this is something that the team here have really taken up.” One of the big positives for the hotel and many others like it, the General Manager notes, is that it pushed the team to think differently about the business on their doorstep, and for Phoenicia Malta, this led the hotel to open its gates to the Bastion Pool for the first time to non-residents. “This was very successful and something we have continued, however, in 2021 when we have had high occupancies, we have created a balance to ensure our residents have space by the pool,” she explains. Local accommodation packages have also been much more successful, Ms Pratt continues, adding that this is something that the team plans to continue, crediting the pandemic with bringing about “a lot of learnings and understanding that a new mindset is required with this new post-COVID normal.” Looking at the way things stand now, the General Manager reveals that thankfully, reservations have definitely picked up, particularly from the UK market. “The issue for us is the critical lack of human resource assets – this is a difficult time for this industry, and we need to do whatever we can to inspire people to come back,” she posits, revealing that, as far as business goes, “we are optimistic for 2022 and are focused on continuing to improve our guest experience and engage with our team in order to provide the best possible experience, both internal and external.”

“The issue for us is the critical lack of human resource assets – this is a difficult time for this industry, and we need to do whatever we can to inspire people to come back.” Robyn Pratt, General Manager, The Phoenicia Malta

As for the future, Ms Pratt continues to consider the lack of human resources as the most critical issue facing the industry, and admits, “I do not think things will ever get back to what they were – we need to think very differently as an industry going forward about how we engage with our very important internal assets.” As for business, despite a “softer” first quarter, she expects summer 2022 to be strong, based on the hotel’s experience of the past months. “If everything continues to go the way it has, by 2023 we hope that events and meetings will be coming back, as that is a critical piece of the puzzle, and I know that it is difficult with social distancing and other measures. Overall, we are optimistic about the future.”



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Tech

A drive towards innovation Since its inception in 2018, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) has aimed to spearhead Malta’s position as a hub for innovative technological arrangements. And, as Kenneth Brincat, the entity’s new Chief Executive Officer, tells Rebecca Anastasi, this necessitates an outward-looking approach: towards industry, and the wider digital world.

THREE YEARS AGO, THE MALTA DIGITAL INNOVATION AUTHORITY ACT (2018) WAS RATIFIED TO BOOST INNOVATIVE TECHNOLOGIES – comprising, among other tools, Artificial Intelligence, blockchain and Distributed Ledger Technologies (DLT) – on the island through regulating and recognising products and services making use of forwardthinking digital solutions. To this end, and to oversee the advances made in this regard, the Malta Digital Innovation Authority (MDIA) was set up a few months later, to facilitate the transition of Malta into a world leader, spearheading the introduction and regulation of these advanced – and sometimes, disruptive – innovations. “This was the first authority of its type in the world,” Kenneth Brincat, the entity’s new Chief Executive Officer attests. “Malta was already at the forefront, prioritising cutting-edge solutions and giving them space to thrive. And it was decided that, apart from simply being a regulatory body, the MDIA would also facilitate and actually promote the usage of innovative technologies,” he continues.

Indeed, the Authority is officially tasked with facilitating the “advancement and utilisation of innovative technology arrangements and their design and uses,” according to the entity’s official site, as well as to propagate information on ethical standards in the sector; safeguard the island’s reputation in the technology space in promoting transparency and accountability; and to champion new technologies to users, particularly businesses interested in cuttingedge digital tools. The MDIA’s regulatory function – accrediting technologies through its official certification granted to vetted products – is also a prime driver. And, although Mr Brincat has only been in the post since October 2021, he is already motivated to fulfil these goals and to ensure the Authority remains a lynchpin in the technology space. “My aims are to encourage more usage and take-up of innovation, as well as to encourage small-tomedium enterprises (SMEs) to foster new ideas, driven by digital literacy and invention,” he says. “While we are here as regulators, we will not stifle industry; rather, we need to assist private firms,


Tech

“While we are here as regulators, we will not stifle industry; rather, we need to assist private firms, so that they see us as a productive partner.”

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PHOTOS BY DAVID MALLIA

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so that they see us as a productive partner. Usually regulators tend to be rigid, but, here at the MDIA, we aim to be facilitators promoting and fostering innovation,” the CEO explains. He is well-placed to steer the MDIA to achieve such goals, having over 18 years’ experience in management, as well as having formerly occupied the post as Chief Operations Officer at the Malta Business Registry. “From my experience in the public sector, you need to be sensitive to the precise aims of the entity you’re heading. Of course, these goals would be different to private enterprise which is geared towards profit maximisation. However, in this case, our aim is the public interest, and this requires people skills, project management, and experience of public policy and administration,” he explains, adding that networks with other authorities are also essential to ensure collaboration for the greater good.

However, there are many challenges which he faces in fulfilling the MDIA’s endeavours: “one of these is that the sector is dynamic, so we don’t know what tomorrow will bring,” Mr Brincat explains. Moreover, “the right resources and competencies in the field are very difficult to find,” he attests. “Malta is a small country and there’s a shortage in skills, not just in the broader field of technology, but also in innovative arrangements, such as in Artificial Intelligence and blockchain.”

“If your technology is certified by the regulator, this is a great boost to your product and to your overall business.”


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“In five years’ time, I’d love to see the MDIA as an example inspiring other countries to set up such an entity which can follow in its footsteps.”

Yet, these are the issues which Mr Brincat is intent on resolving. “The MDIA is driven to give assistance, and to help those interested in the area to find the resources they need,” he says. Key to this is the assurance the entity gives to players in the field looking for a guarantee of quality, which the MDIA CEO says, can be given through the Authority’s certification, which, while not mandatory, possesses a host of benefits. “The day will come – it could be tomorrow, or in two weeks’ or two years’ time – in which companies will have to be prepared to utilise such solutions or, encounter them when dealing with clients. In such a scenario, they might seek peace of mind that the systems they’re using are certified, thus instilling more confidence in the technology itself,” he says. Moreover, if companies want to utilise an innovative technological product, having it certified gives “you, as a company, a competitive edge over other firms, and it also brings the firm in line with developments happening overseas. In fact, the European Union is currently looking into introducing such certifications and regulators – similar to the MDIA – across member states,” the CEO explains, adding that the coronavirus crisis has precipitated this trend. “COVID-19 has demonstrated the importance of technology in our lives, and it has helped a lot in remote working, for instance, as well as in other functions. Today, we understand that tech systems are practical, and provide the tools necessary to deal with every eventuality. Therefore, even the European Union is prioritising the need for quality, when it comes to innovative digital solutions, and is pushing for certification to give stakeholders the assurance they need,” Mr Brincat explains. The CEO sees this linked to the issue of cybersecurity, which is proving to be a growing concern and a great motivator for countries to legislate in favour of further regulation. “Generally speaking, cybersecurity is not addressed within national legal frameworks – even in Malta, with regards to the MDIA legislation. However, once the EU builds such a framework, and imposes the criteria on other countries in the bloc, it will be implemented. And fortunately, Malta is already prepared since it already has the Authority in place, and a law which can be easily adapted. However, other

states will have to start the process from scratch,” he explains. Closer to home, here on the island, strides are continuously being made to ease processes towards strengthening the regulatory environment, Mr Brincat attests, and, this year, the entity launched a sandbox as a tool to assist applicants through the myriad steps on the road towards acquiring the desired approvals. “Certification gives peace of mind; indeed, last May we launched a Technology Assurance Sandbox, providing an environment which prepares the applicant to undergo full certification, assisting them to have functional preparedness for their product, as well as indicating sound best practices, based on international standards,” Mr Brincat explains, adding that, by the end of the process initiated by this tool, candidates’ innovations will be prepared to apply for the official stamp of approval. “If your technology is certified by the regulator, this is a great boost to your product and to your overall business,” he says. Looking at the future of the MDIA, the CEO explains its drive for growth, to be able to better fulfil its remit. “We currently have 15 people but, by the end of 2022, this should grow to 30. It’s a challenge to find the right people but I’m confident we will, and, when we do, it will help us develop other initiatives which we have planned,” Mr Brincat says. One of the initiatives he is particularly proud of – and which he wants to see developed further – is the Pathfinder Scholarship, which assists individuals studying AI. He also points to six AI projects planned with six public sector partners in tourism, education, transport, customer care, as well as water and energy. “As part of its AI strategy, Malta has launched a number of action plans which need to be addressed by 2030, and, as part of this, the MDIA is helping to fund six AI projects across these domains,” he explains. The CEO is convinced the work which will be embarked on will prove beneficial to the public interest, not only here in Malta but also away from the island’s shores. Indeed, this is a personal ambition of his: “in five years’ time, I’d love to see the MDIA as an example inspiring other countries to set up such an entity which can follow in its footsteps,” he concludes.


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Property

Converting to conserve: The rise of the UCA

The Minister for Finance presented the Budget for 2022 a few weeks ago, on 11th October. It included a number of measures and incentives for the property market, with a particular focus on older properties situated within an Urban Conservation Area (UCA). Now that the dust has settled, Teri Spiteri chats with Gordon Dalli, Branch Manager for Fgura and Bormla at Dhalia Real Estate Services, to understand the changes in the market that were brought about by the announcements.


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Property

NEW PROPERTY DEVELOPMENTS HAVE SWEPT THE NATION. Blocks upon blocks of cookie-cutter apartments offer convenient housing solutions for renters and homeowners in both busy towns and sleepy villages. Before we knew it, entire hamlets of modern apartments had cropped up along village outskirts. Thankfully, just as developments were starting to inch their way inwards towards the village core, the Planning Authority implemented measures to protect and carefully manage what are now known as Urban Conservation Areas (UCAs). Soon after, a series of incentives on properties within UCAs were launched to boost investment in the traditional houses found in these areas. The initiatives hope to enhance the character and appearance of the areas by preserving the island’s typical limestone buildings, colourful doors and wooden balconies. “Government encouraged prospective buyers to purchase properties in these areas by paying half the stamp duty rates on the purchase. Authorities also issued grants on works within the properties,” says Gordon Dalli, thinking back to when the incentives were first launched in 2016. “While this helped to create more interest on the buyer’s part, however, nothing was really done to encourage the property owners to sell at reasonable market prices.”

“[The current schemes] will definitely help to increase the supply of properties which are unused and in need of restoration, but not currently for sale – of which we have thousands.”

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“Encouraging developers to invest in traditional dwellings will help make these properties more attractive for first time buyers, who usually tend to choose modern finished units to avoid the hectic process of converting a house.” Indeed, the value of traditional Maltese properties has increased steadily in the past few years, both in terms of price and appreciation. Farmhouses, townhouses, palazzos and houses of character are known for their timeless charm, not to mention their potential for tasteful adaptation to contemporary accommodation. Timber beams, traditional balconies, intricate wrought ironworks, patterned floor tiles and arched or vaulted ceilings are common features in these properties, and have been proven to blend seamlessly with contemporary kitchens and bathrooms to accommodate the needs of a modern lifestyle. So, with so much to offer, why were these properties being ignored in favour of modern apartments for so many years? Mr Dalli believes that this is simply a case of supply

and demand. “There was always a segment of clients preferring to purchase traditional Maltese properties, but this had diminished over the years as many were choosing modern buildings instead. Before long, we found ourselves in a situation where most localities offered 10 apartments for every townhouse on the market,” he recalls. “As a result, the lower supply of traditional homes boosted their value and appreciation, even when the demand for these properties was lower than that of modern properties.” The status quo was challenged last October, when new property-related measures were announced as part of the Budget for 2022. The most prominent incentive is the waiving of stamp duty and final withholding tax on the first €750,000 for both buyers and vendors, granted that the property was built more than 20 years ago and has been


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Property

vacant for at least seven years or that it is situated in a UCA, or that it has been recently constructed to reflect traditional Maltese architecture and design. Other incentives include a grant of €15,000 for first-time buyers acquiring such dwellings in Malta and of €30,000 for Gozitan properties, as well as a VAT refund of up to €54,000 on the first €300,000 spent on restoration and refining costs. In just a few short weeks, property experts have already noticed a difference in buyer behaviour as a result of these incentives. “Aside from an increased interest in traditional properties, we have also seen a shift in perspective among property developers. Many are now thinking outside the box and planning to invest in unconverted UCA dwellings. They will be converting these properties themselves before putting them on the market as finished homes,” Mr Dalli notes. This will also go a long way towards reaching a new cohort of buyers who do not have the time, resources or skills for converting disused properties themselves. “Encouraging developers to invest in traditional dwellings will help make these properties more attractive for first time buyers, who usually tend to choose modern finished units to avoid the hectic process of converting a house,” he remarks. “One of the key differences with these current schemes is that they are also applicable to vendors. This will definitely help to increase the supply of properties which are unused and in need of restoration, but not currently for sale – of which we have thousands,” he points out. “Having more of these properties on the market will increase competition among vendors and offer a larger selection to buyers,” he adds.

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After all, there is so much more to value in UCA properties. Besides the long list of aesthetic elements that make these properties so unique, Mr Dalli mentions other factors that are important to consider when purchasing a property. “Each of these homes offers buyers a private entrance, the use of their own roof, larger yards and gardens, as well as more spacious rooms and higher ceilings, all of which contribute towards a better quality of life.” The financial incentives announced in the Budget are as welcome as they are timely, especially when one considers the current spike in the cost of construction materials. Naturally, these price increases will affect construction works in both modern and traditional residences, however Mr Dalli predicts that a shift in focus towards UCA conversions will lead to more competition and lower prices across the industry. This is not the only challenge that will arise in the coming years, however. Drawing on his experience in the field, Mr Dalli acknowledges two key factors that need to be addressed. “Parking is far more restricted in urban conservation areas,” he states, “however this can be addressed through the implementation of new regulations through Local Councils, such as reserved parking for residents and new parking facilities.” “Shifting the market towards properties within these areas also requires a culture change,” he continues. “The shift in mentality towards the conservation of existing dwellings will help improve our environment not only by preserving our village cores, but also by reducing new construction projects on the outskirts of these villages.”





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Tech Trends

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From a household robot to the finest e-reader ever made, Sarah Muscat Azzopardi takes note of the coolest new gadgets on the market. 1. Samsung Galaxy Z Fold3 5G Just looking at Samsung’s newest foldable phone will make it clear why it tops the list of coolest gadgets of 2021. Featuring a sturdy aluminium frame that protects the hinge, it looks like a proper full-sized smartphone when unfolded, and also boasts the toughest glass in the Galaxy Z line. 2. Amazon Astro Household Robot The future is now, and it comes in the form of Amazon’s Astro Robot – the cutest household assistant we’ve ever seen. Perfect for keeping an eye on things around your home, it can do multiple things, and signifies another step towards household robots becoming more mainstream. 3. Sonos Roam Smart Speaker This hybrid speaker offers the best of both worlds – making use of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It can benefit from better audio quality and voicecontrolled integration with Google Assistant and Alexa, and can also be connected to your phone via Bluetooth, so you can take it wherever you want to go.

4. Anker Nebula Solar Portable Projector Always dreamed of having a home theatre set-up but don’t have the know-how to pull off an overly technical system? The Anker Nebula Solar changes all that, allowing you to easily project a 120-inch, 1080p version of your favourite movie or series without the complicated installation. 5. Amazon Kindle Paperwhite Amazon’s newly updated Paperwhite is being hailed as the finest e-reader ever designed, featuring a larger screen, as well as wireless charging in addition to USB-C charging. Paperwhite fans will be pleased to note that it continues to boast all the features of the original, with improved performance. 6. Apple Watch Series 7 Series 7 of Apple’s impressive smart watch comes with all of Series 6’s best features and some more: a 20 per cent larger AlwaysOn retina display. It’s also slated to be the most durable Apple Watch, with a stronger, more crackresistant front crystal.

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Environment

A shift in perspective: Turning waste from a problem into a resource There has never been a more exciting time for the waste management sector in Malta. Steady improvements at WasteServ have laid the groundwork for massive growth over the next five years, with multiple projects coming together at once. CEO Richard Bilocca talks Teri Spiteri through the impressive undertakings which will soon establish Malta as one of the global leaders in waste management.

Wied Fulija in Żurrieq

2021 WILL BE THE MOST PRODUCTIVE YEAR FOR RECYCLABLES since WasteServ first opened its doors 19 years ago. Over the past few years, the company has doubled its performance every six months, processing record-breaking amounts of cardboard and paper, metal, glass and plastic. Yet this is only a teaser of what is to come, according to the company’s CEO, Richard Bilocca. When asked about this year’s performance, Richard does not hesitate to attribute the success to his team first and foremost. “It’s all thanks to the workers. They did all the work to get us to this point,” he says, before thinking back to a time when things were quite different. “WasteServ used to be looked down upon and the employees knew it and felt it, but now they’re associated with success. Their management is with them on the shop floor. Their Minister visits twice a month. They’re regularly seen on the news, and their efforts are being noticed by the public. The motivation is felt by the whole team. I think of them as an unstoppable army,” he smiles, proudly.


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PHOTO BY DARYL CAUCHI

One other factor that has contributed to this year’s success is the notable increase in the population’s trust and support. “We’ve reached a point where, as much as we’d like to further improve our performance, that improvement depends on the general public,” Richard explains. “This is a much bigger challenge, but when the separation of waste in the household is associated with something successful, it leads to better results.” With momentum and enthusiasm driving unprecedented performance for the company, the CEO points out that these are important foundations for his long-term vision. “The operations setup we have created is like an elastic band. If you tug at it suddenly, it will snap. But if you pull it slowly and steadily, it will stretch a lot farther.” On the basis of this analogy, Richard goes on to describe the exciting plans that are currently in progress. “2021 was a good year, but we’ve only just started. We expect an even better performance in 2022, and in five years’ time, WasteServ will be unrecognisable,” he states with confidence. The ECOHIVE project is the main catalyst behind this transformation. Backed by an investment of €500 million, it is set to revolutionise the way waste management is approached, fast tracking the country’s overall transition to a circular economy and allowing Malta to use its waste as a resource. The venture involves the construction and operation of five different plants within the ECOHIVE Complex in Magħtab. These facilities will complement one another to ensure maximum efficiency. Richard sets the scene. “At the moment, Malta is at the bottom of the EU scoreboard for waste management. The ECOHIVE project will not merely help us climb the ladder, it will propel us to the very top. We’re going from zero to 100,” he asserts.

“Until last year, 93 per cent of waste collected by the company was sent to the landfill. With ECOHIVE, it will be possible to get this close to 10 per cent in a number of years.” waste that cannot be recycled or recovered in other ways, and will produce enough electricity to power Gozo and Mellieħa. Predictions of future population growth were studied in great detail to ensure maximum potential capacity, the CEO affirms, and what’s more, the flexibility of the plant will also aid with the influx of population during the summer months. In short – this plant will be built to last. “This is not a pie in the sky. The Waste-to-Energy project will receive the final bids in the procurement process by the end of January 2022,” Richard resolves. “Dialogues with bidders have been going on for a year now. It’s a lot of work, meeting almost daily, but it’s progressing well.” He goes on to clarify that the Waste-to-Energy plant will be operational 42 months after the adjudication, by which time WasteServ will also have a new Skip Management Facility. Around 47,000 tonnes of unsorted mixed bulky waste delivered in skips make their way to the landfill every year. In this regard, the new facility will act as a waste control mechanism for skip-loaded waste, while also allowing the company to recover waste which has not yet reached its end-of-cycle state for reuse, recycle and exportation.

“Until last year, 93 per cent of waste collected by the company was sent to the landfill. With ECOHIVE, it will be possible to get this close to 10 per cent in a number of years,” he maintains. “It’s a serious claim and a drastic shift, but the investment behind it is just as drastic – we’re talking about half a billion Euro of capital investment alone.”

The third facility within the ECOHIVE enterprise is the Organic Processing Plant, which will generate energy while also producing large quantities of agricultural compost. The CEO describes the reasoning behind this: “the waste that currently enters the landfill already releases carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Now, instead of having that carbon dioxide lost over a number of years, it will be released in a contained, mitigated manner that generates electricity.”

The new Waste-to-Energy plant is the first of five responsible for this forecasted drop in landfill waste. The plant will receive

The current Clinical Waste Incineration plant in Marsa is no longer considered fit for purpose, particularly considering the very


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Urban Greening Project in Misraħ is-7 ta’ Ġunju, Ħamrun

“I believe that you are as good as your people. We’re recruiting a lot of young employees who are full of energy and can give value.” limiting area in which it is based. This will also be relocated to the ECOHIVE premises in the outskirts of Naxxar, and the new plant will also contribute to the generation of electricity. Finally, a fully-fledged Material Recovery Facility for dry recyclables will round off the ECOHIVE project, and promises to be a technological marvel of automated waste separation. This plant will be able to receive and treat co-mingled material (that is, paper, cardboard, plastic and metal). The most impressive feature of the ECOHIVE is the way all five plants are integrated to work in sync, supporting and supplying each other. Richard gives a few examples of how this will work: “any rejects from the Material Recovery Facility will go straight to the Waste-to-Energy plant for processing. This, in turn, may provide the hot water needed by the Organic Processing Plant, and so on.” “These plants are not being designed based on our current performance, mind you,” the CEO warns, “they’re being designed on the assumption that we’ll be in a position to reach national EU targets – namely that we see a reduction in black bags and an increase in recyclables collection.” With the entire operation expected to be completed within the next five years, Richard and his team certainly have their work cut out for them. Yet he is hopeful and determined, stating, “the ECOHIVE will take us from a situation where waste is a problem to one where waste is a resource.” The ECOHIVE might be a mammoth task in itself, but it is certainly not the sole focus of the company. GreenServ, the new urban greening project implementation arm within WasteServ, has recently been set up to deliver a new lease on life to Malta’s dense urban areas. The division focuses on transforming disused spaces into green areas for public outdoor recreational facilities, while delivering plenty of health and well-being benefits to residents.

Richard outlines the current projects, starting with the transformation of a car park roundabout in Hamrun. “We are going to cover the car park with a roof garden. This will hit multiple birds with one stone; providing shade for the cars and their drivers, while also creating a lush garden above it, which one can access with an elevator.” He emphasises that this is not about placing a few potted plants here and there. “We want to create an experience that is completely different to what residents have access to at the moment. We’re bringing the benefits of the countryside to them – local herbs, fresh scents, lush greenery.” The embellishment of a stormwater culvert in Qormi will be just as invigorating. “At the moment, the channel looks like an ugly, concrete coffin. Now, people will enjoy a garden full of trees and aromatic plants, a jogging track, and even a small amphitheatre,” Richard details. “The garden in Mosta is even more significant,” he continues, “as we are expropriating a large, private orchard which previously belonged to the famous criminal Cikku Fenech and turning it into a beautiful garden that serves the public.” The list of GreenServ projects is endless. Other greening projects have already been completed successfully, such as the rehabilitation of the landfills in Wied Fulija in Żurrieq and Qortin, Gozo. Then there are those which are still in the planning phase, such as the roofing of the Santa Venera tunnels and the St Anne Street project in Floriana. The latter involves the complete excavation of the road, the construction of a tunnel and the erection of a garden above it. With so many monumental projects happening simultaneously, there is no doubt that this is a very exciting time for WasteServ. When asked about his plans for seeing it all through, Richard reiterates that it’s all about the human resources. “I believe that you are as good as your people. We’re recruiting a lot of young employees who are full of energy and can give value. The return on investment on quality additions is massive,” he declares. “My job is to make my position redundant in a few years, because we will have a system that works by itself. And we’re getting there.”

Urban Greening Projects in Żabbar



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Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses

Crafting a unique brand of chateau chic While Ta’ Betta Wine Estates is a relative newcomer to the scene, the winery is already making waves, due to both its characterful wines and beautifully-designed space. Sarah Muscat Azzopardi discovers what went into fulfilling the owners’ dreams of doing justice to the wine – an arduous yet rewarding journey that took the boutique winery from “chateau garage” to “chateau chic”.


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TA’ BETTA WINE ESTATES, situated in the lush surroundings of Girgenti in Siggiewi, is a relatively new winery on the islands, but – bringing with it more than a decade of research into the sommelier business – is quickly making a name for itself among local wine lovers. It is the brainchild of Juanito Camilleri, the University of Malta’s former rector, and his wife Astrid, who gave life to the project back in 2002, after Patrick Xerri, the estate’s viticulturist, introduced them to expert oenologist Vincenzo Melia. Together, they embarked on a journey to fulfil their dream of making fine wines with personality. In 2003, after an extensive embellishment of the land, the first vines imported from France started to be planted, going on to be harvested for the first time in 2006, kicking off the winemaking journey at Ta’ Betta.

PHOTOS BY BRIAN GRECH AND THE CONCEPT STADIUM

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At the time, this took place in a modest rural room on the estate, fondly referred to by the owners as “chateau garage”. But, spurred on by the results of that first yield, and the potential in the wine produced, they decided to create a home that would be worthy, embarking on the process of constructing a state-of-the-art boutique winery on the estate. By the owners’ own admission, the arduous yet rewarding journey took the place from “chateau garage” to “chateau chic”. Situated on the southern flank of the estate, which comprises four hectares of terraced land in an area known as the Contrada ta’ Brija in Girgenti, the winery today reflects the beauty of its surroundings. Not only does it look out at the circa 15,000 vines, 200 olive trees and other indigenous Maltese flora planted on site, but it also enjoys an impressive backdrop, featuring the medieval town of Mdina, the Grandmaster’s summer

residence, the Inquisitor’s summer residence and the Laferla Cross, depending on which direction you look. The architects and structural engineers selected for the project were TBA Periti, while the interior and exterior design work was entrusted to camilleriparismode projects & design studio. Looking back on the project at the outset, camilleriparismode’s Paul Camilleri reveals that the teams worked together to fulfil the owners’ dreams of doing justice to the wine, explaining that, “when we started, it was still much smaller, and eventually with further planning permissions, it was extended.” Revealing the thought process behind the aesthetic of the project, Paul divides it into two distinct areas, each with its own feel. “Because the lower level of the estate is actually underground, the idea was to have a darker

“Because the lower level of the estate is actually underground, the idea was to have a darker feel – also because it’s the production area and where the wine rests – moving on to a lighter palette upstairs.”


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Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses

feel – also because it’s the production area and where the wine rests – moving on to a lighter palette upstairs,” he maintains. “We worked on coming up with a formula of a hybrid between elements of industrial design, because ultimately it is a fully functional winery, whilst incorporating more contemporary details,” Paul continues, illustrating how they went about this, going into the minutest of details to achieve the desired effect. In the fermentation chamber, for example, an exposed concrete ceiling and dark walls, which transition seamlessly into dark flooring, create a chiaroscuro effect against the wine tanks. In the same space, a huge stone basin was custom designed and crafted out of reconstituted stone, illuminated by a copper light. “One of the main challenges was designing something really beautiful, despite it being a functional space,” Paul says, affirming that corridors were built to pass all the services through, and in areas where they had to be exposed, services were clad in copper, which was chosen specifically: “we knew it would tarnish and develop a patina, which works with the greys and colours of the tanks.”

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“One of the main challenges was designing something really beautiful, despite it being a functional space.”

Behind the fermentation chamber, a library of vintage wines housing the owners’ private collection is enclosed in glass to allow onlookers to experience it without making it accessible, he continues, describing the careful selection of materials and finishes which is carried on throughout the project. “Here, we used corten steel cases for the bottles – which we also used for much of the detailing throughout the winery, including handles and railings,” Paul maintains. Reflecting this emphasis on materials and finishes, the underground vaults were built in local limestone by an exceptional stone mason. “The precision is church-like. It is perfect – millimetrical,” Paul describes.


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As you move from the darker details of the downstairs areas to the upper level, the industrial elements continue, making use of steel and stone, but subtle changes to the chosen materials, including the substitution of concrete with travertine, lighten up the aesthetic. Once again, the attention to detail is noteworthy, as Paul points out, with the grid pattern in the travertine aligning with the apertures, drawing the eye out onto the vines beyond. A private dining area and tasting zone benefit from customdesigned pieces of furniture which serve a dual function, doubling up as storage to house all necessary equipment. Meanwhile, the terrace utilises the same subtle colour scheme, incorporating a floating staircase crafted out of an untarnished steel, once again, using a lighter finish. Huge iroko doors bearing a contemporary chevron pattern punctuate the front of the building, which once again contrast with the painted blue-grey doors that characterise the underground area. These subtle details that delineate the downstairs production areas and the upstairs entertaining space are at the root of the design, and marry with the functionality of both, Paul says, explaining, “as we were designing these spaces, we kept all of this in mind and incorporated information from the wine-makers and everyone working at the winery. The result is a really interesting mix of the functional and aesthetic.”

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“The clients demanded a level of attention that we would normally put into a residence. I believe we succeeded well – there’s something very magical about it,” he smiles, describing the finished product as a hybrid of styles. “It’s a mix of subtle industrial elements with the Mediterranean feel of wood, stone and natural materials, but there’s also little touches of the classical wine estate aesthetic one would expect” – such is Ta’ Betta’s transformation into its very own brand of “chateau chic.”

“The clients demanded a level of attention that we would normally put into a residence.”



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Gastronomy Trend Report: Winter 2021/22 Sarah Muscat Azzopardi discovers what’s hot in the world of food in the coming months, both locally and abroad. Mezzodi closes its doors in Valletta Michelin Plate-awarded eatery Mezzodi has announced that it will be temporarily closing down, citing current market conditions that have been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The popular restaurant, which is run by Chris Diacono and his uncle, Chef Michael Diacono, posted the news on their social media, writing, “with a heavy heart we must announce that we have had to make the difficult decision to close our doors at our Valletta property.” They continued to write that the team is “working hard on finding a new home”, asking fans to follow their page for updates. Reducetarianism In the same way that many are choosing to reduce their alcohol intake by opting for mocktails and low-alcohol drinks, many are also making the effort with their food. While they’re not ready to embrace going full vegan, reducetarianism refers to those who are significantly reducing their consumption of meat and other animal products. And when it comes to the animal products they do eat, the emphasis is on quality. Flavour of the moment: Hibiscus A colourful shrub used in teas around the world is looking like it’ll be a lot more popular next year, making its way into several foods and drinks. Rich in vitamin C, hibiscus will

feature in items other than tea, like Hibiscus Water, and in delicious spreads, particularly mixed with ginger or mango. New restaurant focused on open-flame cooking opens in Sliema A new restaurant with a focus on open-flame cooking has made for an interesting addition to the ever-growing list of foodie options in Sliema. Led by Chef Patron Michele Zahra, who lived and worked in Australia, Azar brings the chef’s experience of international cooking to Malta, with an emphasis on cooking over open flames to infuse dishes with a natural smoky flavour. Despite being open for a few short weeks, the restaurant is already making waves online, proving popular among local foodies. Sunflower seeds replace peanuts Having long served as an alternative to peanuts in peanut butter – particularly among foods made for children with nut allergies – sunflower seeds are set to go mainstream next year, making their way into crackers, ice cream, cheese, and more. Japanese flavours A renewed interest in Japanese flavours has been recorded among consumers in the build-up to and following the Tokyo Olympics. Apart from increased sushi sales, Japanese ingredients and flavours like yuzu, a citrus from Japan, Korea and China, are also gaining popularity, featuring in everything from vinaigrettes to flavoured mayo.


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A pivotal year for pensions

PHOTOS BY BERNARD POLIDANO


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As the new year edges closer, business leaders everywhere are reviewing the past months to take stock and plan for 2022. The CEO and Managing Director of STM Malta is no different. Deborah Schembri looks back on 2021 as a year in which the company made great strides within its growth strategy, as Teri Spiteri discovers.

THEY SAY ‘START AS YOU MEAN TO CONTINUE’, and that has certainly been the case for STM Malta this year. The firm started 2021 strong by announcing a name change to STM Malta Pension Services Ltd – a move which positioned the business well within its growth strategy while aligning with product offerings and industry trends. “Our new name is an important element in our growth strategy and future success,” explains Deborah Schembri, who has led the company as Managing Director for eight years. “The business has evolved over the years, so we needed to realign our name to reflect the fact that we’re now a leading global provider of pension schemes. As STM Malta Pension Services Ltd, we are now better positioned to reach a wider spectrum of both national and international potential customers, as well as existing pensioners,” she reveals.

“The business has evolved over the years, so we needed to realign our name to reflect the fact that we’re now a leading global provider of pension schemes.”

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“The advantages that local businesses can gain from our new pension product extend far beyond simply helping their employees to achieve their financial goals in retirement.”

There is no doubt that the firm is in safe hands. Ms Schembri leads the company with over 20 years of experience in the industries of insurance and pensions, gaming, caring, construction and property development, oil and fuel, and hospitality and travel. She has been instrumental in setting up and growing the business, placing STM Malta as the major pensions’ provider on the island. Her hard work and dedication to the firm has not gone unnoticed, mind you – she was named the Malta Businesswoman of the Year in 2020, as well as the Most Influential Businesswoman in Finance in 2019. It was therefore no surprise that, by the second quarter of the year, STM Malta had announced its next milestone for the company: the launch of a new occupational pension scheme that was created specifically for businesses in Malta and Gozo. The scheme offers a simple, cost-effective solution that can be tailored to suit the needs of businesses of any size, as well as their employees. Ms Schembri outlines the benefits that the scheme offers to both businesses and employees. “The advantages that local businesses can gain from our new pension product extend far beyond simply helping their employees to achieve their financial goals in retirement. It’s also a valuable recruitment tool to attract and retain the best people in a very competitive jobs market, plus it’s an excellent way to improve staff engagement, motivation and productivity. As for employees, it offers a value-for-money investment with the costs of administration supported by their employer. And, of course, both employers and employees have the reassurance and confidence that comes from knowing that we are one of the island’s biggest pension trustees and administrators.” Indeed, the firm administers approximately €1.8 billion (£1.6 billion) in client assets. The pension scheme also includes a number of additional advantages. For employers, these include corporate tax incentives of up to €3,000 per employee per annum, plus a further tax credit for up to €750 per employee per annum. Employees will benefit from a personal tax credit of up to €750 per annum on personal contributions. What’s more, the scheme is a compounding investment based on a jurisdiction with no tax on growth, meaning that pension savings will grow faster. Commenting on how the scheme can be tailored to suit the specific requirements of businesses and their staff, Ms Schembri adds, “we understand how time-consuming it can be for businesses – especially SMEs – to set up and control pension schemes. So, we have created a product that removes that burden from employers, while also offering them a solution that can be customised to suit their specific requirements. There are many variables, including deciding which employees the scheme is available to, the employee contribution rates which depend


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on factors such as seniority or length of service, as well as employer contribution rates. We can even tailor it down to fine details such as the branding of literature to reinforce employee engagement.” Following the launch of the scheme, STM Malta hosted the Future of Pensions debate in September, welcoming a long list of high-profile speakers including Malta’s Finance Minister, Clyde Caruana. The topics covered were widely varied and included the current situation of state and private pensions, the advantages of personal pensions, benefits of occupational pensions to both employers and employees, as well as how the investment risk is managed. Reflecting on the event’s discussions, Ms Schembri emphasises the vital role that pension schemes play in protecting older people from poverty, allowing them to enjoy economic independence and a decent standard of living. She maintains that the financial sustainability of pension schemes is “an indispensable means to this end”, and adds that, in the coming years, supplementary pensions would need to play an “ever-greater role in maintaining the future adequacy of pensions, particularly where the adequacy of public pensions is expected to deteriorate.”

How can this be achieved sooner rather than later? It all depends on public policies, Ms Schembri says. “Public policies can promote occupational pension coverage through mandating (i.e. making them compulsory), autoenrolment (i.e. making it compulsory for employers to offer occupational pensions to workers, though the latter may opt out) or collective bargaining. Tax and other financial incentives, like subsidies or matching contributions, are an important part of the policy mix to develop occupational pensions.” With a strong year to look back on, Ms Schembri now sets her sights on 2022. She shares her plans for staying the course in STM Malta’s growth strategy: “our aim is to continue growing by offering new products and identifying new markets. There is a global shortage of human resources, so it is important for employers to retain their employees. We are in the process of offering employers other benefits and solutions which they can offer to their employees, and this will also act as a retention tool. These benefits will be linked to employees reaching certain milestones, and the milestones will be decided by the employer.”

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Education

MCAST’s big plan MCAST Principal and CEO Joachim James Calleja and Edel Cassar, Director of Strategy Implementation, talk to Lisa Borain about the college’s drive towards a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive approach to vocational and professional education and training in the wake of the COVID pandemic.

THE UNEXPECTED COVID PANDEMIC HAS DISRUPTED THE WORKFORCE. It has brought about unanticipated and rapid changes to business models and consumer behaviour, with the ripple effect of these changes hitting the shores of education and training. MCAST, the 21st century college born out of the needs of Malta’s economic growth in the late 20th century, is looking to withstand these challenges and is striving to continue with the provision of first-class qualifications, staying relevant in today’s labour market.

Smart mobility, due to the fact that there are oftentimes of late when travel is not possible, yet the same results still need to be yielded. Smart learning, meanwhile, is “something that we have experienced over the last year,” Prof. Calleja says, explaining, “teachers and students can vouch for it, as exams have been sat for and they have achieved their results. While there hasn’t yet been an overall comparison of the results from previous years, the experience was a positive one and now we know that it is achievable in future.”

The future of work after the pandemic has been characterised by three trends, MCAST Principal and CEO Joachim James Calleja believes. These are smart working, smart mobility, and smart learning.

Edel Cassar, Director of Strategy Implementation adds, “the challenge of vocational learning is not the academic aspect, but rather the practical one, which is where MCAST’s forte normally lies. The pandemic has presented the challenge that the students are unable to put what they have learned into practice.”

Smart working is all about both employer and employee being efficient remotely, saving energy, time and money.

“The major negative impact is a lack of practical sessions in laboratories and workshops,” Prof.


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Calleja substantiates. “Young people are not going into workplaces, on work assignments, into offices to meet employers; the interactions which usually take place under normal circumstances.” “On the other hand, one of the foremost positive impacts is the use of technology. We are investing in a big tech project so that if a similar situation continues to hinder physical interaction, we will be well equipped with a campus where you can learn remotely, wherever you are. It’s a substantial investment so it’s not something that will happen overnight. Vocational education is not easily changed into a techbased learning process because of the very nature of it.” Where does MCAST currently sit? The snapshot caught by an anonymous survey conducted earlier this year across the college summing up its state-of-play looks bright. According to the findings, 84 per cent of lecturing staff stated that they do not see themselves leaving MCAST; 91 per cent of administrative staff said that they

“When MCAST was hit by the challenges of a pandemic in 2020, the college’s response was immediate, focused and target-oriented.” Joachim James Calleja, MCAST Principal and CEO


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“The challenge of vocational learning is not the academic aspect, but rather the practical one, which is where MCAST’s forte normally lies.” Edel Cassar, MCAST Director of Strategy Implementation

would recommend MCAST as an employer; 77 per cent of students claimed that the course expectations are being met; while 83 per cent of students would recommend MCAST to their friends. Reacting to this, Prof. Calleja says, “over the last decade, MCAST has seen rapid developments in its infrastructure, in the programmes that it delivers, in the quality of the staff that it recruits and in the positive appraisals it receives from employers and social partners.” An initial Strategy Plan was produced for 2019-2021, which yielded successful results. From 2018 to 2020, the student population increased by 661, while apprenticeships increased from 879 to 1,673. Researchers shot up from a mere five to 96 over the course of these two years, while full-time staff increased by 254 educators. Further, the budget rose by €11,970,000. Moreover, Prof. Calleja says, “when MCAST was hit by the challenges of a pandemic in 2020, the college’s response was immediate, focused and target-oriented. It delivered what it could have never imagined it would do, without any planning or history to rely on. Indeed, 2020 has forged a new era and character for the college.”

In response to the pandemic, MCAST drew its strength from its human resources, as well as from the technology that it had invested in over the years. Its outputs were met with a constructive response from society. Government was also quick to support its financial requests, and employers were rapid in pledging more work-based learning for the students. The added apprenticeships pledges by the end of 2020 amounted to over 600. Prof. Calleja and Ms Cassar both strongly believe that if the college is going to remain truly relevant in vocational learning, heavy investment needs to be made in work-based learning. “Young people need to strike a balance between what the lecturer is speaking about and what the employer and employees are doing in places of work,” Prof. Calleja says. “If we manage to get more employers on board to share with us their new work practices and machinery, that’s how we can remain relevant to the labour market.” Ms Cassar maintains, “it would be futile trying to replicate industry in all the vocational sectors, but we need to make sure that our students leave the campus and go out there to learn in different types of workplaces. Another aspect of that is to bring the employers onto campus as educators, which gives students the feel of the industry directly from those who are in it. Creating the physical structure to ensure that learning takes place in different forms so that it remains quality learning – this will be the true challenge and the only way the college will survive and remain relevant.” Prof. Calleja adds, “we highly encourage employers to come onto campus as much as we can. For instance, we have a programme whereby the Heating, Ventilation and Air-conditioning sector came together to bring state-of-the-art equipment on campus for the students to learn from, as well as 25 apprenticeship programmes. This is what attracts young people. These are the kinds of incentives young people need to come to college and learn before going out into the world.” “Learning with the latest equipment ensures that what the students are learning is relevant and that they are not studying dated technology, which they will never see outside of the college. These are machines that they will work with when they are in employment, and they will know because they have been granted the insight. This is the direction we are striving to keep going in,” Ms Cassar says.


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In the post-COVID-19 period, the college, together with the active involvement and contribution of internal and external stakeholders, has devised the extensive Strategic Plan 2022-2027. The expectation of the plan is for the college to open its doors even wider to the community. This will include closer cooperation with public and private entities in order to build a more dynamic workforce system, and with the individual citizen so as to encourage a more structured use of its resources while empowering active citizenship and lifelong learning. Prof. Calleja says, “MCAST must move towards the type of educational institution known as a community college. In one very brief sentence, the overall vision at the end of this six-year plan is to create a community college that serves learners of all ages.” This may mean different things in different contexts. For MCAST, it will simply make the college available to institutionalised and individual needs and aspirations. The college will increase its role in helping learners in skilling, reskilling and upskilling. The economic uncertainty created by the pandemic will encourage more people and organisations to reset their priorities and their education and training. MCAST’s vision is to be the college that will integrate learning with working in an even stronger manner. “Online learning, hybrid courses, virtual mentoring and other forms of remote access will be supported when and if necessary,” says Prof. Calleja. “Being a community college will mean that learners will consider MCAST not as an institution in which one can enrol for two, four or more years, but as a place where one can continue learning throughout their career. Every qualification offered by MCAST Community College will continue to have labour market value, and learning in industry will also be convertible into college credits. As learning is taking place everywhere and anytime, informal, and non-formal acquisition of skills and competencies will carry an academic value.” The vision of MCAST as a community college also includes the assurance that all barriers to learning are removed, with student support and community outreach services increasing and becoming more personalised. The goal is that the links with the community will be richer, continuous, and more meaningful and relevant. Two of the most recent success stories of the college have been the attraction of international students and wider research activities in areas related to vocational and professional education and training. Part of the plan is to reinforce these two strategic goals in order to open up the college to a larger cohort of international students, as well as to create a gateway for local students to gain experience internationally.

According to Prof. Calleja, governance has had challenges that strengthened its role at the college. He elaborates, “this implies that it needs to be further prescribed so that the two distinct layers of governance and management truly represent their role and objectives. The new legislation for MCAST will shape this distinction even further, but the years 2022-2027 will certainly be used to synergise a more constructive and positive relationship between the two vital instruments of development.” Without doubt, the next six years at MCAST will lay the structure and identify the resources to sustain an open community of learners and workers that will help make Malta more competitive, sustainable, and greener. Prof. Calleja adds, “an increase in our predictive capacity will be instrumental in making our vision a reality. As a public-funded college, we will widen our doors to provide services to Government entities on a regular basis. Similarly, our initiative to attract industry on campus is yielding its dividends, but much more needs to be done to entice employers to invest directly in MCAST, increase apprenticeships and adopt more learners and lecturing staff in their day-to-day operations.”

THE STRATEGY PLAN 2027-2030 DEVELOPMENT PROCESS The consultation process, which led to the development of this ambitious Strategic Plan, was extensive, with the active involvement and contribution of internal and external stakeholders. Apart from an initial draft document being available on the Government public consultation website and on the MCAST website for feedback and input, an online anonymous questionnaire was available for the submission of feedback. During this phase, MCAST undertook various initiatives to liaise with as many stakeholders as possible, including reaching out to the general public. In total, more than 1,720 persons provided feedback through nine different channels. All the feedback received was reviewed and consolidated in an updated draft Strategic Plan.


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BusinessNow

Interview

Leading with purpose, through good times and bad Sarah Muscat Azzopardi talks to leading business coach, author and TEDx speaker Nathan Farrugia about the struggles that business leaders and decision makers have faced since the start of the pandemic; and why rejuvenating mental strength and focus should not wait till the festive season.


BusinessNow

Interview

2021 HAS BEEN A TOUGH YEAR FOR EVERYONE, not least for business leaders, CEOs and entrepreneurs. Yet while the difficulties have been many, through his work as a business coach and his own experience as a CEO, Nathan Farrugia considers the primary struggle that business leaders and decision makers have faced since the start of the pandemic to be insecurity. “It’s sort of hedging your bets,” he explains, describing the insecurity, or hesitation around making decisions which are going to have long-term effects, without having an inkling or understanding of what the long term might be. “What happens is that personality kicks in – if you’re risk averse, you’re going to hold on more tightly to what you know, while if you’re more likely to be creative and exploratory, you’re going to take initiative. This is where your leadership style affects the way that you make decisions,” he notes, speaking of the way different business leaders reacted. And now, almost two years since the outset of the pandemic, he looks back on the different stages of how businesses, and the people leading them, adapted, starting from the initial ‘needsmust’ reaction. “We found ourselves going digital very quickly, and most organisations adapted to that quite well. It was a good baby step to the more concerted, strategic changes that people needed to make,” he maintains.

PHOTO BY ALAN CARVILLE

Discussing the ways in which the situation is different today than it was in the weeks and months directly following the onset of COVID-19, Nathan affirms, “when you are threatened, your survival instinct kicks in, and some people perform better in these stressful situations, particularly if they are in leadership positions

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and are used to making decisions.” The focus at first was short term, mostly to do with selfpreservation, he adds, making reference to Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s definition of the different ways of thinking – that which is fast and instinctive, as opposed to slow thinking, which is more strategic and long-term. This second type of thinking is what had to happen after the initial stage of dealing with the pandemic, Nathan says, affirming that the first instinct worked well among local business circles, while the second phase less so. “Why? Typically, we don’t have enough practice. The way we generally run a business is to yearend, so we’re not very good at actually thinking longer term, and then, when it becomes blurry in terms of what the world might look like and what the outcome might be, we get lost,” he says. CEOs today are also dealing with a shift in mindset among employees, Nathan continues, in favour of a better work-life balance. “This is something that clearly came out of COVID, and some business leaders struggled with it. The mindset shift is good, but it’s also a bit sad, because I think that we shouldn’t need COVID to tell us that we need a good work-life balance,” he affirms. On the subject of work-life balance, Nathan makes an interesting observation, drawing on his work at VISTAGE, which tracks the experiences of CEOs. Morale and motivation for business leaders, he says, generally follows when it comes to their personal and business lives. “When you’re the leader of an organisation, typically if you have a bad day at work, you have a bad day at home – it follows you. But when

“The mindset shift is good, but it’s also a bit sad, because I think that we shouldn’t need COVID to tell us that we need a good work-life balance.”


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COVID struck, there was a split – personal life actually got better as business life got worse. It’s interesting, as many were saying ‘well, my business is down the tubes, but actually I’m spending more time with family, I’m in a good place, finding time to train because I’m not always stuck in traffic, etc,’ and now that it’s all started to come back as people move back to the office, the two have started to come back together again, which is sad,” he observes. Going on to explore the main ways that the pandemic has affected the role of the business leader and CEO, Nathan believes that it has changed considerably. Noting that the role of the business leader has had to become more decisive, he reflects, “over the last years, we’ve seen that leadership has become more empowering and engaging – a leading from the back and lifting people up kind of style which has become more prominent, less the ego-driven alpha male type stuff we used to see 10 to 20 years ago. But I do think that some of that needs to come back in, where people are going to have to make decisions where other people are floundering, and I think that there is a role for this decisiveness that business leaders need to re-find.” For good or for bad, the business coach affirms, “a decision is much better than a non-decision, even if it’s the wrong one, at times.” The second way in which the pandemic has affected the role of the leader is in relation to communication, he continues. “In the past, we’ve seen leaders make decisions only with their peers or at C-suite level – now, the need to communicate downwards is more important, especially if you have a hybrid workforce,” Nathan says, highlighting the importance of finding ways to reach out and communicate more effectively, and also to listen to employees. “It’s also compounded with the fact that you’re not communicating with your customers as much,” he continues, illustrating the difference between retail customers going to a shop and communicating their needs versus buying online. Reflecting on the unexpected positives of the period, Nathan, being studious of human nature, considers the past months an

opportunity to really experience how human beings behave under stress. “To see people become more selfish is something I expected to see, and also on the flipside, seeing people become more altruistic and mindful of the social needs of employees, the community and flexibility around illness, and understanding priorities when parents had kids at home for example; through these instances, understanding and emotional intelligence came out quite strongly, and it was uplifting to see,” he maintains. “What is perhaps more surprising though is how quickly we seem to be returning to the pre-pandemic ‘normal’ from a mindset perspective, whereas I would have hoped this flexibility and regard for well-being and mental health would have lasted a bit longer,” he continues. Denigrating what he calls this ‘let’s get back to work’ attitude, he maintains, “I think those businesses won’t survive – they’ll lose people, they’ll lose customers, and in the long term, unless they adapt and change, they’ll be redundant.” Revealing the main lessons that have come out of the pandemic for business leaders, Nathan says that chief among them is that “we’ve got back in touch with our humanity – let’s make sure we hold onto it, and don’t go back to being data-driven, robotic thinkers.” Apart from that, he affirms, “let’s also understand that the world is more volatile, and therefore we need to be careful with the decisions we make in relation to cash-flow and overstretching ourselves. Let’s be more focused on investing in sustainable practices rather than quick fixes, and let’s make employment an experience rather than just a list of tasks to do.”

“We’ve got back in touch with our humanity – let’s make sure we hold onto it, and don’t go back to being data-driven, robotic thinkers.”


BusinessNow

Interview

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“We’re always worrying about what if, or what’s already happened – our brain is always thinking about the future or the past, which we can do nothing about. It’s a waste of energy.”

And now that the festive season is drawing nearer – a time in which many take a much-needed break, I ask about methods business leaders can adopt to help rejuvenate their mental strength and focus, in time for a fresh 2022. But Nathan has a slightly different take. “Taking time out or going on holiday to rejuvenate and recharge the batteries, for me, is not enough,” he stresses, describing the ‘excuse’ of Christmas, or mid-term, as “what society has created around the on-off switch that we use when it comes to work – a bit like the sevenday week (five you work, two you don’t).” For Nathan, it’s about day-to-day habits. “Those that find the time to meditate, for example, or exercise, sleep enough, eat healthily, nurture relationships rather than just answer emails, have meaningful conversations rather than just meetings – those are the people that don’t need a ‘holiday’ – for them, the holiday is something that they will enjoy, but as a stress-reliever, it’s less important. Those who are, on the other hand, using holidays to recharge their batteries, probably don’t have the right practices on a day-to-day basis,” he explains. The upcoming festive season, the business coach continues, particularly if you suspect that you fall within the latter group, can be an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and say, ‘as of next year, I am going to change the way I live’. Having said that, he highlights, “the idea of picking an arbitrary date from which you’re going to change things doesn’t make sense – if this is a decision you’re going to make to be healthy, you should do it tomorrow, and not wait till the end of the year.” Finally, Nathan goes on to share some of the techniques he uses to recentre and regain focus in periods of stress, with the first being actually finding the time to do it. “Most people procrastinate when it comes to this, but I’m very strict about finding time to reflect on a weekly basis,” he reveals. Apart from that, he considers his monthly VISTAGE sessions a great help, giving him the opportunity to discuss work issues while being away from the office. “I recommend it to any business leader to find a peer group that they can use as a sounding board,” he advises. But on a personal level, for Nathan, the main thing is the discipline of the habit – “it’s exercising every morning, and thinking about my plans for the day while I’m doing that, or listening to an audiobook to catch up on the latest methodologies or whatever subject I’m interested in at the time… it’s finding the time to be a better leader, to learn and develop and grow, as well as to relax and get my blood flowing and prepare for the day.”

“It’s also accepting that we’re not perfect,” he continues, explaining that “there are days when we’re going to be stressed out, when we’re going to skip our free time or knuckle down and do extra work because it’s needed, and we don’t need to beat ourselves up because we just happen to not spend enough time with the family, for example, that week. What’s important is that it’s not sustained – that we are finding time to do get those breaks if we’re going through a stressful period.” Ultimately, the most important thing is to be self-aware, Nathan concludes, advising business leaders to think of the ‘now’. “What are you doing now, that is within your control, that gives you some sense of purpose? We’re always worrying about what if, or what’s already happened – our brain is always thinking about the future or the past, which we can do nothing about. It’s a waste of energy. Really, it’s about thinking about what you’re doing now, and how you can make that meaningful – being more present in the moment.”


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BusinessNow

Business Update

Cash payments meeting today’s technologies JOSEPH CACHIA & SON LTD’S (JCS) AIM, MADE MORE URGENT due to the pandemic, was to provide solutions in its portfolio for business owners to enable cash transactions in a safe, efficient and hygienic way. We are the local representatives of an international market leader in cash recycling automation technology, Glory Global Solutions. Glory develops solutions dedicated to freeing businesses from manual cash processing, enabling staff to focus on delivering the best experience to their customers. This is a powerful tool for companies and shop owners to improve both customer experience and business efficiency. Day-to-day cash payments and processing are made more secure, more efficient and free from human error. You can mitigate risk with a more secure process, and by recycling cash in store you can cut cash management costs. The Glory contactless cash payment solutions, CASHINFINITY™, are innovative, flexible and far ahead of any other competitor. JCS’s aim is to introduce CashInfinity across multiple business sectors so that everyone can see and experience the benefits. CashInfinity solutions are currently deployed in retail, hospitality, entertainment, leisure, transport and public service environments across the globe. Whatever your business, if you have to manage cash, it can bring improvements to your business operations and customer experience.

The CashInfinity note and coin recycling solutions are ECB approved, with a choice of models to fit different front-of-store and back office environments. In summary, whether you have a small or large store format, the CashInfinity range will have a solution to suit your business to deliver an improved cash process by recycling cash in an accurate, efficient and safe manner. The system can facilitate cash transcations between staff and customers within a safe distance at the point of payment, transforming cash into a contactless payment method, with staff free from the burden of manual cash handling to concentrate on your customers. CashInfinity also offers back-office solutions to manage and sort cash and coins quickly, with financial reports at the click of a button. The CashInfinfinity Solution is suitable for any business that accepts cash as a type of payment. Contact JCS today for more information and to discuss your specific business needs. Kindly contact Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd on 2552 9000; info@jcs.com.mt; www.jcs.com.mt. A member of M. Demajo Group.

Ferretti Group chooses Von der Heyden Yachting as exclusive Riva dealer in Malta

Von der Heyden Yachting will market Riva brand yachts on an exclusive basis FERRETTI GROUP EXTENDS ITS PRESENCE IN EUROPE and awards the exclusive dealership for the Riva brand in Malta to Von der Heyden Yachting.

to a world-renowned company in Von der Heyden Group which, with two decades of expertise providing tailor-made services in the luxury yacht industry, has the know-how to communicate to local customers the ‘Made in Italy’ appeal, quality and excellence that have always been distinctive features of Ferretti Group worldwide,” commented Ferretti Group CCO Stefano de Vivo.

The partnership with Von der Heyden Yachting will allow the Group to further consolidate its assistance network coverage in the region and provide an even more comprehensive service to owners in the central, western and eastern Mediterranean.

“Riva’s outstanding presence at the Cannes and Monaco yacht shows this year is testament to the iconic spirit of this brand and how it provides the perfect symphony between state-of-the-art technology, tradition and sheer beauty. We are more than honoured with the opportunity to represent Riva in Malta on an exclusive basis in combination with our experience in complementary yachting services and our other leisure subsidiaries in experiential hospitality,” said Sven von der Heyden, Founder and Chairman, Von der Heyden Group.

“With this agreement, Ferretti Group continues to expand its commercial activities and strengthen its selected distribution network. We are confident in our decision to entrust our storied and iconic brand

As official Riva dealer, Von der Heyden Yachting offers a combination of tailor-made purchasing, selling, chartering, maintenance, management and assistance services for Riva motor yachts.

Level 8, 14 East, Sliema Road, Gzira. T: 2779 2200; www.vinderheydenyacthing.com


BusinessNow

Business Update

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Laboratory water purification, storage and distribution systems technology supported in Malta through Evolve Ltd Uniquely in Malta, Evolve is the only company to be trained and certified to design, install and certify purified water loops using thermoplastic material such as PP (Polypropylene) or PVDF (Polyvinylidene Fluoride). We have successfully undertaken several projects of varying magnitudes and complexity, up to systems having in-built sanitisation equipment. Labwater production is catered for by MerckMillipore systems, for which Evolve has multiple factory-trained engineers and carries a full set of spares and consumables for our customers’ benefit.

WATER IS AN ESSENTIAL RESOURCE in every laboratory. There are four levels of water, each of which are used for specific applications in laboratories. Depending on the volumes used, storage, and distribution systems are required. These systems are used in pharmaceutical, clinical, academic, industrial and research laboratories.

At Evolve, we champion potential to help the people, businesses, and institutions we serve. We support our customers at every stage of their journey, we are easy to deal with and we are powered by a love of science, innovation and building long-lasting partnerships with our suppliers and clients alike. T: 2248 9900; E: info@evolveltd.eu; www.evolveltd.eu

University of Leicester exclusively represented locally by FHRD:

Over 25 years delivering distance learning programmes AS A TOP 25 UK-BASED UNIVERSITY, Leicester has always been home to great minds; academics, researchers and students who aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo, advance new practices, and develop a fresh way of thinking. Through the ground-breaking research, distance-learning students tackle the emerging social, corporate, economic, political and scientific issues head on and set the agenda where others simply follow. At Leicester, students aren’t confined by academic boundaries. Students are given the space and support in which to be creative and develop both personally and professionally. Programmes are contemporary in content and provide the specialist subject knowledge and international outlook demanded by employers around the world. With access to unparallel academic resources and facilities, students gain the real-world transferable skills to remain competitive in the global job market and join the University of Leicester’s ranks of alumni who have made positive contributions to their industries and fields of expertise.

Represented exclusively by FHRD, the university provides Diploma, Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate programmes to a thriving base of candidates hailing from all walks of life. FHRD was one of the first providers in Malta to offer academic distance learning programmes, with the first intake of Maltese students in the year 2000. To learn more about the University of Leicester programmes and join over 2,000 Maltese alumni, get in touch with us via email dl@fhrd.org or telephone 2131 3550. We’re here to help you apply, obtain funding through Get Qualified and assist you throughout the whole journey.


BusinessNow

Meet the Artist

Carrying on an ancient artistic tradition Christopher Chetcuti, son of the late sculptor and painter Joseph Chetcuti, explains the intensive labour of love involved in bronze casting to Sarah Muscat Azzopardi, from the inspiring space that is Funderija Artistika Chetcuti – the only artistic bronze foundry in Malta.

PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR

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BusinessNow

Meet the Artist

TUCKED AWAY IN THE LUQA INDUSTRIAL ESTATE, Funderija Artistika Chetcuti holds the fort as the only artistic bronze foundry extant within the Maltese islands. Headed by Christopher Chetcuti, son of the late sculptor and painter Joseph Chetcuti, it opened its doors in the early 1990s. “My father studied sculpture in Florence and had a part-time job in a foundry like this one,” says Christopher, explaining how, when Joseph returned to Malta after finishing his studies, he decided to try to cast a statue in bronze for himself. “Other local artists found out that he was building a small foundry and came to him with their projects, and it snowballed from there,” he says. As Christopher grew up among his father’s work, he playfully recalls being “kind of forced to help out” at the foundry during summer breaks from school, until he grew to like it so much that he chose to carve out a career from it. This led him to eventually take it over, in June 2019. Nowadays, the foundry is made up of a small team, offering a personal, bespoke service which is tailored around artists’ and clients’ needs. It excels in all aspects of the bronze casting process, from mouldmaking to patination, and also hosts talks, workshops and photoshoots.

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“Once we have the wax locked inside, we place the block inside the kiln and fire it for about five days at 500°C. In that time, the wax evaporates, leaving an empty space, within which we can pour the bronze.”

Speaking of his early years and development within the foundry, Christopher recalls, “when I started out, I used to just be able to recycle the material – that’s the only thing my father would trust me with. Then, out of my own stubbornness, I would try other things and make him let me do the rest, until I was able to carry out the entire casting process on my own.” Christopher and the team at Funderija Artistika Chetcuti specialise in working with the lost wax casting process, a traditional method predominantly used in Italy. And, as he walks me through the process, one quickly realises that it is anything but easy. “The process starts with a plaster mould. We then make a silicone mould – these vary, with different shapes and complexities according to the sculpture – which is filled with wax. This also depends on the kind of sculpture, but we generally go for a wax that is four to five millimetres thick, which would also be the thickness of the bronze in the final sculpture. After that, we fill the layer of wax, which is still inside the mould, with what we call refractory material, a substance that can withstand heat up to 1,200°C and retain its shape – this gives us a copy of the sculpture made up of a layer of wax, with the refractory material within it,” Christopher begins, outlining the laborious process. Next, the wax copy is checked against the plaster, ensuring it is exactly the same. “Once that is done, we begin to apply gates and sprues, which are the passageways that the bronze will travel through in order to replace the wax,” he continues, detailing that when this part of the process is completed, the entire system of wax and sprues is coated with more refractory to protect it, making up a block. Only now is it ready for the bronze.


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“Once we have the wax locked inside, we place the block inside the kiln and fire it for about five days at 500°C. In that time, the wax evaporates, leaving an empty space, within which we can pour the bronze,” Christopher reveals, coming to the final parts of the process. “After that, we have to break the refractory, clean the bronze, cut the gates and sprues, check with the plaster to make sure to bring out all the details, and finally, give it the chosen patina.” While it depends on the size and complexity of the project, this generally takes about 12 to 16 weeks, Christopher says. Over the years, the foundry has produced countless projects, commissions and collaborations of varying complexity, including Joseph’s own works and those of several notable artists. The team today continues to work with well-known artists and sculptors including Andrew Diacono, George Muscat, Liliana Fleri Soler and Amelia St George, but the way forward for Funderija Artistika Chetcuti has not always been clear cut, Christopher reveals. “Before my father passed away, we would argue a lot about what we should be focusing on at the foundry. He had this idea of creating a large company and having employees to work on


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Meet the Artist

very large statues, while I had the idea of keeping the business small, working on intricate projects and smaller scale statues,” he explains. Under Joseph’s leadership, the foundry produced several large and more demanding commissions, including the monument dedicated to Grandmaster Jean de Valette which proudly stands in Pjazza Teatru Rjal, as well as the statue dedicated to Mater Dei by Chris Ebejer, at Mater Dei Hospital, which is the foundry’s largest work ever cast; The Three Graces in Mgarr, Gozo designed by Andrew Diacono, and even the mezzafigura by Vincent Apap of Giuseppe Calì, which stands at the Upper Barrakka Gardens in Valletta. Upon Joseph’s passing, Christopher made the decision to focus on his passion – choosing smaller and more intricate projects and commissions over monuments. In fact, he has also recently turned his attention to producing his own designs. Among these is a sculpture he is currently working on, with the aim of illustrating the process that a sculpture goes through at the foundry – starting from an idea translated into clay, which is then transformed into


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“I started with the idea of producing a clay sphere, which represents the idea, inside a larger sphere of bronze, with ripples or waves separating both spheres, that should be in plaster and wax, signifying the whole process.” plaster, and finally made into bronze. “I started with the idea of producing a clay sphere, which represents the idea, inside a larger sphere of bronze, with ripples or waves separating both spheres, that should be in plaster and wax, signifying the whole process. It’s like a matryoshka of materials, and it’s technically difficult to put all those things together!” Another project he’s working on that has been garnering a lot of attention on social media is a series of contemporary door knockers, in collaboration with his partner, Lisa Gwen, the creative mind behind the curated visual blog, Malta Doors. Speaking of the collaboration, which he describes as an “obvious” decision for the two, Christopher explains that it took much time and consideration to choose what designs to go for, narrowing down their choices from a long list of potential ideas. “We ended up choosing five, and I encouraged Lisa to sculpt them herself, in order to translate what she intended. I showed her how to use the tools and work with the clay, and she began producing, until finally, we have four designs. Two have been revealed so far, with the final two set to be revealed later this year,” he teases. Looking to future plans, Christopher is also planning an exhibition of works by his father, which he hopes will take place by mid-2023. “We still have some of his statues in plastilene, which need to be transferred to plaster and then cast in bronze, so hopefully I’ll manage to do that by the end of next year – which is still very close,” he smiles, adding that he’s also looking forward to seeing his own sculptures come to life.



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Motoring & Boating News

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Motoring & Boating News Sarah Muscat Azzopardi discovers some noteworthy happenings in the worlds of motoring and yachting in recent months. PHOTO BY KURT ARRIGO

42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race takes place The 100ft Maxi Comanche (CAY) was confirmed as the overall winner of the 42nd Rolex Middle Sea Race, which took place towards the end of October. Comanche achieved an impressive trifecta of overall winner, monohull line honours and a monohull race record, while Jason Carroll’s MOD 70 trimaran Argo (USA) also completed a triple crown, winning the Multihull Class, taking multihull line honours and setting a new outright race record of 33 hours, 29 minutes and 28 seconds. Global microchip shortage causes dip in car registrations Car sales in Europe suffered a record low in October due to the global microchip shortages, according to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (EAMA), with new passenger car registrations in the European Union dropping by 30 per cent in October. This has led local car importers to put customers on waiting lists as long as nine months, with dealerships speaking to Businessnow. mt citing the supply chain crisis – specifically a semi-conductor shortage – as the issue behind the delays. Electric car charging points to double by end of 2021 The number of charging points for electric cars in Malta will almost double by the end of 2021, to hit 362, in a €3 million investment partially funded through EU funds. Last month, an electric vehicle charging pillar mobile application commissioned by the Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Ministry, ‘Charge My Ride’, was downloaded around 150 times in just a few hours, according to Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development Minister Miriam Dalli.

Radford Lotus interior inspired by British luxury watchmaker The interior cabin of the new Radford Lotus Type 62-2 sports car has recently been revealed, showcasing the inspired outcome of a collaboration with British luxury watchmaker Bremont. Each one of the luxury sports cars in this range will boast a bespoke interior built to the customer’s own specifications, with the Bremont design – featuring analogue dials within the dashboard in the form of a clock and a stopwatch – intended to showcase what’s possible. Bentley marks 100 years since sale of its first car In November, Bentley Motors celebrated a centenary of sales, with 100 years since the brand’s first customer car. The car, a three-litre model registered in 1921 as KS 1661, was purchased by wealthy Londoner Noel van Raalte, who reportedly enjoyed a passion for racing exceptional motor cars. The first production Bentley ordered was manufactured in Cricklewood, North London, and comprised lightweight aluminium coachwork and brass brightwork.


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Industry Greats

PHOTO BY ALAN CARVILLE

The story behind one of the oldest cafés in Europe


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Industry Greats

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From selling nougat off a donkey-drawn cart to gaining recognition as a local landmark, Sarah Muscat Azzopardi sits down with the second and third generations of the business – John and Luca Cordina – to discover the rich history behind the iconic Caffe Cordina.

Counted among the oldest cafés in Europe, Caffe Cordina is somewhat of a landmark in Valletta. Cesare Cordina opened Caffe Cordina on 11th November 1944, however, the business boasts a long and interesting history beginning from 1837, culminating in a rich family legacy that enjoys continued popularity today. Its origins, however, are humble. “My ancestors, who were from San Gimignano in Italy, began by selling nougat – which we still make now according to the same recipe – from a cart drawn by a donkey,” explains John Cordina, Cesare’s son and current owner. Cesare and his brother Ottone went on to open a popular confectionery in Cospicua, which, some years later, would suffer a terrible fate in World War II. “The business in Cospicua received a direct hit from a German bomb during the war,” reveals John, explaining that its close proximity to the Drydocks meant that it was in a vulnerable position. “When the war was over, we had no business to speak of,” he says. It was then that Cesare chose to relocate the business, renting the Valletta building that currently houses Caffe Cordina, which was then owned by the Casino Maltese. The building itself boasts a rich history, known during the rule of the Knights of St John as the Treasury of the Order. Inside, the decor is culminated by a unique vaulted ceiling, which is embellished with a series of paintings by renowned Maltese painter Giuseppe Calì, symbolising the previous rulers of Malta and the diverse eras in Malta’s history. “I was born on 22nd September 1944, the same year that my father was moving the business to Valletta. They came to tell him that he had a son as he was putting up the paintings of Giuseppe Calì,” the affable John recounts, recalling a story his father told him at the time. “When the paintings were being taken down during the war, the frames had gotten chipped, and my father had re-made them using wood from the wooden boxes they used to put eggs in.”

Cesare Cordina, founder of Caffe Cordina

“When the war was over, we had no business to speak of.” The Cordina family would go on to commission the final three paintings that hang in the café today, which represent Malta’s Independence, the birth of the Republic and joining the European Union. A sweet anecdote related to the painting depicting the country’s Independence features the likeness of John’s own son, Luca – who is now in the process of taking over the business – as a young boy, steering a ship, which symbolises steering Malta towards independence. When the business first moved to Valletta, John explains, the operation was notably smaller than it is today. “At the time, my mother was working in the pantry, washing dishes, and my father


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PHOTO BY ALAN CARVILLE

Painting of the façade of Caffe Cordina by local artist Arnold Sultana

The famous bar inside Caffe Cordina, featuring a zinc countertop

John Cordina with the former ambassador of the United States to Malta, and his wife, Linda

was in the bar, together with one employee,” he smiles, noting that the café only comprised the central part of the building, where the bar is located. Over the years, Cesare enlarged the establishment, eventually taking over the British Pharmacy on one side and another small tabacco shop on Old Theatre Street. Recalling those early days, John recounts, “I used to sometimes carry pastizzi from the bakery near where the Suq tal-Belt is.” And that first employee? His name was Frans Cutajar, and he started working with Caffe Cordina when he was just 15 years old. “He remained with us until he was 60. It earned him the nickname of Frans Cordina,” laughs John. Reliving the major milestones in Caffe Cordina’s story since its inception, Luca, who represents the third generation in the family business, considers the move to Valletta as a notable milestone. “At the time, there really was nothing in the area where the café is. The pjazza was a garden in front of the public library, and there was one coffee shop, Café Premier. My grandfather’s friends actually

“Mr Tabone, one of the head people of the Casino Maltese, had actually told my father, ‘Are you sure you want to come all the way down here with a coffee shop?’”

questioned him about the decision, calling him crazy. He had a real vision, and we’re so lucky,” he maintains, describing the location today as AAA. Nodding in agreement, John explains, “Mr Tabone, one of the head people of the Casino Maltese, had actually told my father, ‘Are you sure you want to come all the way down here with a coffee shop?’ and my father’s exact words were ‘When the sun rises, it warms everyone’.” Over the years, the café would go from strength to strength, welcoming numerous industry leaders, Heads of State and celebrities, and John is brimming with stories relating to visits by the who’s who of the island and beyond. “We catered the ball for


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And the impact that Cesare had on Caffe Cordina continues to be felt, in many ways. He was a perfectionist, explains Luca, recounting how he’d wear two suits a day. “He’d have a morning suit, then go home for lunch with my grandmother, have a siesta and change into another suit before returning to the café,” he says, adding that Cesare’s smart demeanour made an impression on many, and has even trickled down to him. “Till today, people that don’t know me come up to me and ask if I’m a Cordina. They tell me I’m very similar to my grandfather, which I really appreciate because he died before I was born, so I didn’t have the chance to get to know him.”

Display case brimming with sweets

Malta’s Independence, and Prince Philip was in attendance. It was a big undertaking, particularly because back in 1964, the catering sector was largely made up of ex-Navy chefs – it’s not what it is today,” he explains, recalling an amusing anecdote from the day. “My father had discussed the menu with former Prime Minister of Malta George Borg Olivier, and suggested getting some beer. George said no, they shouldn’t serve beer at the ball, but the first thing Prince Philip asked for when he arrived was a Cisk lager! So, my father had to go and open the Caffe and brought back a case of Cisk Lager beer,” John chuckles. Caffe Cordina earned a name for itself as the first proper caterer on the island, going on to cater for many of Malta’s society weddings. More recently, it even featured in the Steven Spielberg film, Munich. “We actually have a note from him framed in the office, where he thanks us for the hospitality and describes our nougat as the best he’s ever tasted,” Luca smiles.

Going on to recount an anecdote that illustrates the respect his grandfather was shown by the café’s staff, Luca says, “my grandfather was known to wear a particular ring, and if he wasn’t there – you know what people are like when the boss isn’t in – they’d be chatting and so on. When he’d come in, he would tap his ring on the zinc bartop, and you could hear a penny drop it would go so quiet!” And the people he employed remained, they reveal, mentioning one employee from Cesare’s time who still works in the café today, at 76 years old, Eucharisto Baldacchino. “People don’t look at catering as a career for life nowadays – they see it as a summer job, or a temporary position. But we have people that my father and grandfather have employed many years ago who are still with us today, and that says a lot,” beams Luca. Luca Cordina, third generation in the Caffe Cordina family legacy

Another milestone in the business’ development was when the café extended tables into the pjazza, in 1990. “My father had long wanted to do this, but it was difficult, because Kingsway at the time was accessible to cars, and they wouldn’t let us cross with waiters. There was even a time when he considered building a tunnel,” John reveals.

Finally, the pair also consider Caffe Cordina’s stand at Malta International Airport another milestone for the business. “We’re the top seller at the airport, according to Dufry,” says John proudly, as John recalls how it came about. “I remember going to Anthony Demajo at the time, who was in charge, and asking if we could sell our nougat at the airport. It was still in the old, brown and white box which my father had designed,” says John, revealing his motto, which he inherited from Cesare: “in catering, the customer is always right. That, and you have to buy the best available ingredients. Our purchasers buy nothing but the best.”

PHOTO BYJEAN MARC ZERAFA

And once they eventually got the permit, business boomed. “My father told me, before he died, that if we manage to extend into the square, it will eventually be like catering a wedding every day – and it’s true,” says John.


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“My father told me, before he died, that if we manage to extend into the square, it will eventually be like catering a wedding every day – and it’s true.”

Indeed, the landscape in the industry has changed substantially over the years, not just in relation to employees. “Nowadays, there are around 52 coffee shops in Valletta, but it hasn’t affected my business,” John says, affirming that it is difficult to build up a name, but very easy to lose it. Apart from the emphasis on service and product, however, he also considers the café as a destination in itself, which certainly factors into its continued popularity. “The most we spend in money terms is on the upkeep of the building,” he says, referencing the continuing restoration and 18-carat gold leaf on the ceiling and walls. The family is also

The beautiful Murano chandelier

working to have it recognised as a heritage site, owing to its unique history. “My biggest achievement in relation to the building itself was acquiring the chandelier,” confides John. “I remember that the late Dr Mark Micallef, who was the Ambassador to Portugal and Spain, came up to me and told me ‘Johnny, I’ve found the right chandelier for you.’ It was at the house of Dun Eddie, George Borg Olivier’s brother, who had recently passed away. Prior to that, it had been hanging in Castille Palace.” John bought the chandelier at auction and, eager to discover more about it, took a couple of pieces for evaluation to the island of Murano, in Venice. “When they saw the white glass, they told me that it dated back to the 15th century,” he smiles. Currently, the chandelier, which the family affectionately refers to as ‘The Old Lady’, is being restored, with Luca planning a grand reveal in December. The family is now in the process of transferring the business to the next generation, with Luca at the helm – and as the global pandemic dealt a sizeable blow in recent months, he isn’t afraid to admit, “it was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever experienced.” At 29, Luca anticipated having a few more years to find his feet within the business before taking it over completely, but when the pandemic hit, his father entrusted him with steering the ship through the COVID storm. “It was a baptism of fire, and very tough, having to lay people off especially. Valletta was dead, and we don’t have a name for takeaway food, so getting into that was very difficult. The light at the end of the tunnel is there now, and in a sense I’m almost grateful for it, because I had to learn some tough truths very fast,” he says, revealing that the biggest lesson he learned from COVID was not to keep all your eggs in one basket.

PHOTO BY ALAN CARVILLE

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Discussing his aims for the business moving forward, Luca explains that he intends to focus more on the B2B sector, as it will bring about more steady work. “With outside catering, it’s very seasonal work, and the amount of competition that has come into the industry has made it very tough,” he notes. Apart from that, without an affiliation with a specific venue and the logistical issues involved, Luca decided that rather than try to do both, it would make more sense to focus on the café itself, to really do it justice.


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Commemoration of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation in 1953

Façade of Caffe Cordina circa 1960s

Luca’s B2B plans involve more emphasis on Caffe Cordina’s products – besides the sweets range, the company has also expanded on a gourmet range of Maltese delicacies including prickly pear jam, carob syrup and ġbejniet. The aim is also to change people’s perceptions of what Caffe Cordina is known for, stepping outside of the obvious offerings of pastizzi, coffee and sweets. “It’s great that people know us for these things, but we’re so much more. At the moment we’re pushing lunch and breakfast options at the café, which are becoming quite popular,” Luca maintains. “We’re also focusing on exporting our products, particularly since we do so well at the airport, and we’re also about to launch our new website, where customers can log on and buy our packed products and ready items, as well as custom cakes. It’s all about consolidating what we have and diversifying the business,” he continues. Apart from that, he adds, another aspect the pandemic revealed is the need to expand out of Valletta. “It would be interesting to move outside of the capital to somewhere a bit more accessible,” he teases, hinting at a possible second location in the foreseeable future. Moving forward, he summarises his drive to continue growing the product range, move outside of Valletta, launch the website and grow Caffe Cordina’s online presence. Meanwhile, John is working

A young John Cordina in the 1970s

“We have people that my father and grandfather have employed many years ago who are still with us today, and that says a lot.”

on a book, which will bring together comments and quotes from the various notable personalities who have visited the café throughout its rich history. “We’re confident and looking forward to the future, and taking the business on into a new age, whilst still looking to the past and staying true to our values,” Luca concludes, ready to write the next chapter in Caffe Cordina’s incredible story.


PHOTOS BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

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Young Entrepreneurs

Sow the seeds, act for the future With the climate crisis high on the agenda across the globe, brother and sister Jean Paul Farrugia and Christina Micallef – the young entrepreneurs behind sustainability brand ReRoot – are thinking ahead to a world which cares. Here, they speak to Rebecca Anastasi about their drive to enable an eco-shift towards a zero-waste lifestyle.


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“We started to discuss how we could replicate opening a sustainability and zero-waste business in Malta.” Christina Micallef

A FEW WEEKS AGO, leaders from across the globe descended on Glasgow in Scotland in what some claimed to be a last-ditch attempt to save the planet. The mood was not light, with the talks instigating criticism that not enough was being done to save our home, our planet, which has been assaulted by human activity, particularly post-World War II. Without a doubt, the climate crisis is – and will continue to be – a defining challenge of our times, and, amidst the frenzied discussions, many of us are asking ourselves: what can we do? This is the question siblings Christina Micallef and her younger brother Jean Paul Farrugia, the co-founders and owners of ReRoot – a store selling eco-friendly essential products, such as shampoo, bath gel and dental consumables – asked themselves while on holiday in South East Asia three years ago. “We had met to go on holiday as a family to Thailand and Cambodia – at the time I was living in Switzerland, working as a biochemical engineer, and Christina was living in London where she was already working on setting up LOR, an eco-hair and skin care brand,” Jean Paul recalls. “I don’t want to sound like a cliché, but we did notice a lot of plastic waste while we were on this trip together, and since we possess a common passion for the environment, we started to talk about what we could do.” At that point, the pair were already conscientious consumers, opting to purchase from zero-waste

shops in their host countries, and Christina’s efforts in setting up LOR proved to be an inspiration. “We started to discuss how we could replicate opening a sustainability and zerowaste business in Malta,” Christina says. “I had been doing some research on plasticfree, palm-oil free and natural products – such as handwash, body wash and shampoo – which would reduce waste in the bathroom, using glass bottles, while also not containing any harmful chemicals. I opened LOR in May 2019, and following that launch, Jean Paul and I started to actively look into setting up shop in Malta,” she continues. Jean Paul adds, “we read the news, saw what was going on, in terms of climate change – forest fires, and flooding, for instance – and we got a sense that people were ready to make some small changes in their everyday life to contribute to sustainability,” he says.

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“This is also about building towards something which is bigger than ourselves.” Jean Paul Farrugia

It was not easy, however, to adapt the concept to these shores. “From the start we wanted to set up a brick-and-mortar shop – we were coming in from London and Switzerland, where there is the concept of a high street, but, here in Malta, our location very much depended on what we could afford and what was fruitful from a foot traffic point of view,” Jean Paul states. Christina’s husband, Paul Micallef, came on board to help guide the entrepreneurs, providing solid advice from the financial set-up of the company, to strategy. “My husband helped keep us grounded,” Christina smiles, as Jean Paul agrees. “Paul has been invaluable, particularly in those early days when we used to organise brainstorming sessions together, discussing what we wanted to do with the business, and helping us determine the way forward,” Jean Paul says.

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

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“The business is our commitment to creating a sustainable future.”

These sessions allowed the siblings to determine who was going to be responsible for what, and this clarity has stood them in good stead. “We carved out quite specific roles from the beginning,” Christina explains. “I do most of the procurement, sourcing the right products according to our aims, while Jean Paul is customer-facing, managing the marketing, the campaigns, as well as the store itself. We make sure we don’t step on each other’s toes – at the end of the day, we cannot each be involved in every aspect and we also need to respect and trust each other so we can see the business become a success.” Indeed, this approach has been productive from those early days, as Christina and Jean Paul sowed the seeds for the store opening. “It was a steep learning curve,” Christina attests. “We had to research the supply chain of our products; find out how they come packaged, even from a delivery standpoint. It was challenging: choosing the right products, organising the importations on time, and, together, making sure we were stocked properly.” In the meantime, Jean Paul also focused attention on “getting the word out, from a marketing point of view,” he says. “Instagram and Facebook were our main platforms, allowing us to communicate with our target clientele.” The hard work and preparation paid off and, in November 2019, Christina and Jean Paul opened the doors to their ReRoot store in Iklin – just three months before the COVID-19 pandemic threw them a curve ball, shuttering shops across the world. “That definitely kept us on our toes,” Christina recalls. “It made us think quickly,” Jean Paul continues, adding that “given what we encountered shortly after we opened, it was impossible to be complacent, and we were able to shift to online swiftly: we got the website sorted, and we started to organise deliveries. Our idea of the business changed overnight, yet, it was probably easier for us than for well-established businesses, since we had just launched and could be agile,” he asserts. The team’s mettle and dedication were tested and Christina – who had moved down to Malta during COVID-19 – was also pitching in with deliveries, despite being visibly pregnant. “We didn’t yet have a courier service, so we both had to do it. It was

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

Christina Micallef


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actually quite funny looking back: my mother would also help us, and I would emerge from the car, pregnant,” Christina laughs. Unfortunately, plans to organise events at the store had to be shelved – with plans to restart soon – but, as Jean Paul stresses, it was “all about adapting in the best way we could.” Today, the store is open once again – “Monday to Saturday,” Jean Paul says, “it’s literally part of my body, soul and mind,” he smiles – and it is clear that this is not only a steady enterprise, but also a passion project for the pair. “The business is our commitment to creating a sustainable future,” Christina says. “It’s demanding, it can be exhausting but it’s rewarding: we’re doing it for ourselves but also because we want to see positive change here in Malta.”

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

And their commitment to quality has seen customers come back to the store – both the online and brick-andmortar outlets – time and again. “These are products we both use,” Christina underlines. “I tend to try them myself, so these are products we like, we’ve researched, and which we’ve tested. We also have our own ReRoot line – selling toothbrushes, cotton buds, and sponges, for example – which are also in line with our sustainability values,” she says.

PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

These values are at the core of what the pair do, and this seems to reflect changes in the wider community. Indeed, the co-founders have seen a shift in consumer behaviour since they’ve opened. “it’s exciting to see and understand what is motivating people to come into the store in the first place,” Jean Paul attests. “We’ve seen a lot of recognition from customers, as well as other businesses we collaborate with, who are driven to encourage more sustainable behaviour, in terms of having a more transparent supply chain, and cleaner products. I think COVID-19 has also hit a chord in this respect,” he adds. Looking ahead, ReRoot aims to also “act as a platform for local artisans who want to push their products from our store,” Jean Paul explains. To this end, they are working with local suppliers – many of them “in similar situations to us: family working together, advocating an environmental message”, Christina says – in order to team up with like-minded innovators intent on collaborating towards such values in Malta. “It’s a real community coming together,” Christina continues, with Jean Paul adding that this extends even to the customers walking through ReRoot’s doors. “You see it when they come into the shop,” he says. “There’s a sense that people know each other, they have the same morals and ethics, as well as ideas of what they want to purchase and how they want to do so. So, this is also about building towards something which is bigger than ourselves,” he says. And from a business point of view, what advice would the co-founders have for anyone thinking of quitting their nine-to-five to open their own passion project? “If you’re thinking of doing it, just go for it. Don’t overthink. Have a threeto-six-month plan and take it from there, and be prepared to be flexible in your approach,” Christina advises. Jean Paul agrees: “you can be much more independent in your decision-making when you own your own business; it’s exciting, super fun and you have to have the mentality to take risks and just go for it,” he says.


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PHOTO BY MANDY VELLA BRIFFA

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“We intend to have a louder voice.” Jean Paul Farrugia

He does sound a note of caution, however: “I tend to go 150 per cent into something, including this, and it takes over my life – in a good way. But I would say that you need to not let it consume you. It will never end, with the emails and phone calls – sometimes we get orders at 2am or 3am – but it’s essential to carve out some time for yourself, get away a little bit, since it can take a toll on the creative side of things,” he says. Yet, it doesn’t look like Christina and Jean Paul have any plans to take a break soon. “We have plenty of ideas for the future,” Christina says. “We’re at the state where we’ve figured out just how important flexibility is, so we’re keeping tabs on the business environment we’re in and reacting to it. We’re going to continue strengthening our e-commerce end, and also look into organising pop-ups, and more collaborations with local start-ups and businesses. We also want to continue working with businesses in Malta to support their sustainable journeys, and advise them on how they can improve operations, from an eco-standpoint, and minimise their carbon footprint,” she asserts. “We intend to have a louder voice,” Jean Paul smiles, continuing. “We intend on participating in more social endeavours – for example, we’re collaborating with NGOs such as Walk and Talk, which organise walks during which people can come together and talk about their mental health issues, and we’re also taking part in clean-ups,” he says, concluding on a hopeful note: “The community is growing, and we’re coming together with the same goals and missions.”

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3. Après-ski You don’t need a holiday in the Alps to make the most of this trend. In a winter take on athleisure, ski-inspired separates are going to be big – think oversized puffer coats and patterned knits in the style of Miu Miu, Dolce & Gabbana and Chanel.

4. Leather It’s the season for leather, and this summer’s matching sets trend looks to have filtered into the cold months too, making for a stylish double whammy. Still, if you’re not sure of the head-totoe leather look, you can always mix and match, or go for a leather dress, for the best of both worlds.

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5. Hoods Shielding your head from the cold weather has never been more stylish, thanks to designer collections from Balenciaga and Azzedine Alaia. It comes in many forms too, so you can choose to go for an oversized hoodie or knit with a hood, or even a draped scarf. 6. Sheer Evening looks this season are set to benefit from a good dose of sheer, and the way to carry it this winter is by layering. It also translates beautifully into knitted fabric, which is sure to transform your sheer pieces into winter wardrobe essentials.

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2. Bold colour If you’d rather skip prints, you can still make a statement with your choice of colour this winter. If your outlook needs brightening, saturated hues like pink, orange, yellow and cobalt blue are bound to do it, so get inspired by Acne Studios and Stella McCartney, and go bold!

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The winter months are here, and with them comes an excuse to refresh our wardrobes. Sarah Muscat Azzopardi discovers the top trends to look out for this season. 1. Geometry The standout print for winter 2021 is geometric, with bold shapes and colours set to make a major impact. You can choose to go as big or as subtle as you like, simply adding a bold piece to your look or mixing more than one print for a fashion-forward effect.

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