Business Now - Dummy Edition

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Business NOW ISSUE ONE | Winter 2020/2021

COVER STORY Post-COVID-19: is it time to embrace a different kind of workplace?

36 INTERVIEW Finance Minister Edward Scicluna on what lies ahead for Malta’s economy

50 COVER STORY Six global CEOs offer insight on their industries moving forward

72 PROPERTY Benjamin Tabone Grech joins other professionals in the real estate sector in assessing the future of property in Malta

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BusinessNOW

Contents

Business

con tents NOW

COVER STORY

Post-COVID-19: Is it time to embrace a different kind of workplace? Martina Said reaches out to business leaders and organisations to find out if forced change be a driving force for innovation at the workplace.

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COVER STORY

6 Global CEOs Making Waves

Six stand-out CEOs who are global changemakers offer insight on what we can expect from them – and their sectors – in 2020.

The New Gaming Act one year on: Has the bar been raised? Rebecca Anastasi speaks to three stakeholders to find out if the legislation hit a home run.

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CSR: Business refurbishment isn’t just about interior design Helga Ellul and Dr Roberta Lepre debate Corporate Social Responsibility’s benefits and discuss plans for its nationwide implementation.

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CEO: Nikhil Patil, GO Firm in the belief that people should be at the core of any business, Nikhil Patil shares his insights on how to keep clients and employees close, while moving towards bigger and brighter successes.

80 50 | INTERVIEW Minister for Finance and Financial Services Edward Scicluna on keeping the economy going.

58 | INTERVIEW Malta’s banking sector faced “with a challenging external environment” - Central Bank of Malta Governor, Mario Vella.

86 | COVER STORY Compliance vs Innovation: how will regulatory changes affect the gaming industry’s innovation in the long run?


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DESIGN TRENDS Stylish, timeless and adaptable: A workspace for all seasons

Sarah Micallef meets with Christopher Micallef, Partner at Forward Architects, to discover what went into the design of the sophisticated Swieqi offices of online casino Dunder.

INTERVIEW

PROPERTY

CASE STUDY

President of Malta H.E. George Vella discusses his hopes and priorities for the Presidency with Sarah Micallef.

Caroline Curmi speaks to four professionals in the real estate sector to clarify the current state of Malta’s property industry.

General Manager Adrian Attard talks Jo Caruana through what guests and stakeholders can expect from the months to come.

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CASE STUDY

INTERVIEW

FOCUS

Emma Mattei speaks to Pressto Country Manager Alan Azzopardi about the new laundry franchise to hit these shores and what the future holds for it across the Maltese islands.

As the main driver behind Malta’s most successful fashion house, DIZZ Group CEO Diane Izzo runs an empire of luxury and fast-fashion brands.

10 books recommended for CEOs by CEOs.

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106 | INTERVIEW Business Now meets Maria Micallef, CEO of General Soft Drinks, Waterfront Hotel and Arkadia Group.

126 | INTERVIEW The pandemic in Malta is under control – but will it stay that way? Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne has his say.

130 | INTERVIEW Franco Azzopardi on his journey as CEO and Chairman, Express Group.

“The moment I started thinking about what needed to be done felt like a new lease on life”

A fresh start

What’s in store? Assessing the future of Malta’s property sector

Diane Izzo CEO, Dizz Group

Corinthia Palace: New milestones for award-winning Hotel

10 Top Reads for CEOs


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Editorial

Editorial


BusinessNOW

Editorial

IN A SCENARIO IN which businesses the world over are in a state of flux or hopeful recovery following the unprecedented shock brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s never been a better time to consult industry leaders and changemakers on what the future holds. This new publication aims to do just that – shedding light on different industries and sectors and gaining insight from the stakeholders that are in the forefront of their fields. Looking at the world in the midst of COVID-19, we ask what impacts the pandemic stands to pose on our notion of the workspace, as well as the ongoing effects on Malta’s economy and public health system. Elsewhere, leading local CEOs like GO’s Nikhil Patil and Express Group’s Franco Azzopardi share their insights into what makes their businesses successful, while six global CEOs and changemakers offer insight on what we can expect from them and their sectors moving forward. Meanwhile, Governor of the Central Bank of Malta Mario Vella highlights the impacts of global and local developments on Malta’s banking sector and, zooming in on local property, four professionals in the real estate industry clarify the current state of Malta’s property industry. Finally, don’t miss our spotlight on Corporate Social Responsibility; a look at the design of the sophisticated Swieqi offices of online casino Dunder; industry stakeholders’ take on the new Gaming Act; and President of Malta H.E. George Vella’s hopes and priorities for the Presidency. Enjoy the issue, Sarah Micallef

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PUBLISHER Content House Group, Mallia Buildings, 3, Level 2, Triq in-Negozju, Zone 3, Central Business District Birkirkara CBD3010 info@contenthouse.com.mt www.contenthouse.com.mt Business Now is published and owned by Content House Group Ltd. EDITOR Sarah Micallef Director of Sales & Business Development Matthew Spiteri DIRECTOR OF OPERATIONS & SALES Lindsey Napier BUSINESS EDITORIAL TEAM Rebecca Anastasi Helena Grech Sarah Micallef Martina Said CREATIVE DIRECTOR & DESIGN Nicholas Cutajar OPERATIONS & CLIENT RELATIONSHIP MANAGER Elena Dimech DIGITAL MEDIA & MARKETING MANAGER Raisa Mazzola Content House Group Ltd or one of its subsidiaries owns Business Now as an IP media brand in Malta. This edition of Business Now is being published as a dummy magazine and is not intended for official publication and circulation. The content, advertising and photos were previously published in other brands published by Content House Group and have been adapted for Business Now for showcasing purposes only. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission of the publisher is strictly prohibited. Business Now is a premium business media brand being created for 2021. The prestigious magazine will be widely distributed to leading businesses and companies in Malta, as well as to prominent business people and CEOs in Malta, and distributed for free in leading hotels, cafés, hair salons, hospitals, clinics and banks. The publication will also be distributed to all embassies and consulates in Malta, as well as to all government ministries, government agencies, leading law firms and accountants.


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Post-COVID-19: Is it time to embrace a different kind of workplace?

For businesses that were on the cusp of embracing new work practices before the pandemic, the past few months could be viewed as an opportunity to test them out. For others, it meant navigating tough and tricky territory. But could forced change be a driving force for innovation at the workplace? Martina Said reaches out to business leaders and organisations to find out.

THE CONVERSATIONS SURROUNDING REMOTE working, innovative work practices, and seizing the opportunity to ‘do things differently’ have never been louder than in recent weeks – all at a time when the majority of businesses are grappling with the aftershocks caused by months of uncertainty in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. While the full scale of the economic uncertainties that lie ahead have yet to be seen, grasped, and understood, both locally and globally, could this really be a time for business leaders to embrace workplace innovation? Broadly speaking, the concept of workplace innovation, which has been on the EU’s agenda for


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some time, encourages companies to stay at the competitive edge by investing both in technological innovation as well as nontechnological practices, namely human resources management, changes to the work environment, and, even, to a company’s business structure. Marija Elena Borg, Senior Executive, EU Funding, at the Malta Business Bureau, explains that workplace innovation is a social process encompassing all actions that, in some way, improve the motivation and working conditions of employees, resulting in enhanced productivity, innovation capacity and market competitiveness. “Over the last 10 years or so, ‘innovation’ has been widely regarded as the key to transforming the EU into a ‘smart, sustainable and inclusive economy’. Workplace innovation takes a central spot in this approach, and the European Commission has been promoting the concept not simply on a policy level, but also through the issuing of calls for proposals that seek to improve the entrepreneurial culture of SMEs.” Commenting on the emergency measures adopted by businesses on a national level at the start of the pandemic, Ms Borg says the most common measures were linked to the digitisation of services and remote working as, with the closure of major businesses in March 2020, entrepreneurs were forced to

“The general feedback from the workforce has been positive – in the first few weeks, the struggle to adapt was real, but, soon enough, many started noticing the benefits.” Marija Elena Borg, Malta Business Bureau

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think of new ways to keep their businesses running. “Many chose to invest in developing online platforms and boosting sales through efficient delivery services. Others believed it was opportune to develop a remote working policy for their company and pilot it whilst the rest of the country was adopting similar measures,” she explains. “The general feedback from the workforce has been positive – in the first few weeks, the struggle to adapt was real, but, soon enough, many started noticing the benefits and became accustomed to their new work routines.” Ms Borg asserts that there is definite potential for the crisis to alter the way businesses operate in the long term. She concedes that each entity may be faced with unique challenges, also depending on the economic sector in which it operates, but they all face similar concerns. “Whether or not some form of remote working is maintained, businesses need to increasingly promote a culture that


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are obvious: limiting further virus spread and ensuring that deliverables and targets are still reached as efficiently as possible.” One local company that has publicly embraced a new business model, in part encouraged by the pandemic, is V Squared Media & Entertainment, who produce the TV tech programme, Gadgets, and wh0 announced last month that it is officially implementing a work from home policy for two days each week. But the road getting there wasn’t entirely smooth. Martina Zammit, CEO at V Squared, says the drastic impact that the pandemic had on the island and world-wide was immediate. “We didn’t have enough time to actually fathom the shift and the changes we were about to go through, from being in an office to working from home. As business leaders, we had to react fast to the challenges, reassess all our processes and systems, and, in a sense, reinvent our activities to adapt to the disruption and prepare for the new normal,” she asserts.

“I realised that the notion of putting people in an office may be a thing of the past. We had proof and first-hand experience that productivity did not suffer, and, in turn, we saw an increase in focus levels.” Martina Zammit, Gadgets

puts people first. The benefit of having a solid change management and communication plan lies in ensuring that the right messages are delivered to the relevant employees, shareholders, clients and stakeholders.” Additionally, maintaining a safe and/or healthy work environment is key. “At the workplace, this primarily translates into ensuring conformity to sanitisation and screening protocols. When it comes to working remotely, this means that employees are to be encouraged to maintain constant communication with their teams and colleagues. The benefits

However, she adds that the team adapted quickly, “thanks to the core soul of the business, which is the hunger to grow and drive success. Resilience was valuable in such a crisis.” Ms Zammit adds that after shifting operations online and putting business plans for the year aside to focus on the short term, the changes had her considering two main fronts. “Firstly, the team. Communication was first on the list to stay productive remotely. Processes and norms were set, stating the expected general behaviour of working from home. We tweaked the team structure highlighting everyone’s roles and responsibilities, and made sure to regularly engage with each other and share what we were working on,” she explains. “Secondly, clients and suppliers. It suddenly became apparent that most meetings could have easily been emails or quick phone-calls. We made sure to stay in touch with our clients through Zoom.” Addressing her decision to permanently include remote working in the team’s weekly operations, Ms Zammit says that throughout the pandemic, “I realised that the notion of putting people in an office may be a thing of the past. We had proof and first-hand experience that productivity did not suffer, and, in turn, we saw an increase in focus levels. We understood that the team may not need to return to office to be productive and


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“The life of a company is like that of a human being – if it finds itself in distress, its priority will be organic recovery; anything else is secondary. That is our priority as businesspeople.” Jesmond Bonello, Content House

accomplish work tasks. This led me to make major operational changes. Gadgets will remain working from home twice a week and use the centralised office base for the rest.” She adds that, for the team, working from home is now their new normal, and one of the biggest pros of this model is that employees are given more opportunity to balance work and life. “Most importantly, it alleviates the hassle of traffic. The traffic issues we have been facing as a country are unbearable, not to mention the pollution. The environment is top on our agenda and we immediately understood that this is the way forward. We are a team of 10, working twice a week from home – that means 20 less cars on the road per week. We encourage other companies to follow suit.” For print and digital publishing company Content House, the immediate reaction to the local outbreak of COVID-19 led to the setting up of an ad hoc team focused on tackling the operational changes needed to shift to a remote work set-up. Jesmond Bonello, Managing Director at Content House, explains “we have never worked remotely before as a team, so we knew we were moving into uncharted waters. The logistical and operational changes were carried out seamlessly and our team of over 30 employees shifted into working from their own home from mid-March.” Mr Bonello adds this also meant getting in touch frequently through regular Zoom meetings and introducing significant changes to the company’s modus operandi to enable everyone to work effectively. “As far as bottom line is concerned, it is very difficult to measure the success or otherwise of having switched the operations of the company remotely, as the market conditions during the COVID-19 crisis, in our particular industry as a print and online media publisher, have been extremely tough,” he asserts. “The way I am looking at things is that we will not consider actively looking at change until the situation returns to normal.” The forced shutdown of practically all vital sectors in Malta for over two months has weighed heavily on the industry Content House operates in, therefore, Mr Bonello states that, “for now, my energy is focused on getting back on our feet and returning to a situation where we are performing well and in growth mode.

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Once we achieve this, I feel it will be time to have a proper re-think on work practices and whether we could use our COVID-19 experience to introduce or change some of our working practices.” Discussing the European Commission’s efforts to encourage changes to workplace practices through grants and incentives, Mr Bonello says he would welcome assistance that can reach the business community at member state level. However, “I feel that one of the structural problems in the way the European Commission operates is that it works on various initiatives at a high level, but can hardly ever say that such initiatives reach the business community on the ground and it is not easy to experience such innovative programmes directly. We will seriously consider any opportunity that could be presented to us by the European Commission to assist and incentivise companies like ours to evolve our working practices.” Looking ahead, Mr Bonello says planning the way his company will operate in the short- or long-term is difficult without knowing how the situation will unfold in the months ahead. What’s certain, however, is that the priority of any business organisation right now is recovery. “The life of a company is like that of a human being – if it finds itself in distress, its priority will be organic recovery; anything else is secondary. That is our priority as businesspeople,” Mr Bonello maintains. “If you crash your car and end up in hospital, before you start considering whether to change your driving habits, or whether you should resume driving at all, you first concentrate on your health and recovery. We are at that stage right now. We were going at 200mph and suddenly, a major crash occurred. My focus is on our recovery. Once that is secured, everything is possible.” Dean Micallef, Director at professional services provider, Firstbridge, says that as far as working practices are concerned, for companies that have been developing a more flexible, digitised workplace, such as Firstbridge, “COVID-19 was the test environment that provided that final push towards our ultimate destination. With that said, we were well prepared to move to remote working since we had already implemented several tools, processes and protocols that ensured continuity in various scenarios, such as adopting a paperless environment that limited our physical prints and the requirement for tangible files to adopting sophisticated cloud-based systems that managed our internal accounting, team time allocations, records and operational tasks.”


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,Referencing the EU’s efforts to encourage businesses to adopt workplace innovation, Mr Micallef believes it is a great way to promote practices that will create more sustainable businesses. “It is hard to express the enormous impact of smart business practices, coupled with technological solutions, on the overall efficiencies of organisations. Here we are not just talking about financial savings in time and resources, but also on the enhancement in quality management and innovation.” He adds that, particularly for those businesses that were able to focus on process assessment, there will come a time in the future that operators look back at COVID-19 as a turning point in the development of their organisation, “reflecting on the time that encouraged them to make changes that allowed them to scale up without placing too much pressure on the operational structure. I definitely welcome the initiative and, as a firm, we will continue to promote such initiatives both internally, as well as with our clients and the wider public.”

“COVID-19 was the test environment that provided that final push towards our ultimate destination. With that said, we were well prepared to move to remote working.” Dean Micallef, Firstbridge

Asked whether he believes businesses can go back to operating as they did before the outbreak of COVID-19 in Malta, Mr Micallef asserts that any business that used the down-time to assess their operational systems should focus on retaining the new practices that have proven positive. However, he adds it is also important to consider the various scenarios, opportunities and challenges that COVID-19 presented, and whether those scenarios will outlive the pandemic or not. “During the pandemic we have seen new businesses coming to the market addressing a new ‘need’ or ‘opportunity’. Those organisations would need to be careful to manage the shift in demand they may experience post-pandemic, which may remain, grow, shrink or cease to exist,” says Mr Micallef. “Secondly, organisations that pivoted their operational business plan and offered a different product or service (whether complementary or completely different to their traditional offering) would also need to assess whether that alternate offering could continue to exist side by side their traditional product or service, or potentially outright replace them.” For a firm like Firstbridge, the changes targeted a different type of service delivery and overall approach, he asserts, “and such practices have improved our overall cost and time efficiencies as well as our quality and consistency of delivery. Therefore, I’d say we would revert to some traditional methods that worked, but naturally, the improved processes will be retained and will supersede systems that are now apparently inferior or irrelevant.”



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The new Gaming Act one year on: has the bar been raised?

On 1st August 2018, the new Gaming Act came into force, thus introducing a regulatory framework to further stimulate innovation in the sector on the island while ensuring adherence to international anti-money laundering and de-risking requirements. But, over one year on, did the legislation hit a home run? Rebecca Anastasi speaks to three stakeholders to find out. IN 2004, MALTA ENACTED legislation to regulate online gaming, putting the country in pole position – ahead of every other EU member state – to attract a spate of iGaming firms to the island and build an industry based on favourable taxation and corporate conditions. The island was, thus, also able to woo a workforce of thousands looking for good jobs, great weather and a Mediterranean lifestyle, boosting ancillary sectors such as property, hospitality and retail. But, 14 years on, in 2018, it was evident that the local and international landscapes had changed and there was a need for regulatory reform to allow the sector to continue flourishing. On 1st August last year, the new Gaming Act came into force, setting a standard at which the industry


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could operate over the next few years. The Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), in its report published in April this year, specified that the aim was to establish “objective-oriented standards as opposed to prescriptive requirements, thereby encouraging innovation and development” and to empower the Authority further, thus strengthening “its activities” so it can “continue being a thought leader for years to come”. To this end, the legislation allocated more resources to the MGA; prioritised “risk-based” approaches and was, therefore, formed to be “fully in line with concurrent developments relating to AML/CFT”. Moreover, the Act also reworked the role of the Key Official – employed by iGaming firms – into “various key functions within a licensed activity” and shifted from a multi-licensing regime to offering a singular B2B or B2C umbrella licence. The raft of new rules also increased protection standards and responsible gaming measures and launched a fiscal structure which is more in line with companies’ operations. But have these changes solidified Malta as a leader in the sphere? “The new law has strengthened the MGA and the value of being licensed by the Authority,” says Enrico Bradamante, Chairman of the industry trade association iGEN, which represents the interests of the iGaming sector. “The regulator is now able to exercise greater functions and, therefore, the value of having a Maltese licence has been strengthened. Indeed, the positives are that the MGA now has more enforcement powers and it is using these enforcement powers,” he asserts. Mr Bradamante also points to the positive effect the new legislation has had through the introduction of new licence categorisations. “So, there is now this differentiation between B2B and B2C licences which has clarified some of the grey areas, though I don’t think the law itself has dramatically changed the way operators have had to work. I’ve not heard of any major difference, at any rate,” he attests.



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So, considering the attention Malta has given to refining the regulations locally, could it take more of a role in creating a framework for the sector supranationally? “Malta has been the pioneer in this sector and has definitely paved the way. The MGA was the first regulatory body of its kind and Malta, as a jurisdiction, remains the one which is driving the industry internationally. There is no other hub like Malta and it is the home of iGaming today. So, the regulator – and Malta as a country – has an interest in driving the agenda forward,” says Mr Bradamante. Indeed, he notes that one of the biggest issues facing the entire sector at the moment is the lack of harmonised legislative regimes across European states. “In general, the industry itself is over-regulated, in that there are so many different standards set in different countries in Europe where firms from Malta are doing business. So, these iGaming companies need to adhere to these different rules, across countries, which is then being translated into additional costs, such as technical expenses, licensing fees and so on. Uniformity of regulation is something which the industry would love to see, ideally on a European level,” he notes. And so, he believes, Malta can spearhead such change, though he warns that he doesn’t see the situation changing anytime soon. “As iGEN, we’ll be meeting with the Maltese MEPS and this is one of the issues we will raise on behalf of the industry. But, as far as I’m aware, there is no programme, no effort, which is being done on a European level to harmonise the regulations of the iGaming industry,”

“There is no other hub like Malta and it is the home of iGaming today. So, the regulator – and Malta as a country – has an interest in driving the agenda forward.” Enrico Bradamante, Chairman, iGEN

he points out. “The reason is historical. Since every country on the continent has a different background, it’s all contextual and there’s no one size fits all,” he explains, adding that, nonetheless, the changes as a result of the new law, together with the open approach by the authorities, has ensured that this economic sector on the island has a promising future. Echoing much of Mr Bradamante’s thoughts, Reili Suzi, Senior Compliance Manager at Betsson Group, says that “the Act has also brought about several changes that allow for better clarity as to the expectations of the regulator. In fact, it is a very comprehensive piece of legislation and we now have a single rulebook across the sector.” She


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also refers to the licensing structure as a positive development, “where you can now make use of common B2C licences across different brands and gaming systems”. Moreover, Ms Suzi underlines that the transparency of the new legislation has proven beneficial over the past year. “Player protection is vital in our business and having this level of clarity is a good tool to generate consistencies across the sector,” she states. Further reasserting Mr Bradamante’s views, the Betsson Compliance Manager notes the strengthening of the MGA, saying that this “is noteworthy, of course” since it helps Malta keep “up its jurisdictional reputation and ensure that sufficient scrutiny is being carried out.” Yet, she expresses concern about the additional resources needed to adapt to the new framework. “The changes have challenged the operators, given the different layers of regulations and because the spotlight is not only on regulating the core gaming business but also different horizontal aspects of the business – the payment providers, the game providers, and so on,” she explains. Indeed, “the spotlight on regulating and re-regulating various aspects of the business has led to an environment where it has become challenging to get into the swing given there is always a next largescale change in the pipeline,” she outlines. As a result, iGaming firms have borne the brunt of additional costs and have had to invest in more human resources. “Our compliance managers, developers, commercial and operations teams have been kept busy. The influx of changes has been sudden and, since it was a rewrite of an older framework, one which we were used to, it took some effort to train personnel within the new way of doing things. There is always something new we have to deal with,” she says.

Looking ahead, it’s essential for the scrutiny to be “evidence-based”, permitting “the right level of agility given that this is such a dynamic industry”. Ms Suzi admits that “more can be done on this front” and “further guidance on the interpretation of some of the requirements would be useful for the operators”, though she underlines that the industry has “already seen some of these coming to the fore slowly”. Re-affirming these views, Reuben Portanier, Partner at legal firm Afilexion Alliance, says the aim of streamlining licence categories through the B2B and B2C categorisation has simplified compliance, while allowing “B2C operators to be flexible in their game offerings and, at the same time, allowing for a speedier time-to-market from B2B operators”. As a result, the new law permits B2B operators to “grow their business with speed, without, however, compromising on their compliance requirements”.

“The changes have challenged the operators given the different layers of regulations.” Reili Suzi, Senior Compliance Manager, Betsson Group




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high, both from an AML perspective and from a technical and financial perspective. However, as in any regulated industry, a regulator’s challenge is that of recognising how past risks change and new ones come into play. Controls are stringent only if they are effectively addressing the right and current risks,” he underlines, going on to express his belief that “the existing controls are in the main addressing the right risks”. So, with Malta having been under the spotlight over the past few years – with concerns having been raised in the arena of money-laundering – has the new law improved Malta’s standing? “From a gaming regulatory perspective, Malta was always considered to be a jurisdiction of repute,” Mr Portanier stresses. He notes that Malta was the only EU member state that issued specific guidelines for the gaming industry on “how to apply the risk-based approach in accordance with the 4th EU AML Directive and was the only EU State to issue gaming industry guidelines when Europe’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) came into force in 2018”. Thus, he says that B2B operators may perhaps be the category that mostly saw significant improvements to their business model. “The streamlining of licence categories did not only benefit them directly, in terms of only requiring them to hold one singular B2B licence, but they can now engage with a wider B2C audience given the relatively easier process granted at law for a B2C operator to offer games from B2B platforms,” he explains. Moving on to the increased powers allocated to the MGA, Mr Portanier says that the Authority has “continuously demonstrated that it has exercised the responsibility and powers afforded to it effectively”, even prior to the changes in legislation. “I do not solely judge MGA’s supervisory effectiveness based on the number of enforcement actions taken or the number of compliance visits – which have increased – but also on how it is open to educate licensed operators on the importance of compliance and, in this regard, the MGA did a sterling job,” he asserts. Additionally, obtaining an MGA licence is not at all a walk in the park, Mr Portanier notes. “The requirements imposed on applicants are very

“From a gaming regulatory perspective, Malta was always considered to be a jurisdiction of repute.” Reuben Portanier, Partner, Afilexion Alliance

While it is possibly too early to determine which important changes will be required, Mr Portanier states that, with the changing technological developments, new requirements will arise, specifically as a result of Artificial Intelligence (AI)and DLT technology. “Looking into a crystal ball, one may see a not so distant future where SupTech (supervisory technology) and RegTech (Regulatory Technology), both based on Distributed Ledger Technologies and Artificial Intelligence, will become a regulatory requirement for gaming operators so as to allow the MGA to exploit AI coupled with DLT in its supervisory functions,” he concludes.


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Interview

PHOTOS BY TYLER CALLEJA JACKSON


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Keeping the economy going The unprecedented shock brought on by COVID-19 has left governments across the globe reeling, with Malta also seeking to retain a balance between the island’s health and economic imperatives. Yet, there is reason to be hopeful, according to the Minister for Finance and Financial Services, Edward Scicluna. Here, he speaks to Rebecca Anastasi about what lies ahead as the island gets back on its feet.

“IN ECONOMY, WE TALK about cycles, and cyclical recessions usually take a very long time to pick up due to the lack of confidence. But that is not the situation at the moment,” says the Minister for Finance and Financial Services Edward Scicluna, who has been at the forefront of rolling out financial packages to mitigate the economic fallout of COVID-19. And over the past few months, his Ministry has had its work cut out for it. When the pandemic hit Malta in March, the authorities instituted a raft of economic measures intending to shelter businesses, and the wider community, from the brunt of the coronavirus crisis – at least from a monetary standpoint. These included a wage supplement, which was introduced to mitigate against unemployment; a teleworking grant to cover some of the costs inherent in shifting to a remote working scenario; and, later, subsidies to help with rental costs. Moreover, the Malta Development Bank launched its COVID-19 Guarantee Scheme, by means of which Government pledged to guarantee loans issued by commercial banks to finance the working capital needs of businesses facing cashflow shortages.

And while the raft of measures introduced in March have since been altered to meet the changing challenges of the pandemic, most remain in force, putting a continual strain on public finances. Despite this, for the Minister for Finance – and for most in the business community – these measures were imperative to prevent an economic disaster. Indeed, the Minister says, this is because “this is no ordinary recession, even though the symptoms – such as unemployment, the lack of exports, and lower incomes – are those of a traditional recession. But even though there are these many similarities, the cause and the remedy are different.”

“We’re monitoring the situation and I’m quite optimistic, although the downside of the pandemic is that it is impacting all countries, particularly in tourism.”



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In other words, the downturn has not been the result of the volatile vagaries of the market, but due to an unprecedented societal shock, the likes of which the modern, globalised world has never seen before. Yet, this does not negate the impact of Government’s financial decisions on public coffers, and for the Minister, this will translate into a deficit – though the question, the Minister says, is by how much. “We are planning for it to be around three per cent in 2021,” Prof. Scicluna says. “This is a working benchmark, and we hope we don’t exceed this figure since we want to go back to surplus territory.” This is predicated on a ‘V-shaped’ pattern characterising the current recession, he says, based on the assumption that the dip experienced by the pandemic is but a momentary blip and positing that 2021 economic levels will compare to 2019. However, he is quick to point out that “there are so many ifs and buts” which are dependent on the global reach of COVID-19, and the way other countries have managed to reign in its devastating effects, both from an economic as well as a health perspective. “Will 2021 compare to 2019? That’s the big question. Here in Malta, it looks like the ‘up-part’ of the V-shaped recession will compensate for the dip. And, if this is indeed the case, then, for Government, this will be a

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big step forward because we’d be able to expect revenues which could compare to those in 2019.” But what happens if Malta experiences a ‘second wave’ of the coronavirus pandemic, not to mention the continued fallout from the current loss in business confidence? Can Government afford to continue subsidising businesses in the long-term, perhaps into next year? “In the UK, the government have said they will stop the wage supplement and they don’t intent to go back to it,” the Minister answers. “We haven’t said that yet. In other words, we have given it till the end of September. Now, there is a budget in early October, so we are still postponing the decision,” he continues, insisting, however, that “assistance is limited. It’s finite”. In the meantime, and while the current insecurity persists, it’s about bridging the gap, until the economy gets going again, Prof. Scicluna underlines. “We’re talking about a recovery fund, a recovery plan. And hopefully, there will come a time when things become normal again. Government has pledged that we can bridge this dip – hoping that it is ‘V-shaped’ – by giving assistance and liquidity, which is what companies need. They need deep pockets, and Government is trying to provide these, whether through EU or national funds,” he explains.


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“We’re now faced with the issue of for how long to continue giving assistance. And how long can companies survive? There are many questions, but there are few answers.”

Yet funds cannot simply come in the form of grants, the Minister underlines. Loans, in his view, can be the deep pockets businesses rely on. “Of course, everyone wants a grant and handouts, but you cannot discount the usefulness of loans,” he says. This, indeed, seems to have been the rationale behind the MDA’s COVID-19 Guarantee Scheme, for, Prof. Scicluna continues, “a big type of assistance” consists of Government guarantees for bank loans, “to give some comfort to the banks to lend”, and thus unlock much-needed liquidity. But with pundits, constituted bodies and entrepreneurs in the business community predicting that there will be no returning to 2019-levels in the near future – with some locating full recovery sometime in 2023, particularly in the tourism sector – is it realistic to talk about a ‘V-shaped’ recession at all? “That is what we’re aiming for. We’re monitoring the situation and I’m quite optimistic, although the downside of the pandemic is that it is impacting all countries, particularly in tourism. It’s a terrible issue. But the good thing is that we have learnt so much from other people’s mistakes. And now, we’re not in the midst of that first shock, where we didn’t even know what had hit us. We’ve learnt a lot, not only from a medical point of view, but from a policy perspective too,” he explains. These lessons have come in many forms, the Minister continues. Firstly, he says, in observing how other countries have dealt with the pandemic, Malta has understood how important it is not to opt for a total lockdown. “In total lockdown, while you’re giving health the priority, you’re suffocating the economy and causing irreparable damage. So, it’s like during a war: why did we build shelters? It was so life, of some sort, could carry on regardless. Similarly, life has to go on economically, even now,” he says, pointing to the implementation of teleworking scenarios which – “while not perfect” – ensured continuity, while the manufacturing,

construction and services sectors also helped keep the economic wheel turning. Moreover, the Minister underscored the importance of discipline, saying that this is what helped contribute towards Malta’s success, stressing this cannot be abandoned now that Malta is entering a new phase in which we need to “live with the virus, yet contain it.” He points to the opening of the airport as characteristic of this current second stage. “I think now is the real test. What I’m seeing is that some countries have started to forget that there is an enemy in our midst. It’s very easy to do. And, we might see reversals of opening up policies if care is not taken. And just as there have been plenty of red faces in the US, the UK and Sweden, we might see new red faces on whoever doesn’t manage this phase well,” Prof. Scicluna says, speaking generally, yet indicating his preference for a more cautious course of action. “Malta is a city, so we have to be careful and we cannot go for certain risky activity, especially in the tourism sector,” the Minister continues. He points to Ibiza as a good case study, saying that the authorities there have decided to forbid large events until December. “They’ve realised that once you get a bad name, that will stick. Tourists want to know they’re safe,” he insists.




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Looking ahead, I ask the Minister about the much-touted green recovery post-COVID, which, international experts – from the World Economic Forum, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation – stress is necessary if humanity is to thrive, long-term. Is this all talk and can it be applied to Malta? Prof. Scicluna, while expressing some exasperation at the lack of progress in this regard – “everybody is saying we need higher value tourists, but then you see the low level of tidiness” – says that change is happening on the ground, in, perhaps, less obtrusive ways.

This brings us back to the continued applicability of Government’s subsidies, and in particular, the wage supplement, for if tourism opens up more cautiously, businesses will need continued aid if they are to survive the pandemic. “We did the right thing in giving assistance [from March till September]. If we hadn’t, unemployment would have peaked, and many companies would have gone bellyup. But we’re now faced with the issue of for how long to continue giving assistance. And how long can companies survive? There are many questions, but there are few answers,” he responds non-committedly. Despite this, and come what may, the Minister is certain that unemployment levels will not increase substantially. This is thanks to the “cushion” of foreign workers, who form the majority of tourism sector employees. “Yes, we’ll have less employment, but not necessarily higher unemployment since people who came to Malta – because there was a vacancy for them – will go back home,” he says. When challenged that this implies human capital is disposable, the Minister is quick to point out that “unemployment is cruel to everybody, whether you are a foreigner or not”. He also stresses that “the majority of people coming over [to work in Malta] were young, single, and perhaps, coming over for a year and then going back home. It was temporary. This was not their intended home. It suited them, like it suited us. There were vacancies that paid them better [than jobs at home] so if those disappear, they will go back. It’s an accepted thing,” he says.

For, he insists, COVID-19 has been “a watershed” event, although he warns not to expect results tomorrow. “Change will happen, though development will be slow,” he asserts. Part of this shift will stem from younger generations whose priorities may be different from those of their parents and grandparents, although he expects different perspectives to develop across the board. “Whoever ignores this, even politicians, are very short sighted. They’re going to find that people have changed. If you speak to people using the same language, the same excuses, and the same replies as before, you will lose your credibility and put off much of the population”. But before the world can truly kick off a green Marshall plan for the planet, the more immediate future still holds the potential for optimism, the Minister insists. “We have reason to be hopeful, although we are still at the mercy of research in the field of health. We believe this recession will be V-shaped, and that the economy will come up quicker than expected. We need to be optimistic,” he concludes, asserting that success can be achieved through global conviviality. “Let’s get our heads together, globally, and let’s get there. I think the world can do it.”

“We believe this recession will be V-shaped, and that the economy will come up quicker than expected.”


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Malta’s banking sector faced ‘with a challenging external environment’

In a time of global economic unease, Malta and its economy continue to show signs of strength and resilience. But what does the forecast look like for the medium- and longterm? Martina Said chats with the Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Mario Vella, to discuss the impacts of global and local developments on Malta’s banking sector.

MALTA’S ECONOMY HAS BOOMED in recent years, outperforming most other countries in the euro area. Over the past five years, economic growth averaged 7.7 per cent, which Central Bank of Malta Governor, Mario Vella, says is “above Malta’s historical average”. GDP growth in 2019 is still expected to be strong at 5.4 per cent, while forecasts for 2020, predicted to be around the 4 per cent mark, indicate a slight dip. This drop, however, isn’t a troubling sign – rather a gradual normalisation in the pace of economic activity, says the Governor. “It reflects two factors. On the one hand, our supply of resources is limited and, though we are managing to increase productivity and add more productive resources, there is very little slack. We have the lowest rate of unemployment and the highest rate of employment in our history, and in both cases our rates now are better than in the rest of the euro area.”


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“For banks to remain competitive they need to invest heavily in technology to keep up with the pace of developments while at the same time meeting customers’ demands.”

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On the down side, however, trade tensions have put a brake on world demand, and this is affecting Malta’s trading partners and some local exporters. “That said, we are entering this phase with a glut of private savings and considerable fiscal space. This means that the pace of private consumption need not slow down significantly, even in the face of a slowdown in income growth,” says Dr Vella. “Moreover, Government has ample financial resources to carry out a countercyclical fiscal policy, particularly by boosting capital investment.” In this light, the Central Bank forecasts that, while employment growth may decelerate somewhat, the unemployment rate will remain at historical lows and GDP growth will remain above that of Malta’s peers. “We anticipate that the participation rate will continue to improve and that we will continue to require an inflow of foreign workers,” he asserts. “We also believe that our exporting sectors are in a fairly good shape in terms of competitiveness, and that any negative effects from a less supportive external environment could also be partly mitigated by efforts to pursue further economic diversification.” The strength of Malta’s economy has been bolstered by higher value-added sectors in recent years, among them the financial services, iGaming, property development

and, most recently, innovative technology sectors. Dr Vella believes that one of the biggest challenges for these sectors and the firms that operate within them will be the availability of human resources. “This means that the trends that have characterised our economy in recent years, such as the shift to services and to higher value-added activities in productive sectors, are likely to continue.” The Governor adds that the changing nature of demand means that sectors that are flexible and can offer more customised products will be able to maintain their profitability. “For instance, I think that in our tourism industry, the shift away from collective accommodation and towards more personalised accommodation – such as boutique hotels and rented accommodation – will persist, if not accelerate,” he explains. “Similarly, in an environment of ever scarcer resources, the adoption of technology to improve productivity will become ever more important. Sectors that fail to invest in innovative technological solutions will inevitably lose importance. This, of course, means that if as a nation we manage to attract firms that are involved in this technological revolution, we will continue to enhance our position in the global value chain,” asserts Dr Vella. “The coming years will see more technologically advanced


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investment in Malta rise significantly. I also see large potential for the circular economy and green investment.” Turning our attention to the Maltese banking sector, the Governor asserts that, similarly to most other European banks, it is “faced with a challenging external environment”, namely a persistent low interest rate environment, a weakening euro area economy, fast technological developments, a more intensive regulatory environment, destabilising trade wars and Brexit uncertainty. On the positive side, Malta’s robust economic environment has supported financial stability. Dr Vella states that core domestic banks have managed to increase their income from intermediation on the back of increased lending volumes, particularly mortgages, together with

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a turnaround in corporate lending. Such banks have also tapped into other sources of income, with non-interest income increasing as a share of their gross income. “Such conditions are also helping the banks to further improve their asset quality,” says Dr Vella. “In fact, supported also by specific regulatory measures, the non-performing loans ratio for the whole banking system stood at three per cent in June 2019. However, there are down sides, and the Governor cites Malta’s open economy as one of them, which makes it more vulnerable to external shocks. Weakening economic developments in other countries could also affect domestic growth, which could have adverse repercussions on the sector’s performance going forward, the Governor asserts. “While the probability of a

“The termination of correspondent banking relationships for certain currencies can have potential far-reaching consequences, including financial exclusion.”


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Turning our focus towards the international stage, the subject of correspondent banking services being withdrawn from Malta by international banks comes to the fore. The Governor says the worldwide de-risking by large correspondent banks, due to increased regulatory pressures and costs of complying with the legal requirements imposed by Anti-Money Laundering (AML) and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (CFT), is affecting banks in countries with relatively smaller banking sectors. “Of late, a number of correspondent banks announced the termination of their relationships with small jurisdictions, in a bid to maximise their risk-adjusted returns, cut down on costs and concentrate on more profitable markets. Malta, like other small jurisdictions, has been caught in the crosshairs of this strategy, which is essentially a market failure issue,” says Dr Vella. “The termination of such relationships for certain currencies can have potential farreaching consequences, including financial exclusion and a deterioration in the integrity of the international payments system and international trade in general.” ‘hard Brexit’ has diminished, the implications of Brexit on the Maltese economy are deemed to be manageable with no serious consequences for the local banks.” A subject of interest and a challenge for the banking sector is the digitalised environment, specifically the digital economy which is “taking over, almost completely, the traditional way of doing business in banking.” Dr Vella explains that such technological changes have given birth to what is called the ‘open banking’ approach, with technology enabling the unbundling of banking services that are being provided by different players, particularly in the lucrative payments services. “For banks to remain competitive they need to invest heavily in technology to keep up with the pace of developments, while at the same time meeting customers’ demands,” he says. “Undeniably, this comes at a cost, but the advancement in technology provides opportunities for banks to increase their customer base and volumes, with positive outcomes on profitability.”

The Governor asserts that correspondent banking arrangements are crucial for making cross-border payments, especially in an environment where the US dollar is still the most used currency in trade. Therefore, any disruption in the payments system will affect business and individuals. “Maltese banks are doing their part to maintain or find alternative clearing arrangements,” he states. “At the same time, the Maltese regulatory authorities have implemented further measures to ensure that banks are de-risking where necessary and are employing enhanced governance practices.” The silver lining, however, is that local conditions appear favourable overall, according to the Central Bank Governor, and the current strong domestic economic environment should also provide further opportunities for banks. “Buoyant economic activity increases business confidence and hence, the possibility of exploring new niche markets and investment opportunities are higher. This gives the banks the chance to support new investment and emerging new sectors.”



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PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR

CSR: Business

refurbishment isn’t just about interior design


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Although the concept of Corporate Social Responsibility broadly regarded as an integral component of business values, the prospect is still an alien one for most local industries. Malta CEOs meets up with two female frontrunners in the game, Helga Ellul and Dr Roberta Lepre, to debate the platform’s benefits and discuss plans for its nationwide implementation.

FORMER PLAYMOBIL MALTA CEO and Core president Helga Ellul, and CSR specialist and Weave Consulting managing consultant Dr Roberta Lepre are indomitable spirits in their own rights and collectively share a massive array of accomplishments within the field of business. Despite originating from different backgrounds and pursuing different angles through their respective careers, a common purpose unites them in initiating an awakening within the local business sphere and directing the community towards a more holistic business framework.

“It pays to be a good corporate citizen.” Helga Ellul



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“People need to be encouraged and their efforts recognised.” Helga Ellul

Both agree that, as a relatively new term in the business lexicon, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) seems to prevent local business owners from exploring the concept out of a mixture of reluctance, misunderstanding and feeling overwhelmed. Dr Lepre shares the results of a recent study carried out locally which revealed that larger companies proved to have a better understanding of the concept, while smaller entities struggled in comparison.

How can CSR benefit your business and wider society? CSR is operating a business while educating and empowering employees. By doing so, you allow your employees to buy into your business, resulting in a mutuallybeneficial agreement that not only drives the company forward but also compensates those involved in ways that financial gain does not. Malta, as a community, is extremely generous, yet the younger generation do not just want to contribute money towards social causes. Their desire for involvement is spurring a change to the business model and focusing on profit with a purpose. This is a core value of CSR. – Helga Ellul

Ms Ellul says that from a technical perspective, there are a total of 17 goals that need to be observed in order for a company to align with the core values of CSR. These have been simplified into what she affectionately calls the 5 Ps: partnership, prosperity, peace, people and planet. These elements all work together to positively affect a business. CSR has a proven track record as Ms Ellul can attest: “it truly pays to be a good corporate citizen.” Ms Ellul affirms that she is a true believer in empowering one’s own employees, in that it contributes directly to an overall greater sense of loyalty and promotes a more proactive spirit. “Employee retention is a massive problem for business across industries of all sizes,” Dr Lepre says, adding that, “through CSR, there are strategies which one can implement to reduce employee turnover and attract and retain the best people within your company.”


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“CSR strategies are not about imposing demands but about working together to evolve a company’s corporate culture.” Dr Roberta Lepre

Dr Lepre discloses that some businesses in Malta do not comprehend the power of conversing with employees and educating them. Instead, they are more in favour of promoting a corporate culture dominated by fear. “This is the old-fashioned way,” Ms Ellul concedes, adding that the dread of employees leaving prevents most from adopting a different stance. Drawing from personal experience, she shares that while there is always the chance that former employees might return to the company, there is also a sense of pride to be felt when she sees her “ex-employees become CEOs and company secretaries because they learnt it in my company.” Ms Ellul and Dr Lepre insist that a business is not just an owner’s possession but a living entity that plays a crucial role in a community’s development. As such, for a business to thrive, its framework must adapt to cater for society’s demands. Ms Ellul urges those heavily involved in the corporate world to listen to the words of the younger generation. She elaborates by highlighting the fact that “business relies on the community outside, on people to become your consumers – if you don’t adjust to the way they want businesses to run, you will neither have employees nor a business.”

What is CSR? “CSR means being proactive in ensuring that, as a business, you are having a positive impact. It’s a combination of awareness, resources, education, goodwill and commitment – one may call it an investment into one’s own business. It’s not a sectioned department, but a movement that slowly implements into the company culture. Its careful implementation has given great results, with studies showing that companies that are sustainable, and which endorse this philosophy, will ultimately stand out from competition.” – Roberta Lepre




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Dr Lepre uses Ms Ellul’s premise to illustrate a common CSR procedure. “Let’s take a look at the environment,” she suggests. “Many businesses, as well as us as individuals, are making a negative impact because of the products and services that we use.” The first step in curbing this involves identifying the challenging areas and following it up with a commitment to take the necessary action to reduce and transform a negative scenario into a positive outcome. This, coupled with education and assessment, is a necessary step that needs to be observed before a company can start on strategy, planning and communication. “It is very important to communicate to your stakeholders –whether shareholders, employees or the general public – the fact that you’re committed to improving your impact and that you are actually taking steps to do that,” Dr Lepre asserts. Key elements of CSR are oftentimes confused with those of philanthropy and, at times, even charity. Dr Lepre explains that, while all three share a common denominator through the act of giving, CSR requires proactivity to ensure that a business has a continuing positive impact. A structured, purposeful and consistent input may appear overwhelming to a business of any size, especially when considering the whole body of compliance issues that one must be aware of, but Dr Lepre is confident that awareness, adequate education and dedication are all necessary tools to become a good corporate citizen. Many operate under the false impression that, in order to incorporate CSR strategies, it is necessary to hire more manpower and set up a department specifically targeting this area. Both swiftly trump this premise and straighten out the

“I don’t really believe in legislating when it comes to CSR. It would be better to look at incentives rather than obligations.” Dr Roberta Lepre

facts. “It goes right across your whole business spectrum,” Ms Ellul explains, adding that the key lies at the top of the company hierarchy. “If the CEO, shareholder or stakeholder is convinced of the concept and is ready to cascade it to empower his people with it, then it evolves into a self-sustaining structure, which is precisely what CSR is all about,” Ms Ellul states. An advocate for the infinite powers of collaborative approaches, Dr Lepre adds that, “CSR strategies are not about imposing demands but about working together to evolve a company’s corporate culture.” Dr Lepre reveals that Malta is the only EU country not to have a national CSR framework. Among the missing elements of the formula are a lack of sustainable development goals, a nonexisting social enterprise act and limited support services for social entrepreneurs. “I don’t really believe in legislating when it comes to CSR,” she expands, arguing that it would be better “to look at incentives rather than obligations.” Tax incentives are a very viable option, but until the groundwork is laid for them to materialise, Ms Ellul offers a shorter-term but equally effective solution. Together with Dr Lepre, Ms Ellul is organising the first edition of the Malta CSR awards. “We will start on a small scale,” Ms Ellul shares, adding that, while some larger companies will emerge as downright winners, efforts are being made to implement milestone awards for smaller companies that took the first steps in incorporating CSR strategies and reaped the results. “I believe people need to be encouraged and their efforts recognised for the concept to power on,” Ms Ellul concludes.

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6 Global CEOs making waves What sets a changemaker apart from all the other diligent workers, risk-takers and innovative thinkers out there? A changemaker is ahead of the game – a person who not only recognises the business or societal need for a change,

Banking Shachar Bialick, Curve When Shachar Bialick got fed up with carrying several bank cards in his wallet, his research into the topic revealed that the average person carries with them 3.6 cards in the UK and 7.5 cards in the US. And with specialised cards like Monzo and Revolut on the rise, fragmentation is accelerating rather than diminishing. So, he started Curve – one of the UK’s highest-profile FinTech start-ups, which simplifies financial life by consolidating bank accounts into a single card and smart app. We admit this sounds too good to be true but it is also very appealing. The Curve Mastercard® allows you to load your existing Mastercard and Visa cards onto the Curve app, so you can spend from any of your accounts without needing several cards. To pay, you open the app and select the account you would like to use. That account instantly becomes ‘active’, and you can spend using Curve.

but who also has the vision, skills and initiative to make that change happen. Here, we offer insight into six stand-out CEOs who are global changemakers, and excitedly look at what we can expect from them – and their sectors – in 2020.


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But life was not always finance and technology for Bialick. He was born in Tel Aviv and raised in the occupied West Bank. After studying computer science, Bialick completed his military service in the Israeli special forces. He left the army full of motivation, and founded and then sold several successful companies, including a recruitment firm and an apertures manufacturing company. And then came Curve in 2016. Skip ahead a few years, and Curve is now headquartered in London with over half a million users across Europe and plans to enter the US in 2020. With a further €50 million of funding received from investors in July 2019, the company is now valued at €225 million. Bialick thanks his military service for his growing success. It taught him that having an idea is hopeless without the action and perseverance to transform it into reality.

Artificial Intelligence Barney Hussey-Yeo, Cleo AI Barney Hussey-Yeo did not set out for his idea to become a business. To track his own spending, he built Cleo – a digital assistant that would tell him when he was running out of money. It worked, and Cleo changed his relationship with money and his spending behaviour. The young developer had unwittingly created a solution that could be scaled up to help others manage their finances. Cleo AI is a financial chatbot that helps you set targets, track spending and answers your questions intelligently. The AI start-up taps into Facebook Messenger so that Cleo can chat with you directly in an encrypted setting. By connecting your bank accounts to Cleo, she can access your transaction data in a readonly capacity to turn it into useful information. Imagine you want to understand how your daily café visits are impacting your finances. Start up a conversation with Cleo: “Cleo, how much do I spend at café?”, and Cleo

replies with a spending breakdown. “Cleo, what does this mean?” Cleo provides a visual comparative analysis against your bank balance. You can also ask Cleo for advice on saving and investing that money instead. More so than finances, Hussey-Yeo has cleverly made the service about people. Cleo is approachable and talks in chatty language and emojis. She already helps one million users across the UK, US and Canada, and has secured €12.5 million in funding from investors, including Balderton Capital, LocalGlobe, Niklas Zennström and Taavet Hinrikus. Hussey-Yeo believes that the future of banking lies in software companies that own data and have the experience necessary to be trusted to use that data. And importantly, he has also surrounded himself with the right people – data scientists, computer engineers and machine-learning experts who are determined to make Cleo the goto service for managing finances in 2020 and beyond.



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Social Enterprise Bert Van Son, Mud Jeans Bert Van Son heads a recycled jeans company with a difference. Customers choose to buy or lease Mud Jeans. Rather than an outright purchase, renters pay a subscription, receive their jeans and then swap them for new ones after a year. The old material is then recycled into new jeans. Initially, Mud Jeans blended 20 per cent recycled denim with 80 per cent virgin cotton. Now, recycled cotton is at 40 per cent. In 2020, the first 100 per cent recycled jeans will be made. Van Son is targeting the disconnect between fashion’s frontend glamour and backend reality. Before starting Mud Jeans in the Netherlands in 2012, Van Son had worked in fashion for three decades and had witnessed the hard lives of factory workers and the harmful environmental effects of a major polluting industry. He runs Mud Jeans as an exemplary company – one that is profitable yet participates in the circular economy to reduce negative socio-environmental impacts.

The even split between people renting and buying Mud Jeans gave way to growth on the leasing side in 2018/2019 – revealing a mind shift in consumer society. People may be leasing for ethical and environmental reasons, or they may just want the option to swap their jeans for another colour or style after a few months. What’s certain, though, is that they are pro-actively recycling their denim. Over a billion pairs of jeans are sold globally every year, but less than one per cent of materials are recycled. To avoid adding to landfills, Mud Jeans uses recyclable buttons, cradle-to-cradle certified paper labels and cotton pocket lining. On the back of new investment, 2020 will see Mud Jeans incorporate biodegradable polyester stitching and expand into Scandinavia, France and the UK – proving that profits and ethical behaviour are not mutually exclusive.


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Alt Meat Pat Brown, Impossible Foods The Impossible Burger 2.0 exploded onto the food scene in 2019. This is Pat Brown’s plant-based meat substitute that looks and tastes exactly like meat. Initially launched in 2016, the Impossible Burger was a head-turning flagship product – even validated by Burger King, which launched the enormously successful Impossible Whopper in 2019. As a biochemist, Pat Brown researched the harmful environmental effects of beef production. The industry is one of the largest contributors to climate change because of rockethigh greenhouse gas emissions and consumption of water and land. Environmental disasters, such as the deforestation of the Amazon, have beef producers to blame – and, ultimately, beef consumers. The problem Brown pinpointed was that despite knowing this, people’s appetite for beef cannot be curbed. Facing this fact, Brown wants to occupy the space where beef normally sits on the plate. In 2011, Brown left his academic career to create a genuine meat alternative that gives the same experience as

eating meat – something other companies have largely failed to do. The answer was found in the heme molecule, which carries oxygen in animals and plants, and gives blood its red colour. Increasing the molecule’s abundance in plants creates a substance that looks and tastes like meat. But compared to beef patties, an Impossible Burger saves seven square metres of land, half a bathtub of water and 13 kilometres in a car. Investors, including Bill Gates and Google Ventures, have already provided €355 million in funds. However, Brown sees no need to IPO soon. Reducing meat consumption and the economic incentive to produce beef remains his priority. Asia consumes 40 per cent of global meat, so expansion there will continue, having started with restaurants in Hong Kong and Singapore in 2019. And the aim is also for Impossible Foods to become more available in supermarkets in the near future.

The Sharing Economy Daan Weddepohl, Peerby.com Have you ever needed something, like a drill or an extra table, but felt frustrated by buying it only to use it once? Daan Weddepohl steps in with Peerby, a platform that enables people to borrow things they need from other people in their neighbourhood. Weddepohl believes that technology is a force for good, and should be integrated into circular and sharing economy approaches to business. Through Peerby, products participate in a regenerative cycle. When members share items, they boost social capital and invest in their local community, while also contributing towards reducing environmental impacts. Savvy business strategy has seen Peerby grow into a worldwide service. But the initial idea was a lot less planned. Weddepohl’s house burnt down, and he lost all his belongings. In the fallout, he relied on his family and friends for places to stay and things to use. He realised that this situation of interdependency triggered by something so negative was, in fact, quite positive.




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Transforming from lonely consumers living in excess to a situation of interdependency strengthens relationships and creates a demand for products made in lower quantity but higher quality. Conventionally, companies design for obsolescence to secure business survival. On the contrary, Weddepohl’s model aligns the interests of consumers and manufacturers. He wants to see products designed to last and be shared, for which consumers will willingly pay a higher price.

Where similar ventures have failed, Weddepohl has succeeded because Peerby supports a range of products. Rather than a niche market, such as real estate, the platform participates in a large, varied market. After becoming the biggest sharing platform in the Netherlands and expanding to other countries, Weddepohl continues to scale up. He believes in moving milestones because keeping the journey going is as important for success as the destination itself.

Food Waste Tessa Clarke, Olio When did sharing food become weirder than wasting it? That is the motto of Tessa Clarke, who is tackling the global problem of food waste. Clarke’s foodsharing app, Olio, connects people who have food they no longer want with neighbours who want it. She is specifically targeting homes because the average family wastes €900 of food annually, amounting to €17 billion collectively. In the UK, the most popular product on Olio is tea because people experiment with flavours they end up disliking – but which others may like. Half of the food on the app is typically requested in an hour. People then stop by to pick up the food and get to meet a neighbour in the process. The only rule is that food cannot be shared after its use-by date. Clarke’s new model of consumption is circular, efficient and based on connecting people hyper-locally. The ‘lightbulb’ moment came when Clarke was packing to move back to the UK from Switzerland, and she still had lots of food leftover. She felt the need for a service to share her surplus food with people nearby. Founded in 2015, Olio has since shared 2.5 million portions of food from 1 million people across 49 countries; it is listed as one of the UK’s top three most successful disruptive companies; and, it even featured in the Duchess of Sussex’s guest edit of Vogue. As a business, efficiency and waste go hand in hand, and Clarke wants people to apply this thinking at home. By activating consumers, Olio is set to continue effectively contributing to the sharing economy. A

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successful business is always reliant on people, but increasingly on creating profit with purpose. So Clarke is determined to continue boosting Olio’s strong community hubs worldwide to generate profit with positively impactful purpose.


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“I have one mantra and it’s ‘culture trumps strategy’. I’m a big believer that if you get your organisational culture right, strategy takes care of itself.”


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Nikhil Pati CEO, GO

“In an environment where you give people responsibility, give them the tools to achieve their targets, and get out of their way.” Firm in the belief that people should be at the core of any business, GO CEO Nikhil Patil shares his insights on how to keep clients and employees close, while moving towards bigger and brighter successes.

HUMANS ARE OFTEN DESCRIBED as creatures of habit. We identify patterns, settle into them, and slowly watch them turn into our lives’ constants. Family, the mountains back home, and a love for reading are among Nikhil Patil’s most valued constants. The learning process is another top contender, and this explains, in part, why his role as GO CEO holds such esteem in his life. “I love my job,” he says. “You learn new things everyday. There’s always something to improve, a relationship to build, a customer to satisfy. The challenge is in being able to take a step back and have a balcony moment with that new knowledge. This is so important. As a leader, it’s so easy to have your

whole day wrapped up in meetings, and just doing things, but you need to take time to think about the bigger picture.” The broader view is necessary too when appreciating Nikhil’s journey over the years. While he has been GO’s CEO for just over a year now, his history with the company spans over a decade and a half. Back in 2005, when GO was still Maltacom, Nikhil led the acquisition of the Government’s stake in the company for TECOM. He later took on the position of GO non-executive director, working hand-inhand with senior management to define and implement its strategy. This resulted in a number

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of acquisitions that saw GO expand into Cyprus, tripling their addressable market size, and successfully spin off new companies altogether. In 2016, however, he had to walk away. “The investor company I was a part of sold their stake in GO, so I had to leave,” Nikhil explains. While some may have seen that as the end of the line, Nikhil saw it as an opportunity. “It actually opened up a chance for me to run the spinoff Malta Property Company as CEO. I was there for three years, learning and growing the company.” The experience proved critical when Nikhil eventually found out that GO was on the hunt for a new CEO. “They wanted somebody who understood Malta well; someone who understood GO and telecoms. And had local experience being a CEO,” he smiles. “I was in the right place at the right time.” Revealing key insights into his leadership style, it’s easy to see that intention and specificity are key ingredients in Nikhil’s modus operandi. “I have one mantra and it’s ‘culture trumps strategy’. I’m a big believer that if you get your organisational culture right, strategy takes care of itself.” And while the influence of a positive work culture is outlined in all business books worth their salt, building and maintaining one in the real world is still a heady challenge for most. For Nikhil, it starts with the idea of treating others the way you want to be treated. “I have always been lucky to be in environments where I was given responsibility, I was given targets, I was given guidance. And I was led to achieve those targets without being micromanaged. I figured that in an environment where you give people responsibility, give them the tools to achieve their targets, and just get out of their way, you can get a lot done. It wasn’t a realisation as much as it was me asking myself; how would I like to be treated in a company? Then I turned it around.”

This focus on people is a theme that comes up time and time again throughout our conversation. It can even be noted in Nikhil’s approach to GO’s business. “I think the best thing about my job is connecting customers to what matters to them,” he says, and a major part of this is making sure to listen to the client’s needs and wants. “I have a metric where every month I ask every employee to ask at least three customers what they would like to see from GO. And so, just by talking to people, we get to see what is hiding behind the formal research and data that we have.” This is part of a larger effort to flip the company mindset from product centric to customer centric. “What we used to do was design products and then try to find customers

CEO INSIGHT “The biggest lesson my job has taught me is that listening is 10 times more valuable than talking. By nature, I’m a talker, so it’s easy for me to talk and communicate. And that is a good skill to have as a leader. But many times, being a CEO means that if you start talking, people just stop and give you all the time in the world to talk. That means you’re not learning. I’m humble enough to know that I don’t know everything there is to know, so it’s just something I consciously practice.”


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to sell them to. But this limits us, it limits what we can sell,” Nikhil points out. By putting the client at the centre of the equation, the immediate effect is that products are designed for a specific audience. “It allows us to transcend the boundaries of the DNA, to go beyond telecommunications. You start thinking of all things digital. And that’s how we’re trying to change things now. What does that mean in real terms? It means we question our products, and the first question is always: how does this add value to our customers?” The shift in philosophy is something Nikhil wants to communicate and enact throughout the company. “This can’t just be a statement,” he emphasises, “but a set of actionable values. The challenge is in figuring out how we can deliver on those values as an organisation.” Nikhil tests the effectiveness of value communication yearly, making a series of phone calls and inquiries via chat to GO customer care representatives. “I ask: ‘My

toaster is broken. What do I do?’” The right answer would be to ask about the brand of toaster and find the answer for their question. The wrong answer would be to tell the client that we don’t fix toasters. It’s about connecting customers to what matters to them. Always. It’s a small thing, but it makes a big difference.” The tangible result of Nikhil’s leadership, despite the relatively short period, is already evident. Last year, GO successfully listed BMIT as a publicly listed company. “It was an investment of €20 million that was transformed into €100 million. That was a key focus. We still control the company and own 50 per cent of it.” GO also continued the roll out of its true fibre network, covering about 110,000 households and businesses of Malta’s 300,000 total. 2020 will be dedicated to hitting another 25,000 households, a significant step towards hitting the 80 per cent to 90 per cent true fibre

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penetration across all of Malta within five years. “That is the top priority,” Nikhil asserts. “We are investing more than €100 million, and the network is so advanced, so state of the art, that even our competitors have decided to use it instead of building their own.” New frontiers will also hold an important place in the agenda this year. 2020 will not only see the launch of mobile operation in Cyprus, capitalising on the expanded customer base, but also the beginnings of investment in Malta’s future through GO ventures, keeping the company at the forefront of new ideas. “With GO ventures we are investing in five-to-10 start-ups every year to actually build up the start-up economy and the venture capital framework which supports it. The idea is to provide capital, infrastructure and access to customers to start-ups that want to be based in Malta. Investing here, helps us to make sure we continue to be successful. Malta’s success is GO’s success.”

CEO FAVOURITES Quick-fire Questions… with Nikhil Patil What was the first thing you did this morning? A five-minute meditation. What’s your favourite thing in your office? My meeting table, which was repurposed from a cable drum made by GO employees. What excites you most about working in your sector? The constant pace of change in technology. Gourmet dining or home-made cooking? Depends who’s cooking. If could have any super power, what would it be? Time travel. What’s something you’d still like to learn? To speak Maltese. What’s the best thing about running a business in Malta? The feeling of community and family. Business feels very personal here. And the worst thing? The challenges that come with Malta’s small size. Which is your favourite spot on the island? GO’s Marsa headquarters. Book, film, series, or music? The Outsiders, The Intelligent Investor and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. What’s your most-used app on your phone? Email or WhatsApp. Where do you read your news first? The Financial Times and local press. If you weren’t in this career, what would you be doing? Trying to find a way to make it to this career. Where do you hope to see the world in five years? I hope we manage to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees. How do you hope to spend your retirement? Not being retired. Outlook for 2020: positive or negative? Always positive.



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Compliance vs Innovation: How will regulatory changes affect the gaming industry’s innovation in the long run?


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Jurisdictions all over Europe have recently introduced a slew of regulatory and compliance changes for iGaming companies, the impacts of which are still being assessed and understood. Helena Grech catches up with industry players to gauge the real-term impacts of the changes.

MALTA, ITALY, BELGIUM, THE UK and Sweden are just the latest European countries to enact changes to gaming regulations and while some jurisdictions introduced welcome policy change others have frustrated operators in the space. Malta’s new Gaming Act came into force in July 2018 and was, by and large, met with praise due to the simplification and streamlining of gaming licensing classes. However, 2019 saw operators in Italy blindsided by an increase in taxation on revenue generated by gaming operators and, more recently, a blanket ban on advertising for gambling. Sweden officially opened its market to private operators while regulators in the UK have clamped down on high-stakes betting. Within the context of a changing regulatory framework, questions arise as to how operators are faring and whether the associated costs have had a negative impact on companies’ abilities to innovate. While technological advancements have heralded improvements within the sector, they have also posed challenges for regulators to keep up. Such challenges are further underscored by the need for legislators to strike a balance between fair taxation and the creation of a safe environment for gamers and gamblers. The General Counsel at Betsson Group, one of Malta’s largest gaming companies, Corinne Valletta, observes, “the iGaming sector has become one of the most regulated ones. Besides the gamingspecific regulations, which do not apply across different markets but is nowadays largely promulgated specifically in each

country, there are also horizontal rules applying to the sector.” She observes that “the rationale for the applicability of such rules to the sector is solid but it does come at a price. The sector has had to invest heavily in compliance and operations and, in companies such as ours, where our reach is international, this is even more true”. Dr Valletta says that Betsson’s compliance team now makes up over 20 individuals, a number which increased threefold in just five years. The operations teams dealing with anti-money laundering (AML), fraud and responsible gaming are made up of 100 individuals. “All this is apart from the several costly automated monitoring and checkpoint systems we have had to implement and the several audits we are subjected to on a yearly basis. This year alone, Betsson Group has been through over 10 technical and compliance audits,” Dr Valletta states. “Another clear impact is increasing competition we face in countries with highly restrictive rules, which are not enforced consistently by regulators, meaning that we have to compete with operators who do not obtain the available licence.” In light of this, Dr Valletta observes that nobody could argue with the “fact that increased regulation of the sector has impacted levels of innovation” and this is not just because of the additional costs needed to be compliant but also “because of the little leeway that is left when a market is regulated restrictively”. To put into context what it means for operators when new regulations are levied,



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Dr Valletta explains that the compliance team needs to prepare its interpretation of that rule, the technical team needs to embed it in its system and the operations and commercial teams need to determine how they will run it. On the other hand, however, she also argues that the current state of affairs, taken within the context of added competition in any given market, “has also enforced innovation in some ways”. Indeed, “companies must stay competitive and this is even more true on the internet. New products, new registration methods, new withdrawal techniques are always in the pipeline and, fortunately, this forces competition and the market to continue to thrive.” Asked which international changes in regulation have been the most cumbersome in Betsson’s experience and which have made the most sense, Dr Valletta identifies one change which, in her view, meets both criteria. “I’m talking about GDPR and data privacy,” she explains. “There can be no argument against the fact that iGaming companies process large amounts of data and have the possibility to use that data in many ways to their advantage. In fact, they can indeed be likened to any other software or internet company that has become a household name.” She concedes that the need for rules surrounding the use of such data have long been there but “the challenge with his new law is that it brought about an entirely new way of doing things”. “It has forced an altered way of thinking about business and data. Software companies have had to erase all they know about what they can or want to do with their customers’ data and start thinking and organising themselves in different ways,” Dr Valletta states, adding that once companies come to grips with how to handle GDPR “it’s quite straightforward to work with”.

“New products, new registration methods, new withdrawal techniques are always in the pipeline and, fortunately, this forces competition and the market to continue to thrive.” Corinne Valletta, General Counsel, Betsson Group

Speaking of regulatory changes in Malta brought about by the 2018 Gaming Act, Dr Valletta says the most sensible move was for operators to now organise themselves under one umbrella licence within the framework, “a key matter which was long overdue”. She adds that the 2018 Gaming Act “has done a lot of cleaning up of old rules which were no longer relevant to the industry because of developments in technology. They are also now drafted in a more comprehensive way and there is virtually nothing which is not covered by the regulation.” Dr Valletta views this as a “very positive aspect”, especially because the law provides “guidance of standards which may be lacking in other jurisdictions”. On the other side of the coin, however, lies the fact that such an approach makes “the regulation quite cumbersome to follow. There are many different levels of regulation which take some getting used to.” Asked whether it is a good time to be working in iGaming, Dr Valletta contends that in her “strictly personal (and biased) opinion, there can never be a time that is not


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“Forward looking operators are seeking good to be working in the gaming sector”. With 10 years of experience in the industry, she has witnessed tremendous change but, despite the downsides of regulation, she says it has, in some ways, also “forced further innovation which keeps it interesting for operators, regulators and suppliers alike.” Reuben Portanier, Partner at Afilexion Alliance, a corporate services provider and gaming advisory firm specialising in gaming licensing and advisory in the jurisdictions of Malta, Sweden, the UK, Denmark, Ireland and other EU jurisdictions, observes that the “traditional way of doing business has changed radically”. He said this while pointing towards regulatory changes in Malta, Sweden, the UK and Italy as well as preparatory work being undertaken by regulators in Germany and the Netherlands.

how to further innovate in order to overcome the compliance and operational cost base challenges that they are currently experiencing.” Rueben Portanier, Partner, Afilexion Alliance

“This is leading established and medium sized operators to question their strategies and, consequently, we are seeing an unprecedented wave of operators voluntarily exiting certain markets or operators seeking further amalgamations in an attempt to gain economies of scale in operational and compliance costs,” he argues. “Forward looking operators are seeking how to further innovate in order to overcome the compliance and operational cost base challenges that they are currently experiencing.” In view of the rising costs in relation to compliance, he says: “the innovation budget may initially be the first to suffer in the short term, however, the pressure to reinstate previous performances is igniting the need to innovate, especially due to advertising restrictions and the need to re-establish a position of strength in the market.” Analysing the most unwieldly regulatory changes in Europe, Mr Portanier quickly points to the ‘welcome bonus’ restriction in Sweden, “as it did not properly achieve the policymaker’s responsible gambling objective whilst it also negatively affected Swedish licensees”. Agreeing with Dr Valletta, Mr Portanier believes that Malta’s streamlining of gaming licence categories was the regulatory change that made most sense. Additionally, “the adoption of right-touch regulation with respect to start-ups was, in my view, a change which showed that the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA) understands the market and that start-ups need to be dealt with differently compared to established operators.” Speaking about Afilexion Alliance’s experience with serving gaming partners in any EU jurisdiction they intended to enter, Mr Portanier explains that this was quite an undertaking as it meant investing time and resources in understanding various jurisdictions. He adds that keeping abreast of changes, however small or significant, to properly serve their clients has been a challenging but rewarding job.




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Head of Business Development at E&S Group, Deborah Vella, asserts that advances in the iGaming sector have brought numerous opportunities in the EU for both players and operators but, sadly, such opportunities increased money laundering detection”, which has resulted in “a much more complex environment in which gaming companies operate”. Echoing concerns raised about differences in regulation between European jurisdictions, Dr Vella says: “the European Gaming and Betting Association (EGBA) is once again highlighting to the European Commission and numerous European member states their continued failure to provide a uniform online gambling guidelines rulebook and regulations on consumer protection for gamblers of EU-based sites. However, I am of the belief that we shall soon have uniformity in the regulation of the iGaming industry across EU countries.”

“Fines associated with non-compliance would mean a significant outflow of resources as well as a negative impact on the company’s reputation.” Deborah Vella, Head of Business Development, E&S Group

Moving on to whether the regulations have hindered compliance, she too considers the long-term results of added obligations, “as this will be an opportunity to improve the perception and image of the iGaming industry of various stakeholders.” Dr Vella adds that “fines associated with non-compliance would mean a significant outflow of resources as well as a negative impact on the company’s reputation”. Homing in on the issue of cumbersome regulation, Dr Vella wishes to see more open and inclusive dialogue take place between regulators and operators as well as a clear set of unified guidelines in view of increased compliance obligations. “Jurisdictions such as Portugal, France and Italy have aggressive regulations on iGaming which mainly relate to very high tax rates for online casinos. Players are also restricted to their regions, thereby reducing other gambling options. This is considered to be a negative and restrictive attitude towards the gaming sector and, rather than regulating the industry, it is creating an unfeasible environment for gaming operators.”

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Dr Vella points out that the most important change brought about by Malta’s new gaming law is the replacement of the multi- licensed system by what are now two forms of licences: Business-to-Consumer (B2C) and Business to Business (B2B), thereby reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. “On the other hand, a less favourable provision is that only applicants who are based within the European Economic Area are eligible to hold a licence. This may be considered as a safe approach by the MGA in order to safeguard Malta as a reputable jurisdiction.” Looking ahead, Dr Vella concludes that “in 2019, iGaming companies are still struggling to meet all of the increased compliance requirements. I think that devoting resources to compliance should be seen as an investment in the company’s image while also promoting the business.”


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PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE

“I follow a President whose

trademark was philanthropy. One will have to try to do whatever one can to keep pace while, at the same time, trying to introduce other things.”


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“The moment I started thinking about what needed to be done felt like a new lease on life” With an impressive political career spanning four decades, President of Malta, H.E. George Vella believes that it’s not a question of age, but rather to whether one feels up to the task. “It’s a question of feeling that you can perform your duties as expected – then it’s up to posterity to decide whether you’ve actually done your job or not.” He discusses his hopes and priorities for the Presidency with Sarah Micallef.

HAVING HAD AN ACTIVE role in local politics since starting his parliamentary career in 1976, H.E. George Vella, a medical doctor by profession, initially announced his retirement from active parliamentary life prior to the 2017 general election. I caught up with him following his official appointment as the tenth President of the Republic of Malta in April, and asked: had he found it difficult to cope with the slowdown and did this have anything to do with his acceptance of this new role? “How did you know? That’s exactly what happened!” Dr Vella muses. “In the first few months, I was happy that I was free to do whatever I wanted, but, then, boredom started to set in. It started becoming tedious, and I think that is when whoever wanted to see me in this office began to see chinks in the armour,” he smiles. Admitting that this feeling contributed to his acceptance of the role, Dr Vella says, “the

moment I decided and started thinking seriously about what needed to be done, it was like a new lease on life – you feel like you are where you belong.” As the tenth President of Malta, H.E. George Vella announced several priorities in his inaugural speech last April, including fair distribution of wealth; social welfare and quality of life for all; education and environmental sustainability; as well as a commitment to strengthening national unity. “This unity does not come about by merely wishing for it. We have to work hard to achieve it. There, undoubtedly, remains the need and space for different and divergent opinions, but, in the same fashion, a genuine and reciprocal respect needs to prevail,” he said. Referencing the speech, Dr Vella reiterates his wish to achieve the targets set out, while acknowledging that there will also be other

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“I don’t want the [constitutional reform] process to be confined to the political parties – the constitution belongs to everybody, so it has to be open to everybody.”

priorities. “I honestly wish that what I spoke about will be achieved, but one must also keep his feet on the ground and accept that some things will need to be put on the backburner when more urgent issues arise,” he maintains, noting also the importance of continuing the philanthropic legacy of his predecessor, President Emeritus Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca. “I follow a President whose trademark was philanthropy. One will have to try to do whatever one can to keep pace while, at the same time, trying to introduce other things. There are other areas which need immediate and urgent attention, but it’s still early days, and I will try to put systems in place which will enable me to maintain overall control without micromanaging things myself, putting me in a position to dedicate time to my other objectives,” he asserts. On the subject of philanthropy, I draw his attention to the Community Chest Fund, and ask for his thoughts on its management, moving forward. Dr Vella points out a number of issues which he would like to deal with, maintaining that “there could have been more controls, more planning, and it also could have been more selective in how funds are distributed.”


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because, in every system, there can be abuse – not abuse by who is administering the process, but people do try to abuse the system. I would rather have the butter spread where it is needed rather than have it spread too thinly so that no one can taste it,” he affirms. During his inaugural speech, Dr Vella also spoke about his role as guardian of the constitution, sharing his belief that the process for its revision should be as broad as possible, including the involvement of MPs, experts, NGOs and civil society in general. Speaking on his role within the Constitutional Reform Committee, he says, “work has started, though it is still in its early stages. We are going to open things up for anybody who wants to contribute to the debate. This will include a website to which everyone can add their contribution, and this will be included in the list of recommendations and reports to be analysed. The message is that I don’t want the process to be confined to the political parties – the constitution belongs to everybody, so it has to be open to everybody.”

He goes on to express dissatisfaction with the way funds are collected and managed throughout the year. Referring to L-Istrina in particular, he explains that “most people wait for L-Istrina to come around in order to contribute, but the expenses are constant, throughout the year, creating an issue of cash flow. I would prefer a situation in which there is a regular income – so, for example, rather than €12 at the end of the year, for example, I’d rather have €1 a month.” “We are actually rethinking how we can rationalise this, and possibly find new ways of attracting donations,” he continues, adding that he would also like to implement certain controls on how the funds are distributed. “There needs to be controls

Following the collection of data, the President maintains that the committee will then formulate an idea of which parts of the constitution are mentioned most frequently, giving those areas priority. “It’s interesting albeit not an easy process, and it’s going to take some time,” he affirms, projecting a timeline of two to three years for the process to be concluded. “This does not exclude the possibility of an agreement pertaining to more urgent issues being arrived at beforehand. If there is a common stand and we agree on it, I am not excluding that it will be published before the rest of the process,” Dr Vella maintains. Asked whether he envisions the changes to be radical, the President asserts that, while it’s difficult to tell what will come out of the process, he does not foresee extreme changes. “It’s like opening a Pandora’s Box. We don’t know what is going to be brought up or what proposals there will be. I don’t think it will be radical in the sense that we have a constitution which has been working up till now, so what I think we need is to refine it in view of past experiences.”


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Linked to this, I ask whether he feels that his role as President, as stipulated in the constitution, is sufficient, or whether it should be more substantial. Stating that he wouldn’t change anything from the remit and powers of the Presidency, Dr Vella asserts, “I was always averse to power being concentrated in any one person. I believe that acting as a moral compass is the role in the present and it is what we are accustomed to expect, but if valid arguments are brought forward campaigning for more power to be vested within the role – without going over to the other side of the pendulum – then I wouldn’t exclude them either. One thing I would like to see, and which I will insist on, is the that the President be elected by two thirds majority from Parliament and removed by two thirds majority. Currently, a President is nominated by a simple majority and can also be removed by a simple majority. I think the office should have a certain amount of security of tenure.” Taking the opportunity to pick Dr Vella’s brain about developments beyond Malta’s shores, I draw on his years as Foreign Minister to first delve into his outlook relating to the difficult situation unfolding in Palestine and Israel. “In short, the outlook is very bleak,” he sighs, as we discuss whether the European Union can involve itself more. “There is no consensus on the issue, so the EU can’t get involved. I am sorry to say this, but I feel that there isn’t the sympathy that there used to be in the past towards the Palestinian question. Attention is being deviated to a bigger issue, which is Iran. It’s a difficult situation, and what this will bring about is further extremism – both from the Palestinians as well as from the Israeli side,” he says.

“One thing I would like to see, and which I will insist on, is the that the President be elected by two thirds majority from Parliament and removed by two thirds majority.”

The situation in Libya has also deteriorated in the last months. Having personally worked on various initiatives for a resolution, Dr Vella gives his perspective on the situation, which he says, “has gotten out of hand.” “One can see the diverging interests of foreign countries playing themselves out on this chessboard, to the detriment of the Libyan population. Nobody is really looking after the interests of the man on the street. At the moment, Khalifa Haftar’s army is planning to go into Tripoli, simply to occupy territory, which will bring Libya back to where they started – another military man in command, absolutely not wanting to have any civilian controls on the way he runs the army. If he manages to take Tripoli, the big question will be whether he decides to move beyond Tripoli on to Misurata and Sirte,” he says, expressing his fear that if Haftar reaches Misurata, “it will be a blood bath, and it will mean an increase in migrants attempting to escape persecution.” Over on the other side of the pond, we have Brexit. What is the President’s take on the fact that the UK will now have a new Prime Minister and Head of the Conservative Party? “I can’t really tell you much about that, because nobody knows exactly what’s happening, not even the British themselves! The fact that Britain is in this mess is a cause for concern, because it means that either democracy hasn’t worked, or that democracy has been abused. The race for the leadership of the Tory party is going to be a hell of a game, and we’re going to see a lot of knives being drawn out. The issue is that even when they come to choose, they’re still be back where they started from – Brussels has said that this is as far as they will go. It’s very difficult to make predictions, so let’s see what happens. As of now, there is no Tory leader, no plan and no policy,” he asserts. While certainly much remains to be seen, it is evident that, age notwithstanding, H.E. George Vella has his finger firmly on the pulse of it all, both on a local and an international level. The tenth President of Malta has big plans indeed, and it will be interesting to see how they unfold.



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PHOTOS BY TYLER CALLEJA JACKSON

A Fresh Start With the Pressto chain having more than 400 establishments in 25 markets, Emma Mattei speaks to its Country Manager, Alan Azzopardi, about the new laundry franchise to hit these shores and what the future holds for it across the Maltese islands.

THE AWARD-WINNING, INTERNATIONAL laundry chain Pressto has seen many changes since it opened its first dry cleaners in the district of Chamberí, in Madrid in 1994. From Qatar to Australia, from Peru to Angola, Pressto has been providing laundry-related services for 25 years while successfully bridging cultural diversities through its cleaning, ironing and integrated care for all types of garments, using a system that is efficient and offering pricing that is competitive. Upon entering the bright, newly-opened Pressto premises in Saint Julian’s, you’re immediately greeted by the giddy smell of fresh laundry and there’s nothing better than that, except perhaps that of brewing coffee! Alan Azzopardi descends from the upper levels, looking dapper and wearing a warm and welcoming smile. Not the usual run-of-the-mill launderette, where one kills time while the load spins, this feels more like a co-working space that offers a pleasant and calming environment in which to work off your laptop, read or even hang out if you’re doing laundry with a friend. Alan shares his thoughts about addressing the gaps in the market. To catch up with evolving, fast-paced lifestyles, “we offer a holistic service for customers; we don’t just do laundry. We also offer Pressto+Plus, which includes dry cleaning, wet cleaning, pressing, tailoring, ozone cleaning, express services, bag and shoe cleaning, luggage lockers for people on the move and other additional services such as free WiFi for customers. We’ll even


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“We offer a holistic service for customers; we don’t just do laundry.”

print out your boarding pass should you need.” The fast-growing expat community in Malta is largely a young workforce who are time poor and there’s no doubt that Pressto is especially appealing to them. Alan explains: “expats usually create associations and communities to share all kinds of things and help each other out. We consider this an opportunity to make us well-known among their members and we have designed micro-marketing actions targeting these communities. In fact, most of our customers are expats.” Locally, we do not have a culture of outsourcing our laundry needs, though, in these changing times, the convenience of having your laundry washed, pressed and delivered might indeed catch on, not to mention being able to make use of the other services available and the turnaround time offered. “The local market is an important one to us,” says Alan. “So far, clients have confirmed that our service is easy, fast and reasonably priced, saving


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them time and money. This has been a positive response and makes our brand attractive – a trend we’re aiming to continue.” In terms of service culture, Pressto’s intention is to improve the shopping experience by offering a solution for each necessity, to pleasantly surprise the customer upon entering the premises. Furthermore, Pressto is constantly striving to lessen its carbon footprint by introducing environmentally friendly materials across all services, such as ecological coat hangers, biodegradable plastics and materials which can be reused. “All our soaps are biodegradables, which also reduces the risk of allergic reactions. Little by little, we are removing all plastics from our stores by offering reusable products to our

“Expats usually create associations and communities to share all kinds of things and help each other out. We consider this an opportunity to make us well-known among their members.”


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“We try to adapt to the growing demand for different services, such as helmet cleaning, baby’s items, rugs – you name it, we clean it.”

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customers, such as laundry bags and sacks,” says Alan, adding “and, of course, our washers have automatic load-sensing, so just the right amount of water and soap are added, based on the weight of the load. Thanks to the effectiveness of ours soap programmes that use medium temperature water, we do our best to minimise our impact on the environment. All our washing processes, which have been designed by Pressto, run for an average time of 30 minutes.” Currently, Pressto offers delivery and pickup services in zones close to their shop in Saint Julian’s, with the aim of extending the service to other zones. A smaller outlet is due to open in Sliema, with new premises opening up in Bugibba too by the end of the year, where Pressto will indeed be able to extend their services to another part of the island. While it might be a little overwhelming upon entering the laundry for the first time, where you’ll need to choose from a selection of services and bundles, staff is to hand to assist you, Alan explains. “While the customer is the one using the washing machines in the self-service section, the assisted service goes a step further: the customer only needs to deliver the garments to the shop and our staff take care of the cleaning process.” The local staff members


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“Our washers have automatic loadsensing, so just the right amount of water and soap are added, based on the weight of the load.”

are trained to ensure the customer is able to find the right services for them, as are the technicians who regularly service the machines. In keeping with the millennial approach to living, an app is being created that will allow customers to order home pickups and deliveries, find the nearest store and follow up on offers, promotions and special services. It is due to be launched by end of 2019, giving clients more control over how and when to use the laundry’s services. Pressto’s can-do attitude means they try not to turn anything down. “We try to adapt to the growing demand for different services, such as helmet

cleaning, baby’s items, rugs – you name it, we clean it. We want our customers to return, satisfied, so we customise our services and tailor them to the individual, who is our primary market. I believe the concept is good enough for it to take off on its own. It has now been introduced and I believe it will sell itself,” concludes Alan. There’s a vibrancy to Pressto, also noticeable across its website and printed materials, which gives clients a good sense of how the brand achieved global success – by combining research and expertise with warmth and good humour, truly taking a load off our feet.



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PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE

“By the end of the next five years, I want to be working with the next generation of leaders across all the companies I am involved with, and to be passing on everything I have learnt to them.”


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Maria Micallef CEO of General Soft Drinks, Waterfront Hotel and Arkadia Group “Sustainability is crucial to every business today, no matter what sector they operate in.” Having joined General Soft Drinks aged 20, Maria Micallef rose through the ranks to become its CEO, as well as the CEO of the Waterfront Hotel and Arkadia Group. As part of her portfolio of responsibilities she oversees €100 million in turnover and 900 staff, while keeping a constant eye on her carefully-curated strategy for the next five years.

‘WHAT AN ADVENTURE IT’S been so far’. That’s what comes to mind as Maria Micallef charts her ever-evolving expedition in business, and her constant desire to advance and innovate. Hers is a fascinating story that starts when she began her studies at university in her late teens. Although she’d wanted to be a pharmacist, the course wasn’t open that year, so she opted to study chemistry and biology instead. In hindsight, that appears to have been a crossroad moment in her life and nothing was ever the same again. “As a newly-graduated chemist I applied for a job at General Soft Drinks because,

at the time, the company was concerned about possible nitrates in the water table and it needed to run a chemical analysis. I was the first full-time chemist they employed, and I certainly wasn’t planning to go into business.” But, like with most things in life, Maria soon found herself on her rightful path, and she progressed quickly in the organisation. Having organised the laboratory as her first assignment, she was appointed operations manager at 24 and given responsibility on the production side of things, while also maintaining her focus on quality.


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“The company was led successively by British and Canadian general managers at the time,” she explains. “So part of my role was to help them communicate with the workforce and the union, and to provide them with any local context they might need to get the job done in the best way possible. I was by their side constantly, and their guidance certainly helped to mould me at a very crucial time in my own career.”

Although ambitious, Maria says she never envisioned she would be where she is today, but her climb up the ladder came very naturally. “Things happened, opportunities presented themselves, and I never thought too much about them – I just went for them,” she smiles. “That’s the advantage of youth! Today I reflect on things more, which has its benefits too, of course. But I don’t think I would be where I am today if I hadn’t just gone with it.”


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CEO INSIGHT “I start my day by scanning the papers, as it gives me the insight I need for the day ahead. I try to fit in a walk first thing and am then out of the house by 9am, and usually in the office until 9pm. The biggest change I have made to my work/life balance is not to work my weekends anymore. These days they are dedicated to other passions, and they help me to shut off.”

By the age of 28, Maria was appointed general manager of GSD. It was a time when the company was losing money and had lost its direction a little. “It’s very easy to lose money in any business if you don’t focus your objectives. I went into the role at the right time and managed to mobilise the workforce, which turned out to be a defining moment for the company. I led by example when it came to the way we needed to work and people responded to that. It has remained a cornerstone of my leadership style ever since.” For Maria, leadership very much centres around identifying a company’s vision and bringing it to life, before outlining the objectives and fleshing them out over a one-, three- and five-year plan. “Along with that, you have to have the right people to execute,” she recommends. “The right team is the secret to success every time. In fact, my own success at GSD has been the result of the fantastic teams at various levels of the operation.” And as things at GSD started to improve, Maria also found herself with other exciting opportunities to consider. Brian Mizzi, GSD’s chairman, asked her for help with other companies within the Group portfolio and, when she originally turned them down because she felt she had already reached the peak of her career, he encouraged her to take them on. “The first was as executive director of IELS,” she remembers. “The organisation wasn’t performing at the time and needed a fresh approach. It already had a great team but just needed a new vision, and we were able to turn it around.”


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CEO FAVOURITES Quick-fire Questions… with Maria Micallef Turning things around’ is something Maria has achieved a reputation for since then, and she has gone on to make magic when leading other companies in the Group over the years, including the Waterfront Hotel and Arkadia Group (both of which she is CEO of today). Across all the companies, she is now responsible for almost €100 million in turnover and 900 employees. “I go where I am needed,” she says happily, when asked to share the secret to her approach. “And I always have a plan.” Today, Maria says that plan is made up of three clear objectives – namely to make sure everything she is working on has an upto-date five-year strategy, to have the right people to enact that strategy, and to make the companies as sustainable as possible. “Sustainability is crucial to every business today, no matter what sector they operate in,” she stresses. “Here at GSD, it is one of our pillars and we have countless projects on the go to ensure we are as sustainable as possible. Water, for instance, is our number one concern, and the Coca Cola company has been dedicated to protecting and boosting international water security for decades now. A few years ago, the global company set clear goals for each of its subsidiaries to hit by 2020 but, locally, we hit ours in 2015. They now see Malta as a pilot project for what can be achieved across the world, which is such an honour for us.” As she looks towards 2020 and beyond, Maria says she is more determined than ever by the challenges and opportunities ahead, and already knows what she wants to achieve in the next five years. “I will be focusing on building strong teams and have already started work on my succession. I don’t want to stop working at 55 – far from it – but I do know I want to move on to other roles in the organisation. So, by the end of the next five years, I would like to be working with the next generation of leaders across all the companies I am involved with, and to be passing on everything I have learnt to them.” And with her eye firmly on the prize, she believes the coming year will be one that continues to position the companies she leads at the forefront of their respective industries – both in terms of their financial performance and when it comes to the targets that have been set for sustainability and human resources. “2020 is going to be an interesting year because we do need to keep a close eye on the economy and other important impacts like Brexit and sustainability. I believe it will be a good year but, now more than ever, we have to keep our feet on the ground,” she concludes.

What was the first thing you did this morning? I read the papers. What’s your favourite thing in your office? My office chair. What excites you most about working in your sector? Getting results and transmitting my passion to our people. Gourmet dining or home-made cooking? Home-made, although I haven’t cooked in 20 years! Thankfully my partner does the cooking. If could have any super power, what would it be? To see into the future. What’s something you’d still like to learn? I make sure to learn something every single day. What’s the best thing about running a business in Malta? Getting things done quickly. And the worst thing? I hate bureaucracy, especially when it’s an excuse for things not to get done. Which is your favourite spot on the island? Birgu, where we live – I can see the Grand Harbour from my balcony. Book, film, series, or music? I love watching series – I am currently catching up on Poldark. What’s your most-used app on your phone? Instagram. Having resisted social media for a long time, I now quite enjoy it. Where do you read your news first? The local papers and LinkedIn. If you weren’t in this career, what would you be doing? I’d be a pharmacist. Where do you hope to see the world in five years? More humane than it currently is. How do you hope to spend your retirement? Travelling. Outlook for 2020: positive or negative? Positive.



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What’s in store? Assessing the future of Malta’s property sector Is the property sector experiencing a bubble? Is demand really outweighing supply? Or are property prices truly beginning to decline? Caroline Curmi speaks to four professionals in the real estate sector to clarify the current state of Malta’s property industry.

IN RECENT YEARS MALTA’S structured landscape has undergone an unprecedented transformation and today it encompasses a mix of charming old houses, tall apartment blocks and multi-level business spaces. Considering the influx of international businesses settling in Malta, is the possibility of the island running out of property spaces – both residential and commercial – a ticking time-bomb? Although property has long been a topic of major debate in Malta, this past decade – which has witnessed a boom – has seen it trump issues such as health and safety and top the list of anxiety-inducing stressors. The variables in this formula have evolved as time, and the economy, progressed, and current concerns are diametrically opposite to those that characterised the early years of the decade. The exorbitant amount of vacant properties, for example, had long been an issue of intense discussion


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“The property market will continue to do well as long as we do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” Douglas Salt, Director, Frank Salt Real Estate

and speculation, but the lack of tangible studies often left one to rely on public narrative to source indicators on the topic, a situation which downplayed the matter’s urgency. Even in present days, not much information is available in terms of comparable national statistics. The last official study was published through the 2011 Census of Population and Housing, which provided a degree of insight into the local housing phenomenon in postrecession Malta. Figures at the time indicated that out of a total of 223, 850 residential structures, 71,080 were unoccupied dwellings.

an interesting observation. At the time, 71 per cent of buildings in Malta were occupied, a figure which lowered drastically when the focus was shifted to Gozo, with 46 per cent of its available edifices left largely vacant.

While the quantity watered down to 41,232, or 20 per cent of all houses in Malta, over the summer period to reflect seasonal tourism and migration trends, the general unoccupancy rate stood at 32 per cent. The variance experienced between the two main islands provides

For a population which had just exceeded the 400,000 mark, the figures may have appeared astronomical, but for the present-day population which is set to push past half a million by 2020, the tables have turned. Anxieties have now shifted from vacant dwellings to



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While estate agents and property professionals are largely in agreement that Malta is well-equipped to deal with a population influx, Engel & Völkers Sara Grech Managing Director Benjamin Tabone Grech believes that the situation prevalent throughout the decade’s early years is far from being mitigated. “I urge you to embark on a small study,” Mr Tabone Grech says, while suggesting that a camera should be set up to point at Tower Road, Sliema. “You tell me for the hundreds of units, how many lights over a three-week period never turn on?” If this is the case, then what makes it so difficult to find accommodation irrespective of earning a decent living? Despite the general narrative dictating that the financial packages being offered to iGaming industry workers are the root cause of the dramatic upward shift in property prices, Zanzi Homes CEO and co-Founder Steve Mercieca believes there’s another dimension to this predicament. He points out to what he believes are two crucial elements: Malta’s attractive tax incentives offered to foreign businesses and the island’s increase in popularity.

the increasingly apparent lack of such structures. These stresses are being felt by locals and expats alike, with many currently experiencing difficulties in securing – either renting or purchasing – economically viable accommodation with the added assurance of a high quality of living. In reaction to current trends, the construction industry has capitalised on the situation and initiated multiple developments. Initially welcomed, these actions are now often being labelled as an overly excessive move by the general public and many environmental lobbyists, who are concerned over both the diminishing availability of green areas and the consequential side-effects of mass erection. One of these consequences is a similar yet different take on the 2011 dilemma.

“Since the introduction of new apps such as Airbnb, Booking.com and Instagram, Malta’s popularity has soared,” Mr Mercieca says, while adding that “interviews with people like Nas Daily have revealed the Mediterranean’s best hidden secret.” This, according to Mr Mercieca, has led to a holiday letting business boom on local shores. He reveals that during peak season, many properties are put up for short lets to cater for the huge number of tourists that flood the islands: “In 2017 alone, 43 per cent of the 2.2 million tourists opted for private accommodation.”

“I believe that the market is in need of smaller residential units.” Henry Zammit, Franchise Owner, Ben Estates


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“To keep Malta popular we must keep it clean and attractive.” Steve Mercieca, CEO and Co-Founder, Zanzi Homes

Director of Frank Salt Real Estate, Douglas Salt, believes that the problem encountered by some of not managing to find lodging at the right price is mostly down to some landlords’ greed. While he does not believe that this problem will ruin the market entirely, he concedes that such attitudes may prove to be a difficult dent to fix. “The property market will continue to do well,” Mr Salt says, but warns that this will only be possible if landlords “do not kill the goose that lays the golden egg.” According to Mr Tabone Grech, it is now becoming clearer to landlords that past trends no longer apply. He believes that landlords who “have understood this have rented their properties and found good, reliable tenants,” but laments that there are still those who persevere in retaining high prices and as a result “either manage to obtain a tenant who can pay a high price but is less reliable or leave their property vacant without generating an income.” According to Ben Estates Franchise Owner, Henry Zammit, the onus is not so much on realtors but on the construction industry itself. Demands have evolved from previous years and a distinction needs to be drawn to cater for property requirements for both locals and expats. In order to address this, contractors and investors need to be aware of current trends. “I believe that the market is in need of smaller residential units,” Mr Zammit states, while insisting that such a move would “help the pricing of the rental market.”

Mr Mercieca continues that before, “properties were undervalued”. The huge demand generated from an influx of both international workers and tourists to the island did not meet the available supply, thus resulting in several lower-quality structures being let out at similar prices to more comfortable and luxurious ones. He is adamant that such properties will start being rented out at a more appropriate price point to reflect their true worth, while “new, modern apartments serviced by lifts will be rented out for around €1,200 per month.”

Noteworthy is the apparent lack of one-bedroom apartments, for which there seems to be an increasingly higher demand. Mr Tabone Grech expands on this as he makes reference to earlier observations that apartments with a smaller number of bedrooms would result in a more profitable endeavour for developers. While some developers paid heed to this advice, others did not and Mr Tabone Grech reveals that “we now see that larger, three-bedroom units cannot obtain the same prices per square metre as two-bedroom units.” The interviewees are all in agreement that although a dip in property prices does not feature in their market forecasts, fluctuations in property prices are currently heading towards a point of stabilisation. Mr Tabone Grech draws back to his previous comments on landlord and developer conduct: “those who build exceptional quality and are aware of what quality really is will be able to obtain much better prices for the property in comparison to others.”




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Similarly, Mr Salt believes that a good supply is guaranteed to better ease the demands of the market, however, this ultimately depends on developers. “The biggest challenges will be ensuring affordability and convincing players to improve standards and design to cater for a growing middle class,” Mr Salt insists, adding that this would require “more outside space, even if communal, and more attention to environmental factors.” For Mr Mercieca, more awareness on sustainability and the environment are necessary for the industry to truly thrive and move forward in accordance with the times. He is mindful of the many steps such a direction would involve to implement, but is hopeful for better cross-industry regulations. While he acknowledges that large companies setting up a local base help the country attract further investment, Mr Mercieca draws attention to crucial factors – and their implications – that need to be observed: “to keep Malta popular we must keep it clean and attractive.” Mr Tabone Grech builds on this, and calls for more cautious procedures to be implemented and respected. “The demand is nowhere near as numerous as the number of units coming to the market,” he reveals, adding that rather than focusing on building structures in a rash manner, the priority should be “the quality of the sale property portfolio.”

“The demand is nowhere near as numerous as the number of units coming to the market.” Benjamin Tabone Grech, Managing Director, Engel & Völkers Sara Grech

While it seems unlikely that the amount of available properties will diminish, the issues of vacant dwellings, rental mismanagement and flawed construction and design strategies are all contributors to the situation tenants are currently facing. What is clear is that professionals in the field need to pool together to meet consumer requirements, while the prospect of a more stable rental market and more stringent regulations will certainly facilitate the task of finding appropriately priced and viable accommodation.


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PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE

Diane Izzo CEO, Dizz Group

“Consistency creates long-term, positive habits that will ensure you are successful in the long run.” As the main driver behind Malta’s most successful fashion house, DIZZ Group CEO Diane Izzo runs an empire of luxury and fast-fashion brands. For 2020, she is shifting her focus towards consolidation and diversification, while also adjusting the Group’s processes to make it ever more streamlined and sustainable.

DIANE IZZO HAS ALWAYS been fascinated by two things: fashion and business. So, when the chance to combine the two and open a fashion business presented itself, it was the obvious path for her and, by the age of 19, she had set up her own company. “I clearly remember being on holiday with my husband-to-be, Karl, and coming across the now-renowned clothing brand Terranova,” she recalls with a smile. “It was relatively unknown back then, but I instantly saw its potential and, after a number of trips to Italy to learn more about it, we opened our first shop here. That was the very start of Dizz Group.”


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Hers is a company that has expanded on an incredible upward trajectory, as the Group evolved from a simple start-up to the dynamic plc it is today. So many highlights stand out in Diane’s mind, including the company’s successful €8 million and €7.5 million bond issues – which were both oversubscribed – as well as DIZZ’s first day of trading on the Malta Stock Exchange last year. “We began trading with just one brand and, today, have grown to become the largest fashion house on the island,” Diane continues, explaining that the line-up now includes Calliope, Liu Jo, Brooks Brothers, Guess, Paul & Shark, Trussardi, Max&Co, Harmont & Blaine, Goldenpoint, Elisabetta Franchi, Michael Kors, Napapijri, Pinko and more. “We’ve also diversified recently, which I am very excited about, “Diane continues. “We have moved into the property and catering sectors, opening several cafés under the Pascucci franchise. “We made this move because I believe the F&B sector in Malta has lots of potential for growth, and we hope to attract more new franchises and popular international F&B chains to the island in the future. This is very much in line with my own focus at Dizz at the moment – investment, diversification and development.” It’s been a whirlwind journey for the CEO, but Diane says she is very proud and grateful for what has been achieved so far. “To succeed in business today, you have to be flexible, organised and good at planning,” she asserts. “Ours certainly hasn’t been an easy ride, but we always did our utmost to improve day on day.”

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CEO INSIGHT “A harmonious work-life balance is the secret to success long-term, as one cannot exist without the other. Outside work I have numerous passions, including travelling, exploring new places, and spending time with loved ones. We often travel as a family as it is the perfect way to create lasting memories that we can cherish together for years to come.”

Consistency, she insists, is a key component of success, as is efficiency. “If you’re focused on that, then you will create long-term positive habits that will help you to be successful in the long run.” She absolutely loves her role as CEO – particularly meeting people on a daily basis and setting the company’s vision for growth alongside her hard-working team of dedicated employees. Together, they are determined to grow year-on-year and improve the company’s operations. “That, in turn, stimulates me to attain the results that we have achieved in recent years,” she says. With regards to her biggest challenges, Diane underlines that, as a forwardthinking CEO, she is constantly seeking


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“The new purpose of retail stores is to offer an experience that isn’t available online. Our main opportunity going forward is to invest in luxury retail brands and fast-fashion brands that will give shoppers something that they are excited to be part of.”

out and filtering opportunities to grow and strengthen her business. “Saying no is a challenge!” she quips. “But I have to, because if an opportunity doesn’t meet our growth and value criteria, then we have to say no. Our precious and finite amount of time must be spent on only the best opportunities out there.” Diane is known for her hands-on approach and she gets involved across all the sectors of the Group, even today. “Of course, in doing so, I have the support of my management team, which is crucial and indispensable when it comes to us reaching our goals,” she continues. “It is so important to have as many good qualities as possible in this highly competitive world. So, I consider that leadership, confidence, communication, learning, negotiation and strong management have stood us in good stead as a collective, and contributed to our success.” 2019 has been a milestone year for the team, as Diane has focused her time and energy into the D Shopping Mall, which is being developed by the Group. “We have developed the indoor football pitches at the Sliema Wanderers training grounds, near The Point, into another shopping mall, and we will unveil the results soon. On top of that, we have also managed other new store openings and kept the ball rolling on other possible future investments. It’s been a year of consolidation, while also looking forward.” Despite this very positive outlook, Diane does admit that the retail sector has faced formidable challenges lately, particularly when it comes to competition from the virtual world. But she is confident that, in the next five years, the industry will continue to grow thanks to more quality brands being introduced.

“We should definitely invest in importing more international brands,” she stresses, “and particularly high-end brands. This would help to strengthen the business sector further, as it would enable us to directly target potential customers that might otherwise do their retail shopping online. As we continue to boost this part of the business, I am very optimistic that the future of retail in Malta will be positive.”


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CEO FAVOURITES Quick-fire Questions… with Diane Izzo What was the first thing you did this morning? Plan the day. What’s your favourite thing in your office? A photo given to me by my parents. What excites you most about working in your sector? We are always looking ahead. Gourmet dining or home-made cooking? Home-made cooking – I love making curries. If could have any super power, what would it be? To be able to achieve things instantly. What’s something you’d still like to learn? I am always learning, and I learn something new every day. In fact, whenever Diane hears that ‘retail is dying’, she prefers to reframe that and say that it is ‘changing’. “The new purpose of retail stores is to offer an experience that isn’t available online,” she says. “To build relationships, solve problems, help shoppers interact with products, and give them the chance to experience what it is like to be part of a brand. Thus, our main opportunity going forward is to invest in luxury retail brands and fastfashion brands that will give shoppers something that they are excited to be part of.” 2020, therefore, is going to be a big year for DIZZ for a number of reasons, including its increasing shift towards CSR-related initiatives. “CSR will see us going above and beyond what is normally required in business, to positively impact the environment, our workforce and our community. For instance, I am proud to say that all our fashion brands have sustainable collections within them, featuring pieces made from recyclable items, and with others supporting the environment in one way or another.” Finally, Diane highlights the fact that the Group has a five-year business plan in place that she and the team will be following and working hard to achieve. “As a result of this plan we are strategically organised and can simplify our decision-making processes to reach our goals. It’s all about consolidating what we have achieved in recent years, and setting our sights on the very best of what is yet to come,” she adds.

What’s the best thing about running a business in Malta? The economy is very strong right now. This is the time to invest. And the worst thing? The lack of human resources. Which is your favourite spot on the island? Sliema. Book, film, series, or music? Listen to music – I love Italian music. What’s your most-used app on your phone? Spotify. Where do you read your news first? The BBC. If you weren’t in this career, what would you be doing? I’d be a lawyer. Where do you hope to see the world in five years? With a clear plan for the environment. How do you hope to spend your retirement? Travelling the world. Outlook for 2020: positive or negative? Very positive.



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The pandemic in Malta is under control but will it stay that way?

Following a trying few months for Malta’s healthcare system, Martina Said catches up with Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne to discuss Malta’s current position in the midst of a global pandemic, the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine, and the likelihood of a dreaded second wave.


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COMPARED TO A FEW short, or very long, months ago, Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Chris Fearne appears more tranquil, and reasonably so, now that Malta has – so far – moved past the worst phase of the pandemic which continues to ravage several other parts of the world. The biggest concern back in February was whether Malta would be able to handle it. “Now we know that we can,” says Minister Fearne. At the start of the pandemic the main concern was not just what was happening at the time but what might happen – the tsunami of infection that we were afraid of. Seeing what was happening in some regions such as northern Italy, we were unsure whether it would be the same all over the world or whether different countries, including us, were going to be able to handle and control it.” Minister Fearne asserts that the measures taken locally were the appropriate measures taken at the right time that brought the number of positive coronavirus cases under control, “which is what we wanted to do in terms of making sure that we don’t have a tsunami but a stream of cases, and we managed. So now we know we can do it, which is one of the main differences between the situation on the ground now compared to February this year.” At the time of writing* Malta has five active cases, after a total of 679 cases and nine deaths between March and now. Currently, the majority of active cases are imported after Malta’s ports reopened in mid-July. Although the numbers are encouragingly low, Minister Fearne says that the global infection is still persisting. “As long as there are parts of the world where the pandemic is ongoing then we are all in the pandemic. Globally the number of cases daily is increasing, and as the world is still in this pandemic, then so is Malta.” However, different regions and countries are experiencing different phases of the pandemic. “Locally, we are currently in a phase where the infection rate is low, so the reproduction rate is low and

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therefore we are keeping the number of active cases low, so the situation is under control,” he says. “Compared to a few months ago, we are now also better prepared – this is a situation no one expected the world over. We increased our capacity to deal with infectious cases very rapidly over the first three to four months of this year and of course we retain that reserve, so we can now deal with increased cases better than we were able to at the beginning of the pandemic,” says Minster Fearne. Without doubt, almost more than the concern of contracting the virus itself is the worry of a so-called second wave of infection after summer, causing another forced closure of many of Malta’s businesses. Is this likely to happen? “The whole world is experiencing this pandemic for the first time and we don’t know what’s going to happen next week, let alone next month or in four months’ time,” he says. “We have to continue doing what we are doing, in other words being vigilant, testing vigorously and continuing to contact trace, isolate and quarantine positive cases and positive contacts. We need to make sure that we are prudent, that we follow hygiene protocols – handwashing especially – that we observe social distancing and wear masks in crowded situations,” he asserts. “The pandemic is still raging around the world, and we are part of the world, so if we let down our guard, we can have a resurgence. On the other hand, if we continue to observe the health regulations that are in place and continue to test as we are now, then we are confident we can keep the situation under control.”

“As long as there are parts of the world where the pandemic is ongoing then we are all in the pandemic.”


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And if a second wave does come, Mr Fearne says his team and all medical staff are better prepared, both mentally and resource-wise than they were at the start, with adequate ventilators, ITU beds, isolation wards, at Mater Dei and other hospitals, as well as training of all staff. “We now know what to expect and have all the standard operating procedures in place. Everybody knows what they need to do at any stage,” he asserts, adding that, over and above the €705million Government budget allocated to the health sector this year, there has been a direct increase of more than €120million to deal with the pandemic. “We are also maintaining a pandemic reserve – even if the numbers remain low as they are now, and not just for COVID but for other epidemics that could arise from one year to the next, the health system will retain a pandemic reserve which we will be able to switch on within 24 hours and step up over the following days as needed,” he explains. “It is the same concept as having a fire engine – you don’t wait for a fire to break out and then start the process of buying a fire engine but have one in place and wheel it out as necessary. The same applies to a pandemic reserve, and it can scale down over a quiet period but can be scaled up very quickly if the need arises.” From an economic standpoint, several business owners lamented the stringent measures put in place at the height of the pandemic in Malta, which for some meant a severely diminished income and an overall negative effect on their business, no matter how big or small. Sharing his thoughts, the Minister says “so far nobody has died of hunger, but unfortunately, we have had nine deaths from the virus. To have a strong economy, you need a strong health system and of course strong citizens.” “If your health system is overwhelmed, as we’ve seen and continue to see in various countries or regions around the world, we know for a fact that the economy there has fared much worse than in those countries where the appropriate measures were taken at an early stage to prevent the overwhelming of the health system,” he asserts, explaining that placing a heavy burden on a country’s health system can indeed have devastating effects, especially on the availability of ITU beds, which will not be accessible for patients with other serious diseases who turn up at hospital.

are promising developments by a number of firms and pharmaceutical companies around the world, but some are more reliable than others,” he asserts. “For it to be widely available by the end of the year is pushing it – it is not impossible, but we cannot bank on it, so we need to keep our mitigation processes in place. We have entered into an agreement with other EU member states to procure the vaccine jointly once it is available, and we will offer it, but it won’t be mandatory, for free to all citizens.” A vaccine that will be widely available, however, is the one against influenza, which the Health Ministry is actively campaigning for citizens to take before winter. He clarifies, however, that the influenza vaccine will have no bearing on a person’s susceptibility, or otherwise, for COVID-19.

“The measures we took were not just right for public health, which of course takes priority over everything, but were also right for the economy. Having a strong population and a strong functioning health system is the keystone of having a strong economy.”

“The flu vaccine will not prevent you from getting COVID-19, and vice versa. But what the influenza vaccine will do is diminish the symptoms of influenza, which can be additive to those of coronavirus. If you get influenza and coronavirus at the same time, it will be much worse than if you get coronavirus on its own or influenza on its own,” he explains. “Currently, we don’t have a vaccine for coronavirus, but we will have one for influenza as we do every year, and we are actively campaigning for as many people as possible to be vaccinated. In fact, we have ordered twice the amount of influenza vaccines as we normally do – we have 200,000 vaccines on order for October this year as against the usual 100,000 vaccines.”

Turning to the availability of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of the year, Minister Fearne’s response is clear: “It is unlikely that a vaccine will be available by the end of 2020. There

Minister Fearne further explains that COVID-19 has been dealt with, locally and globally, in such a different way to influenza – both of which bear similarities


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“Testing allows you to identify positive cases early, isolate them and quarantine the people around them to keep cases under control. Most of the cases we have now and will continue to have over the coming days or weeks are imported cases after re-opening our ports, so it is extremely important to identify these early, isolate them and quarantine the people around them to avoid spread into the community.” Remarkably, while European neighbours and several countries around the world have registered new spikes in COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, Malta’s active cases continue to remain low, and this too, says Minister Fearne, can be attributed to the preventative measures taken early on.

“The whole world is experiencing this pandemic for the first time and we don’t know what’s going to happen next week, let alone next month or in four months’ time.”

– because it is indeed a completely different virus. “The class of virus that causes COVID-19 is similar to the class of virus that causes influenza in that it spreads by a similar mechanism, it spreads more or less equally if not slightly more than influenza, and produces, broadly speaking, symptoms that are similar to influenza. But it is a different virus; it behaves differently and has to be treated differently – which is why vaccines that work on influenza do not work on the COVID-19 virus and vice-versa.” Speaking about Malta’s success at handling the spread of the virus, the Health Minister says that maintaining a high and consistent level of swab tests – of which there have been over 115,000 at the time of writing* – has been one of the most important factors in bringing and keeping the pandemic under control as it is now. Statistics published in April by Malta’s Superintendence of Public Health showed that Malta was among the top three countries in the world with the highest number of tests per capita – and this needs to be maintained.

“The timely setting up of swabbing centres, conducting a high rate of swabbing and testing, which we continue to do, and vigorous isolation and quarantine practices have helped a lot, and looking after the vulnerable members of society has been extremely important,” he asserts. “Even though we have had close to 700 cases of coronavirus, there have been only nine deaths, and we know that the virus affects those with underlying diseases much worse. So, looking after and being responsible towards our elderly relatives and vulnerable people in society has been extremely important in this success.” On a personal note, I ask Minister Fearne whether he ever thought, as a freshly re-instated Health Minister at the beginning of the year, whether he would ever face a situation such as this. “I think nobody expected this to happen in 2020, and if you had asked me this question last year, it wouldn’t have even seemed plausible as a science fiction book,” he quips. Sharing his greatest ups and downs from the past months, the Minister says his biggest worry was at the very beginning, when the dramatic and devastating situation unfolded in the north of Italy. “We were worried that the same would happen to the rest of Europe and in Malta, in which case our health system would have been swamped, and that was, as Health Minister, one of my biggest worries.” That Malta managed to avoid this, he continues, is the greatest reward. “Our healthcare professionals have shown their worth and we need to continue to recognise this. Healthcare is a bit like religion – when you’re in trouble you pray a lot, but when you’re not you tend to forget that there is a deity,” he smiles. “And with healthcare sometimes this happens too – when you are in the middle of a crisis the national health system is our hero, but we need to continue to remember that our healthcare professionals are all heroes, under all circumstances.”


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PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE

Franco Azzopardi CEO and Chairman, Express Group “As specialists in groupage operations, my dream is for us and our customers to work at night.”


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Having led Express Group for the last eight years, CEO and Chairman Franco Azzopardi is constantly working to keep the company steps ahead of the competition. He tells talks through the Group’s internationalisation efforts, its most important asset, and what it means to work for and with the orange brand.

“BEING THE CEO OF a family business in its third generation comes with its own set of unique challenges – you need to orchestrate and speak the language of the family owners and maintain a link with the boards and managers, while never losing focus of the ultimate objective: to add value to the owners of the business,” says Franco Azzopardi, CEO of Express Group. “There are quite a few balls to juggle.” Our conversation about the Group’s investments and forecasts takes many turns, but one common thread throughout is the value the ‘orange brand’ places on its people. “As CEO, you can never get it completely right – there are too many moving parts. But our people, along with equipment and space, are the main drivers of this business.”


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“As CEO, you can never get it completely right – there are too many moving parts. But our people, along with equipment and space, are the main drivers of this business.”

Franco says that while equipment and space can be bought or leased, hiring and retaining people is dependent on many factors, especially as Malta is in a situation of near-full employment. “Attracting and retaining people is at its trickiest point in time, but we give this a lot of importance. In fact, we’re sitting in one of our latest investments on our human resources front – our training centre, which complements the training academy we launched in 2018.” The academy is driven by senior management in the HR department who are trained professionally and internationally in various courses which they share with staff. “In 2019, we finished works on this floor and dedicated it to a state-of-the-art training facility that has been sound-engineered and equipped with high-end AV equipment. We’ve baptised it The Logic, and really believe in its potential.” On the operational front, the Group also made major investments with the setting up of a logistics hub in Genoa through a new company, Express Trailers srl. Franco explains that the top lines of the company are driven by Maltese importers and exporters, and seeing as the island has reached a crest economically, “history has always taught us that these things move in cycles. “The size of the company in the domestic marketplace, we believe, is at saturation point – there is a pie of logistics demands and we have a fair share of it, and we feel that eating out of the slices of our competitors will create a chain reaction


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that will come back to us,” he asserts. With increased local demands and an eye on the future, the Group took the step to internationalise. “The idea was to invest in mainland Europe and the best strategic location for us was the port of Genoa – if Malta is at its peak, chances are the situation will plateau or decline at some point, and that will impinge on our business. This move is a step in the right direction to reduce the dependency risk on Malta,” Franco asserts. “The location of the port of Genoa is well-placed for cargo going north and coming south from mainland Europe with respect to our trailer operations. We’ve also invested in a specialised management team there that’s focused on outof-dimension cargo destined for mainland Europe and the Far East.” The Group bought into the management team of an Italian company they’ve worked with for 30 years. The acquisitions happened in early 2018 following lengthy due diligence processes and, since then, works have been ongoing on the design, demolition and construction of the new set-up, which includes a trailer park, warehouse, administration and dormitory block for truckers. The target is for the Genoa hub to be fully functional by the third quarter of 2020. “The management company we bought into began operating from a different office in our name on 1 July 2019, until the new office is complete. The team hit the ground running, but there’s a lot of work to be done to integrate the team here and overseas, to reduce cultural differences, and to get the Genoa team to think and speak orange. This will be one of our

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biggest challenges in the coming years.” On a local level, Franco says that Express Group, like other logistics companies, is the missing link for importers and exporters, without whom the country and all businesses will be crippled and paralysed to a standstill. “As a company, we give confidence and peace of mind to importers and exporters that if they need a logistics partner, we are a wellcapitalised, well-managed company with the top-most equipment in order to, as much as possible, reduce risk of failures.” Logistics companies in Malta operate under the Geneva Convention on the Contract for the International Carriage of Goods by Road (CMR), which is embedded in the Laws of Malta and protects logistics operators from liability in the case of loss of cargo. “If it didn’t work this way, no one would be in this business – one accident could wipe out a whole year’s profit, which makes it even more important for a businessperson to choose a logistics partner with quality charters, good equipment and good drivers with a clean track record.” Looking towards 2020, Franco says that, on the import side, prospects for the industry appear stable, so long as consumption patterns are maintained. “Malta has an ageing population, and we tend to consume less as we get older, but this is counterbalanced by increased demands for servicing the construction, tourism, financial services and iGaming industries,” he explains. “Pressures on housing will likely affect people’s consumption patterns, but increased numbers of foreign workers


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CEO FAVOURITES Quick-fire Questions… with Franco Azzopardi and tourists means there’s a bigger headcount. Thus, I don’t see a drop in the coming years.” As for exports, Franco says it’s trickier to gauge, as the country balances its payments primarily through profits made from services, which don’t export volume and weight. “Malta’s main exports are low volume, low weight, high value – such as medicinal products, and we have all the licences from the Medicines Authority and the equipment and training necessary to carry and transport them. There’s now talk of Cannabidiol (CBD) being processed in Malta and exported to Europe, and that will be of interest to us.” On the downside, the CEO asserts that a major bottleneck for the logistics industry in Malta is space. “If we had to line up our equipment in Malta alone and park it in the streets, it would take up 3km of road, and at least 3,000sqm,” he states. “As specialists in groupage operations – where we carry cargo of different importers and exporters and deliver it all over Malta – my dream is for us and our customers to work at night, or better still, for the Government to create an incentive to industry to work at night,” says Franco. “We’d need one third of our current fleet, which would help solve the parking issue we have and reduce congestion on the roads at peak times of the day. Of course, this is in a perfect world and it will take getting used to, but the benefits would be immense.”

CEO INSIGHT “It’s widely known that 90 per cent of mergers and acquisitions fail to produce the value that is expected, often because of cultural differences on a business and personal front. We are mindful of this for our Genoa operations, but it will be our biggest challenge in the coming year and going forward.”

How do you start your morning routine? With a coffee as soon as I get to the office at 6.30am. What’s your favourite thing in your office? My colleagues. What excites you most about working in your sector? It all happens in real time. Gourmet dining or home-made cooking? Depends on the company. If could have any super power, what would it be? To understand humans better. What’s something you’d still like to learn? I’ve ticked many off the bucket list – but maybe it’s time I learnt how to be a good handyman. What’s the best thing about running a business in Malta? The proximity of everything. And the worst thing? That it’s stifling. Which is your favourite spot on the island? My home. Book, film, series, or music? The internet for all four. What’s your most-used app on your phone? Gmail. Where do you read your news first? Corporate Dispatch. If you weren’t in this career, what would you be doing? I’d be a CEO of another company – it doesn’t matter which sector. Where do you hope to see the world in five years? I hope to see the world being more ethical – it’s all gone a bit mad. How do you hope to spend your retirement? I don’t plan to retire, but I don’t plan to live too long either. Outlook for 2020: positive or negative? On a personal, company, and national level: positive. But, globally, there are warning signs which make me undecided.



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Corinthia Palace:

New milestones for award-winning hotel With the news that the Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa has won the top local accolade at the recent World Travel Awards 2019, this five-star establishment has reconfirmed its place among Malta’s very best destinations. Here, General Manager Adrian Attard talks Jo Caruana through what guests and stakeholders can expect from the months to come – including the highly-anticipated relaunch of the Athenaeum Spa.

CORINTHIA PALACE HOTEL & SPA is a legendary property in Malta. As one of the very first five-star hotels on the island, it has been regarded as a destination of excellence for over 50 years – and that legacy was recently underlined further when it was announced the winner of the World Travel Award 2019 for ‘Malta’s Leading Hotel’. The award was the top accolade given to Malta at the international ceremony, which took place at the Belmond Reid’s Palace in Madeira. “It is a huge honour to receive an award that sets out to recognise the very best that the global travel industry has to offer,” says General Manager Adrian Attard, who travelled to Portugal to receive the award. “It was won by every single member of the team at Corinthia Palace, each of whom works tirelessly to create special and memorable experiences for our guests in Malta. At the soul


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“We strive to be the champions of what we call ‘the best of Malta’, helping our guests to discover our island’s exceptional character and the elements that are truly Maltese.”


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of Corinthia Palace lies a legacy of 51 years, built upon uplifting the lives of our guests and our staff, and I am honoured to be able to take this legacy forward at what is certainly an exciting time for the hotel, as well as the international Corinthia brand as a whole.” And ‘exciting time’ is no understatement. The award comes at a milestone moment for Corinthia Palace, as the hotel gets set to complete a substantial renovation process that includes new back-of-house services and machinery, a soft upgrading of the rooms and suites, the launch of the new executive lounge, and an upgrading of the lobby. Phase three of this programme will be the re-launch of the Athenaeum Spa as Malta’s foremost spa following a multimillion euro investment that will be completed in October. “The Athenaeum originally opened in the early 1990s and has always held a very special place among the Maltese as one of the first real spas to open on the island,” Mr Attard continues. “Today we are in the process of reimagining it and recreating it for the 21st century, with a product line and treatment experience that exudes luxury, but which is firmly rooted in Maltese nature. We look forward to unveiling it to our guests in October.” Achieving the accolade of Malta’s Leading Hotel also underlines the Corinthia Palace’s food and beverage offering, with a set of five-star dining options that includes The Summer Kitchen (which has recently reopened for the season), Villa Corinthia,

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Corinthia Palace Hotel & Spa recently unveiled its Mdina Meeting Room, adjacent to the new Executive Lounge. The Mdina has since become a very popular location for local businesses to hold important board meetings, seminars and intimate events. The Executive Lounge is exclusively for guests staying in the hotel’s suites and Executive rooms, and it serves complimentary tea, coffee, alcoholic beverages, juices and snacks throughout the day, as well as afternoon tea, and wine, spirits and canapés in the evening.

Rickshaw, Orange Grove and Caprice Lounge. Once again, Villa Corinthia is also proving to be one of the island’s most popular luxury events venues for extraordinary weddings and other occasions. “Beyond that, there has been the development of the soft side of the business,” Mr Attard continues. “Namely the consolidation of our inhouse Uplifting Lives programme, which sits at the heart of our culture – a culture rooted in the positive, open and creative characters of our team.” After all, Corinthia Palace is known to be the spiritual home of Corinthia Hotels International – a now global brand that started right here, in Villa Corinthia, in the 1960s. “That means a lot to us,” Mr Attard says. “We strive to be the champions of what we call ‘the best of Malta’, helping our guests

to discover our island’s exceptional character and the elements that are truly Maltese.” Looking to the future, Mr Attard explains that 2020 will see a consolidation of all the efforts that have gone into redefining Corinthia Palace over the last few years, bringing together the hardware and software that will clearly position the hotel at this milestone moment. “We are so proud of this award because it is merited by every single member of our team in recognition of their continual commitment to crafting unsurpassable experiences for our guests. They go out of their way to really create something special for the discerning customers that choose Corinthia Palace, and endeavour to showcase Malta in the light that is deserves to be seen.”



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PHOTOS BY DARREN AGIUS

Stylish, timeless and adaptable:

A workspace for all seasons

Sarah Micallef meets with Christopher Micallef, Partner at Forward Architects, to discover what went into the design of the sophisticated Swieqi offices of online casino Dunder.

WHEN IT COMES TO a company’s offices, not all are created equal. Tasked with housing a unique team of individuals in a way that reflects the business’ approach, it stands to reason that a workspace will have its own personality, and the recently completed offices of online casino Dunder project an upmarket, sophisticated vibe within a space which the young company can grow and flourish.


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“Rather than opting for a playful environment, the brand was after a more executive, smooth aesthetic – one which projects an image of a serious, efficient company with attention to detail.”


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3.

“This particular workspace showcases the execution of the design philosophy we approach such briefs with – that workspaces need to be adaptable for different workforces, activities and trends, while embodying the particular brand’s promise, language and mission,” says Christopher Micallef, Partner at Forward Architects, the local architecture firm entrusted with the design of Dunder’s offices in Swieqi.

2.

“The visible branding cues of the Dunder sign contribute to the iconic quality of the space.”

What this meant, he attests, was that the office needed to respond to the needs of the company now, whilst ensuring longevity for the team to grow within. “Absorbing the brand’s values, priorities and mission allows us to inform our design decisions, creating spaces that adapt to the nature of the particular company. With Dunder, the priority was to provide an executive space that balances the quiet working open plan area, the closed meeting rooms and the leisurely break out space.” Speaking of the initial brief, Christopher maintains that it called for the architects to make bold decisions that respected brand guidelines whilst allowing a fresh, motivational environment in which employees could prosper. “We enjoy working


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1. Finishes borrow from the contemporary 2. Finishes borrow from the contemporary 3. Finishes borrow from the contemporary 4. Finishes borrow from the contemporary

with brands that prioritise their employees’ satisfaction in the workplace, understanding that the majority of their day is spent here and therefore their output is directly affected by the context in which they are asked to be productive,” he maintains, adding that for this reason, the workspace needed to feel smart and spacious, and the lighting and materials needed to feel as natural as possible.

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And, as is ever the case within a working environment, the issue of balancing aesthetic appeal and practical usage of space was not lost on the architects. “Workspaces need to prioritise the ease of their use for staff,” says Christopher, affirming that practicality and functionality are key ingredients within the design process to ensure that the space and its design can be adapted throughout the lifetime of the workspace. In order to achieve this, the architect divulges that the design concept was closely developed with Group CEO Thomas Rosander from the outset, who remained involved throughout the entire process. “Rather than opting for a playful environment, the brand was after a more executive, smooth aesthetic – one which projects an image of a serious, efficient company with attention to detail. This is reflected in the choice of natural materials and the neon logo visible as soon as you step foot into the offices,” he maintains. Looking back on the start of the project, Christopher reveals that the team took the building on when it was still in shell form, “literally just bricks and concrete”, which enabled them to design it from scratch. “From the air ventilation



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and lighting partitions to ensuring acoustic isolation between meeting rooms, to the flooring system,” he attests, adding that they opted for a raised floor, which gave them the flexibility of passing all services underneath. Speaking of the process, and what it took to bring the project to fruition, the architect maintains that the first step was creating the concept design, which included initial sketches to get a feel for the place whilst also enabling the team at Forward Architects to build a relationship with the client. “This first stage is crucial to align the design with what the client wants the final project to look and feel like,” says Christopher, adding that once this was done, they could move on to the detailing phase, which took about two months, to ensure that every little detail was mapped

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out with precision. Meanwhile, the final stage of the project involved moving onto the site, “and all the coordination with suppliers and final snags!” Looking back on the challenges the team faced, he adds, “one main challenge was ensuring a high level of quality delivered from all the suppliers. We also needed to ensure that the works happened in a smooth sequence within the agreed deadlines.” Turning his attention to the choice of materials and finishes, Christopher explains that the team introduced a darker bold palette with a mix of concrete finishes, warm woods and leather. “They contrast with the harder, bolder finishes, borrowing

from a contemporary architectural style,” he says. Speaking of style, I ask, how would the architect describe the design style achieved? “We like to think of it is a timeless workspace that will allow for adapting trends in the workforce to evolve and transform the space,” Christopher maintains, adding that the finishes borrow from the contemporary aesthetic whilst empowering the brand language, which is unique. “The visible branding cues of the Dunder sign contribute to the iconic quality of the space.” And iconic it certainly is.




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A Lifestyle Brand Enemed continues to showcase that it offers more than just fuel!

The recent campaign introduced by Enemed pushes the brand and the lifestyle it offers on Land, Sea and Air, by collaborating with a mixture of individuals with various personal and professional backgrounds that represent these three pillars, and further reflect on Enemed’s customers’ needs and wants. Enemed x Land Representing Land are Drifting Champion and IT Technician; Andrea Fabri #idriftwithenemed

Enemed x Air Representing Air is Pilot, TV Presenter and Producer; Clare Agius. #iflywithenemed

IT Technician by day, and a skilled-reputable drift driver at any other time, drifting champion Andrea Fabri is not new to Enemed. Started his drifting career in 2014 and collaborating with Enemed since 2017, Andrea has shown us on several occasions how a good and reliable fuel can go the extra mile, especially when there is an open line of communication with what it takes to have the best for his championship drifting car, the Enemed Supra. This collaboration gave Enemed a front row seat to technically analyse the needs of this motorsport and take notes back to the lab to enhance its fuel to provide the best power fuel, a great quality fuel for the engine and finding a solution to decrease emissions by 20%. Enemed are not pro-drifters, but it takes one to give the specialist advise to better understand the industry.

Airborne TV Series’ star, Clare Agius, is the Maltese personality that truly makes you smile with her kind-hearted nature and overall embodiment of genuine care. Add Pilot, TV Presenter & Producer, and Environmental Advocate to her portfolio, and you have one hell of a powerhouse, so it is with no coincidence that Enemed picked Clare Agius to represent this characteristic of Air. From Jet-setting to a tropical island for a much needed break; to flying first class for a business meeting, Enemed has been fuelling this ride for years as they have been the official fuel providers for Malta’s International Airport, closing the full circle on fuelling Land, Sea and Air.

Enemed x Sea Representing Sea is five-time World Powerboat Champion and Professional Boat Builder; Aaron Ciantar. #iracewithenemed With five world powerboat championship wins under his belt, a state-of-the-art powerboat factory; Chaudron, and a UIM recognised Powerboat Championship; VOOMQUEST, Aaron Ciantar needs no introduction. One of the biggest collaborations that Enemed currently holds, Aaron Ciantar has opened the doors to an adrenaline sport; Powerboat Championships. Building off from drifting, this too gave Enemed an insight look on what it takes to fuel a vehicle for a championship, and brought a new technical opportunity to Enemed, that of adapting the base fuel received with a special Maltese formula to increase the power needed for powerboats.

All these collaborations do not only bring awareness to and a close-up insight into these magnificent motor beasts, but also reflect on the lifestyle of the end user of Enemed’s Fuel. Andrea Fabri, Aaron Ciantar and Clare Agius represent each and every one of us, including our lifestyle. The consumer might not be a drifter, a racer or a pilot, but they surely are; employees, mothers, fathers, business owners, fitness junkies, adrenaline chasers, and so much more. Enemed’s lifestyle is each and everyone one of us! About Enemed Enemed Company Ltd was established on 1st September 2014 and is a wholly owned subsidiary of the state owned Petromal Company Ltd. The company is responsible for the importation, distribution and wholesale of petroleum products for the inland market including the aviation sector. It also offers its storage facilities to third parties. Enemed is a major player on the Maltese market.

Learn more about Enemed; Website: enemed.com.mt; Facebook: facebook.com/enemed.fuels; Instagram: instagram.com/enemed_malta


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Quality is a way of life at Evolve Ltd Evolve Ltd, part of the Attard & Co Group of Companies, has partnered with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry to establish a new Quality Committee, headed by Christopher Busuttil Delbridge, Managing Director of Evolve Ltd, who will be the entity’s first Chairman. THE PURSUIT OF QUALITY is a virtuous mindset. It pervades nations, organisations, and the notion of the self. At Evolve Ltd, we have always placed this as the cornerstone in the personal development of our employees, thus forming the firm’s company culture. Having been the first company in the Maltese healthcare and scientific market to obtain ISO9001 certification, as a result of our heavy investment in our personnel’s well-being and mental health, we have experienced first-hand what a shift in mindset can do for a relatively small group of people, let alone for a nation. To reach that larger audience, and spread this positive message, we are collaborating with a like-minded organisation, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, to serve Maltese firms across all business verticals. Many business sectors are struggling today, as a result of the pandemic, which has brought fear to our communities and introduced restrictions. That is why now, more than ever, there is the need for an approach to business which prioritises quality over quantity. The vision being proposed by the new committee will be put forward through ubiquitous Quality Ambassadors from all walks of life. These will be trained and approved by a working group. All major stakeholders, such as business owners, would be able to sign up for programmes of improvement and continuous monitoring. It is also our firm belief that we must train and mentor the next generation, and that is why we plan to work with the all stakeholders to strengthen the building blocks of a quality mindset within our curriculum and encourage the introduction of debating skills as well as a change in culture and mindset which lends itself towards the giving and receiving of constructive criticism. Indeed, the mantra being upheld is that ‘quality is a way of life’. Furthermore, the committee’s main four focus areas will be: 1. Malta Chamber as an institution – ensuring the Malta Chamber is held to the highest standards and implements

what it promises on time, every time. This committee will seek to develop the Chamber’s policy in key areas related to the upholding of quality in all aspects of business and the economy. 2. Personal – by starting with the ‘man in the mirror’, one can work on adopting a growth and positive mindset. The ‘extrain-the-ordinary’, so to speak, can make a huge difference. These are traits that make individuals stand out, and more employable on the labour market as well as help them become better all-round people. The responsibility for our actions is ours and ours alone, and that is why fostering continuous improvement is an essential trait in any individual. 3. Professional – another objective of the committee will be to research and make the necessary representations about the importance of quality to business activities and ensure they appreciate the return on investment as well as the utmost importance of investing in their employees, their work practices, and their target market. Businesses that are members of the Chamber will be assisted in their drive towards solutions which are best suited to their target audience, in the most efficient way possible. A system of mystery shoppers is also being envisioned for those operators who sign up for this service and this would include a report on the findings, followed by suggestions for improvement. 4. National – lobbying national authorities but also helping raise the bar all around (as part of the Chamber’s Corporate Social Responsibility), will also be part of the Quality Committee’s remit. By inculcating a different approach in the younger generation and helping to develop the next generation to be better than us, we will continuously strive to help Malta become better placed and more competitive than before in an everchanging landscape.




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Executive coaching: Leading in times of constant change and ambiguity By Malcolm Pace Debono, Director, People and Change Advisory Services and Claudine Borg Azzopardi, Associate Director, People and Change Advisory Services Executive Coaching for Leadership

IN TODAY’S ENVIRONMENT OF emerging technologies, constant disruption, globalisation and connectivity, organisations are altering dramatically, new businesses are emerging, and success relies on being able to adapt quickly. This places new demands on leaders across all industry sectors. The implications on finance leaders encompass a need to manage their teams more effectively, establish a new vision for the organisation, and consistently set a new course to refocus and realign the organisation to this vision. An executive coach can be a beneficial partner in this journey. Leading the way we did when environments and organisations were more stable, where we could distinguish between change and ‘business as usual’, simply won’t work anymore. This statement directly impacts the way finance leaders navigate their context, embrace change and make decisions. Finance leaders are constantly facing volatility and ambiguity. As they continually adapt strategies, pivot their product or service offerings, grow or shrink their workforces, adapt to new regulation and technology, or quickly react to shifts in customer demands – they need to adjust the way that they lead. Leaders need to think about their role as one of creating organisations that are adaptive, agile and can deal with emergent issues. Not surprisingly, leaders sometimes struggle to develop the psychological, cognitive and behavioural skills needed to deal with fast organisational change whilst remaining focused on reaching their work-related goals. Indeed, the ability to build effective teams, promote high performing cultures and deliver on organisational goals during periods of disruptive change is rated as one of the most important attributes of effective leaders, although the requisite skills come naturally to only a few. Such changed behaviours and expectations are a business necessity for financial leaders. Executive coaching can enable the leader to explore changes in assumptions, expectations and perspectives, leading to deep behaviour change. Many finance leaders who do not have a coaching support system may feel discouraged when faced with the demands of addressing such complexity and business change. As a result, they may not be able to bring the best of themselves, to have the focus, flexibility and agility required to recover business profitability or change the organisation’s culture and reputation.

Changing leadership approach We see that leaders within finance businesses we work with are becoming more open to new ways of leading, as well as becoming comfortable with the fact that complexity is now a constant state of play. We understand that complexity requires people to look at problems from multiple perspectives to come to an answer. Relying on hierarchy or believing we can achieve outcomes within organisational ‘silos’ no longer serves leaders well. Listening, engaging others and helping people to see meaning in their work helps achieve good outcomes. This requires self-awareness, strong people skills and the ability to analyse context and make choices about the right approach. This is what we call ‘conscious leadership’. Conscious leadership requires deeper questions about what leadership means and what is required in a given situation. Leaders need to be aware of when they are exercising positional authority versus leadership. Or when they need to be the expert as against facilitating the input of others. Finance industry leaders who were interviewed for this article spoke about the heightened need to lead through others, a stronger requirement at inspiring, engaging and taking people with them and ‘becoming more agile and open to change’. These growing demands for finance leaders have brought with them heightened requirement for executive coaching to support both individual and leadership team development requirements. They described that today’s climate of consistent change has added a new level of complexity to the role of finance leader. They spoke about utilising coaching to understand and get their head around emerging themes and challenges, to ‘pause’ and to reflect on what ripples are out there and which of those ripples will impact their businesses. Support for a new approach Individual change in leadership style is an important part of ensuring that banks and financial institutions are focused on a growth agenda rather than just operating in survival mode. Cultivating a new leadership style takes courage and conscious effort on the part of the organisation as a whole, the leaders, and the people they are leading. Looking at company culture and employee engagement through diagnostic tools provides leaders with the foundation for identifying the main leadership strengths and development needs within organisations. Leaders can’t simply ‘keep up’ – rather, they can be supported on the how to steer their teams and the organisation into the unknown by preparing for today and equipping themselves for tomorrow.


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Business Update

Discretionary portfolio management in these unprecedented times THE IMPORTANCE OF OBTAINING a professional investment service has never been as relevant as during the current period. Following the COVID-19 outbreak and the measures taken by authorities and governments all over the world, there has been a significant change in how people and organisations interact with each other and function. This change, coupled with the sheer amount of state aid and market intervention that continues to grow as the days unfold, has had a very big effect on the markets. It has made it both more difficult and important than ever for one to choose their investments wisely and re-balance their portfolio in a way that considers the many factors that are being affected by the unfolding scenario. This is a service that Michael Grech Financial Investment Services Limited (MGFIS) excels at, with a mature and highly knowledgeable team that has been offering its services for over 20 years. The company is made up of a team of 18 professionals, including 8 experienced investment advisors, each with a minimum of 10 years’ experience within the field. When it comes to investment services, there are different types and the highest level that any investor (individual or entity) can receive is that of discretionary portfolio management. A simple execution only service might be good for those who like to carry out their own research and have a higher level of investment knowledge. An advisory service is more suited for those who need guidance on how to choose the investments that are most suitable for their needs. The portfolio management service takes the advisory service to the next level and puts more onus on the investment services company. For this reason, the portfolio management service is much more comprehensive and requires us to conduct daily monitoring. Moreover, every investment decision taken by our portfolio managers must be carried out strictly in line with the agreement signed with the client. The discretionary service also requires a higher level of client reporting and transparency, where third party inducements are strictly prohibited, bar some minor non-financial ones. Another great advantage is that this service takes a portfolio view to choosing investments. This means that when choosing to trade an investment the portfolio managers will assess the

effect that such a move is expected to have on the entire portfolio, and they would not just consider the particular investment in isolation. Hence, they would carefully consider how the returns of different investments move together with other investments, keeping a watchful eye on the expected risk of the overall portfolio. Some investors may consider this level of service to be unnecessary, especially since the added work and higher quality service would necessarily be more expensive than a simpler one. However, never has a portfolio management service been so important as it has become recently. The aftermath of the pandemic is very uncertain and any investor attempting to do their own research will soon understand how conflicting analysts’ reviews can be. This is where engaging an experienced investment team becomes paramount. The portfolio managers at MGFIS have over 13 years’ experience each in investment services, with a background also in banking services. They are overseen by an investment committee which is governed by a board of directors whose senior members have over 40 years’ experiences in banking and finance. Even if an investor simply buys into a well-diversified fund or exchange traded fund, the current situation warrants further research into the underlying investments the fund holds within its portfolio. Our portfolio managers employ a five-stage process to construct any portfolio they manage which incorporates both macro (general) economic analysis and research on particular investments, assessing both quantitative and qualitative elements. More importantly they will assess the underlying holdings together as one portfolio to understand their combined expected riskadjusted returns. Michael Grech Financial Investment Services Ltd is licensed to conduct investment services in Malta by the Malta Financial Services Authority under the Investment Service Act, as regulated under the laws of Malta.

For further information, contact T: 2258 7000; E: info@michaelgrechfinancial.com; www.michaelgrechfinancial.com



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10 top reads for CEOs

There’s a reason the most successful CEOs are voracious readers, and why most have a habit of devouring a book a week. It is because knowledge is power, and frequent readers continuously engage with new information and different perspectives. Here, we share 10 books recommended for CEOs by CEOs.

1. Best for: Decision-making Thinking, fast and slow by Daniel Kahneman

Recommended by: John Lilly, former CEO of the Mozilla Corporation

Have you heard of the benefits of slower-but-smarter thinking? Do you know when you can and when you cannot trust your intuition? In this must-read classic, Daniel Kahneman – winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics – reveals how our minds are tripped up by errors made in haste. Based on years of research, his book provides the mental tools you need to make better, more effective decisions. This is an eyeopening tour of the mind that delves into the way we think. Most importantly, Kahneman presents different techniques you can use to guard against the mental glitches that often lead us into trouble.


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2. Best for: Leadership

The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz Recommended by: Mark Zuckerberg, co-Founder and CEO of Facebook, and Michael Dell, Founder and CEO of Dell Technologies Ben Horowitz shatters rose-tinted views about how great it is to start a business and reveals the brutal truth about the hardships of running one. As one of Silicon Valley’s most respected entrepreneurs, Horowitz draws from his experiences to share insights into developing, selling, investing in and managing companies. You’ll gain the wisdom required to face the problems and challenges that business school does not prepare you for. Above all, though, this is a genuinely enjoyable read. Horowitz is a straight talker and comedic writer, who even uses lyrics from his favourite songs to share lessons on how to cultivate CEO know-how.

3. Best for: Understanding the Digital Age

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World by Peter H Diamandis and Steven Kotler Recommended by: Eric Schmidt, former CEO of Google, and Jim Moffat, former Chairman and CEO of Deloitte Consulting If you want to be more proactive in your approach to business, read on because Bold is a visionary roadmap for people who believe they can change the world. You’re taken on a journey through the implications and opportunities triggered by the changes that are transforming the world. You’ll learn how to draw on the concepts of ‘change’ and ‘learning by doing’ to make impactful changes and overcome obstacles. Diamandis and Kotler delve into the power of 3D printing, AI, robotics, networks and sensors, and synthetic biology, and they share entrepreneurial secrets from billionaires such as Larry Page, Elon Musk and Richard Branson.


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4. Best for: Empowerment, Equality and Women in Business The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World by Melinda Gates

Recommended by: Warren Buffet, Chairman and CEO of Berkshire Hathaway This is not your typical ‘how-to’ business guide. In a refreshing twist, Melinda Gates has created an intimate collection of stories from inspirational people she has met around the world. Her stories are backed by alarming data on global issues that need our attention, from child marriage to gender inequity in the workplace. She powerfully illustrates how there has never been more opportunity to change the world and ourselves. We need to open our eyes, practice what we preach and take action. This is a compelling read for anyone who believes that when we lift others up, they lift us up too.

5. Best for: Time Management

Competing Against Time by George Stalk, Jr and Thomas M Hout Recommended by: Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, Inc, and John Sculley, former CEO of Apple, Inc How central is time to the running of your business? After 10 years of research, Stalk and Hout argue that the value of time is equivalent to that of money, productivity, quality and innovation. Time-based companies are shaping global markets, and it’s time to understand exactly how and why. You’ll be reading about how top companies like Toyota, Honda and Ford have put time-based strategies in place to manage production, product development, sales and distribution. Time is a competitive and strategic weapon. When you know how to use time effectively, you can open and sustain a significant advantage over your competition.


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6. Best for: Forward Thinking

The Goal: A Process of Ongoing Improvement by Eliyahu M Goldratt and Jeff Cox Recommended by: Jeff Bezos, Founder and CEO of Amazon.com Unique among the books in this list, The Goal is a fast-paced novel that tells the story of Alex Rogo and his fight to save his company. The book aims to transform perspectives on management. Goldratt and Cox touch upon the themes of performance and goal-setting to teach you how to focus energy on identifying the primary constraints of your business. They clearly explain the Theory of Constraints as developed by Eli Goldratt and deliver a serious message for managers about the importance of ongoing improvement. This is a valuable book to recommend to your colleagues or boss – but not to a competitor!

7. Best for: Building Resilience

The Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike by Phil Knight Recommended by: Bill Gates, Founder and former CEO of Microsoft Corporation Few CEOs reveal the dangerous reality behind their success. Phil Knight, the creator of Nike, is different. This is his inspiring account of how he started by borrowing $50 from his father to import sports shoes from Japan, which he sold from the boot of his car. Today, Nike’s sales top $30 billion, and its swoosh sign is immediately identifiable wherever you are in the world. This is the first-hand story of the man behind the swoosh and the challenges, crossroads and triumphs he’s encountered. It’s a read studded with lessons for anyone in business – no matter how new or well-established.


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8. Best for: Success

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck Recommended by: Satya Nandella, CEO of Microsoft Corporation, and Jack Dorsey, co-Founder and CEO of Twitter Dr Carol Dweck is a world-renowned, Stanford University psychologist, who delves into how success is influenced by mindset. The way you think about your talents and abilities affects your level of success – and this can be applied across all sectors of life. Those who believe that abilities are fixed (fixed mindset) are less likely to succeed than those who believe their abilities can be developed (growth mindset). Dweck also expands the concept beyond the individual to group and organisation culture. Read this book to learn how to motivate those you lead, teach and love – it can transform their lives as well as your own.

9. Best for: Productivity and Innovative Operations

Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson Recommended by: Richard Branson, Founder and former CEO of Virgin Group This is the book you need when entering the 2020s. The time for a daily roll call and being stuck in the office has long passed. And the technology needed to work in virtual workspaces and avoid the daily commute and the expense of physical clustering has come of age. We now live in the new ‘move work to the workers rather than workers to the workplace’ paradigm. In this book, Fried and Hansson combine eye-opening ideas with an entertaining narrative to show that working remotely increases talent pool, reduces staff turnover and the need for physical real estate, and enables cross-time-zone teams.

10. Best for: Preparing for the Future of Work

AI Superpowers: China, Silicon Valley, and the New World Order by Kai-Fu Lee Recommended by: Alan Murray, CEO of Fortune Artificial intelligence (AI) is booming and shows no signs of slowing down. It is reshaping life and the global economy, and China has caught up with the US as the next tech-innovation superpower. Here, Dr Kai-Fu Lee – one of the world’s experts on AI and China – calls on his experiences in AI at Google China, Microsoft and Apple to illustrate the responsibilities that accompany technological power, regardless of the impact on white-collar jobs. You learn how jobs will be affected and how soon this will happen. This is a blueprint for providing survival solutions in an age of profound technological disruption.




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