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Business Now Summer 2021

In Depth Industry experts weigh in on business sentiment and Malta’s post-COVID recovery

26 Interview Farsons CEO Norman Aquilina on the state of manufacturing and Malta’s economy

34 Young Entrepreneurs Mvintage founder Krystle Penza on building her jewellery business from scratch

76 Industry Greats Discovering the 131 years of passion and heritage behind camilleriparismode

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Official Partners

Cover Story Women leading the way in business


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BusinessNow

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Business Now

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In Depth

POST-PANDEMIC MALTA – WHAT’S ON THE HORIZON? As local businesses continue to project and plan for better days, Martina Said reaches out to the experts for their views on Malta’s post-COVID recovery.

26 Interview

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Cover Story

WOMEN TAKE THE LEAD

Sarah Micallef talks to the women at the helm of The Malta Chamber, The Malta Employers Association and the Malta Chamber of SMEs to find out their take on the future for women in leadership.

DRIVING GROWTH AND INNOVATION IN THE FACE OF ADVERSITY Martina Said catches up with Farsons Group CEO Norman Aquilina, for his views on the state of manufacturing and Malta’s economy in a post-pandemic environment.

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THE ROAD TO RECOVERY

Edward Scicluna, Malta’s former Finance Minister and now the Governor of the Central Bank, tells Rebecca Anastasi how the island’s economy is on the “verge of normalising”.

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THE HOSPITALITY WAY OF LIFE Country General Manager at Hilton Seychelles Andre Borg chats to Martina Said about his career development, the responsibility that comes with the role, and living in the idyllic Seychelles.

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Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses

A FRESH, PLAYFUL TAKE ON MALTESE IDENTITY

Sarah Micallef discovers what went into the recently opened Souvenirs That Don’t Suck shop in Valletta with Craig Macdonald, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Te fit-Tazza.

Young Entrepreneurs

Industry Greats

Rebecca Anastasi finds out how Krystle Penza, the Founder and Managing Director of Mvintage, spearheaded a revolution in the jewellery sector in Malta, creating a brand which champions female empowerment.

In the first of a series of stories dedicated to Malta’s industry greats, Sarah Micallef discovers the passion and heritage behind camilleriparismode.

DREAM BIG

131 YEARS OF PASSION

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Interview

Meet the Artist

Sarah Micallef catches up with Winston J Zahra to take stock of his experience at the helm of GG Hospitality and find out his plans for it moving forward.

Neal Vella chats with Martina Said about how Form Matters came about, where he hopes to steer it – and his passion for anything hand-crafted.

TACKLING THINGS HEAD ON: FROM MALTA TO MANCHESTER

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THE BEAUTIFUL MARRIAGE OF FORM AND FUNCTION

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AS BUSINESSES ACROSS INDUSTRIES HIT THE GROUND running in anticipation of a strong post-pandemic future, it’s never been a better time to consult industry leaders and experts on what we can expect in the months and years to come. This new publication aims to do just that – shining a spotlight on key players leading the way in their respective industries and sectors and gaining insight from the stakeholders that continue to be at the forefront of their fields. As the world slowly emerges from the dark cloud of COVID-19, we turn our gaze ahead at the road to recovery, lessons learned and what a postpandemic Malta has in store. In tandem, we meet the four formidable women at the helm of the major business bodies in Malta, who, by all accounts, herald the dawn of a new era for female leadership on the island. Elsewhere, Farsons Group CEO Norman Aquilina shares his insights into what the future holds for the manufacturing industry, while Country General Manager at Hilton Seychelles Andre Borg and GG Hospitality CEO Winston J Zahra detail their experiences at major hospitality companies overseas. Meanwhile, young entrepreneur and Mvintage founder Krystle Penza talks about spearheading a revolution in the jewellery sector in Malta, we take a look inside the beautiful new Souvenirs That Don’t Suck shop in Valletta, and dive into the incredible 131-year history of local heritage brand camilleriparismode. Finally, don’t miss our chat with Neal Vella about his fledgling brand Form Matters, through which the young architect seamlessly marries form with function. Enjoy the issue, Sarah Micallef

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

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


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Women take the lead

PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE. LOCATION: INIALA HARBOUR HOUSE, VALLETTA

In a landscape that is traditionally dominated by men, it is high time we see more female representation in the business world. In Malta, major business bodies are taking notice – appointing women to drive them forward into a more inclusive future. Sarah Micallef talks to the President and the CEO of The Malta Chamber, President of The Malta Employers Association and the CEO of the Malta Chamber of SMEs for their take on the future for women in leadership.

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‘Women are gradually climbing up the corporate ladder and securing higher positions’ Marisa Xuereb, President, The Malta Chamber

ELECTED PRESIDENT OF THE MALTA CHAMBER last March, Marisa Xuereb has been at the helm of foreignowned manufacturing company Raesch Quarz for over 20 years. At the start of her career, she lectured economics and undertook a number of research assignments with entities such as the Central Bank of Malta and the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission whilst working within the manufacturing industry. “My experience in industry has been most insightful, as what started as a small company producing a limited range of products for a sole-proprietor company in Germany grew into a competence centre in its own right, with a broad range of direct customers located in various parts of the world. Today, the company is part of a stock-listed technology group headquartered in Germany, and the only quartz fabrication competence centre within the group, which has a highly developed vertical supply chain across over 20 countries,” she explains. Throughout her career, Ms Xuereb says she has not experienced particular challenges related to gender, but rather describes the challenges of pursuing a career while raising a family. “There came a point in my life when I decided it was time to have children, and I stopped lecturing and cut down on my research assignments to have more time for them. I also reduced my travelling in relation to my job,” she admits, but says she has no regrets, because “notwithstanding all that I accomplished professionally, our children have always been the source of my greatest satisfaction.” Still, she believes, “every parent, whether male or female, has to deal with this.” Speaking of whether women tend to face greater obstacles to reach top positions, Ms Xuereb believes that ultimately, it depends on the culture of the organisation they work for, the capabilities of the people managing them, and their own willingness to get out of their comfort zone.


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“Some organisations are still very traditional, and poor at assessing competence and measuring performance,” she maintains, adding that in some cases, there is what is known as the frozen middle phenomenon, “whereby hardworking female employees are promoted to middle management positions and remain stuck there because they are so good at what they do, and are therefore hard to replace.” Typically, she notes, “such women work long hours and are drowning in desk work, thus leaving them very little time to think beyond their daily grind and network in circles of influence. Without this, progression to higher positions becomes difficult.” Statistically, Malta scores low among EU countries in its representation of women holding board positions in large companies. This comes as no surprise to Ms Xuereb, who feels that Malta lags behind in social development across several fronts. “Up until a few years ago, Maltese society was very conservative, and men and women were expected to fit into traditional gender roles,” she notes, affirming that this has begun to change, not least because of the adoption of EU-driven gender equality legislation and the introduction of civil liberties such as divorce and same sex marriage. “Women are gradually climbing up the corporate ladder and securing higher positions,” she says. Having been a member of The Malta Chamber for many years, Ms Xuereb became actively engaged six years ago upon joining its Council, and reveals that the first couple of years were “quite daunting” as she was one of only two women out of a total of 19 Council members. Then, during her second two-year Council term, she was appointed to the Board of

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Management, where she was the only woman and the youngest board member. “It was at this point that I started feeling that the Chamber badly needed to have more women and younger members engaged,” she explains, adding that during her third two-year term, she had the pleasure of serving as Deputy President alongside outgoing President David Xuereb, who had the vision of renewing the Chamber to what it is today. “As a result of all the changes that have been implemented, the Chamber today benefits from the active engagement of a lot more members, including many young entrepreneurs and several women,” she proudly shares. As the second female President in The Chamber’s history after Helga Ellul, Ms Xuereb is in office for two years. During these years, she intends to build on the foundations laid over the last two, noting, “we have a clear economic vision that has been embraced by both parties and continues to be reflected in all key national policy documents, including the recently published post-COVID strategy.” Paving the way forward, Ms Xuereb feels that having women in the driving seat of major business bodies sends a message that is “loud and clear.” “These organisations are torchbearers for the local business community. They have long lists of influential members, most of whom are male. Yet they are choosing women to lead them and are delivering results,” she says, affirming that because of this, “businesses will be encouraged to give women more space in the higher ranks of their organisations, and more women will be inspired to take on the challenges of higher positions.”


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‘As women we have to fight and make an extra effort’ Marthese Portelli, CEO, The Malta Chamber APPOINTED CEO OF THE MALTA CHAMBER earlier this year, former Nationalist MP Marthese Portelli says that at secondary school, a teacher gave her some sound advice that would stay with her throughout her student days. “She told me ‘Study for life. Do not study simply for the exam. Grasp as much knowledge as you can and go for a wide spectrum of subjects’.” Her diverse career reflects this lesson. Starting out as a junior lawyer in 2001, she took on the role of Chief Operations Manager within one of the largest IT companies in Malta just two years later, admitting that, while she knew it was beyond anything she’d experienced before, “once I put my mind to something, irrespective of the challenges that it brings with it, I give my utmost to succeed.” During the 13 years that followed, she occupied several managerial posts in the corporate world, and spearheaded several nationwide projects within the public and private sectors. This was followed by a seven-year stint as a Member of Parliament. Following her departure from politics, she continued working as a management consultant, focusing specifically on business restructuring, change management and EU funding. She also ventured into her first experience in sectoral representation. “I believe that my corporate background coupled with policy acumen, particularly my experience in policy formulation and negotiation, had a direct bearing on getting selected for my current CEO role. Whilst it is indeed an honour to be entrusted with such a high-profile role, I am also fully aware of the huge responsibility and challenges that it brings with it. That said, I am fully committed to continue building on The Malta Chamber’s strong legacy, its sound values and its successes,” she says. Subscribing to the belief that “nothing comes easy”, Ms Portelli says that throughout her journey, “like everybody else, I have faced a number of challenges and obstacles – some were gender related, some weren’t.” Despite this, she says, she sees challenges as part of life, advocating for resilience in the face of difficulty. “I believe that I am who I am, and my capabilities, are what they are, and I expect to be assessed on those criteria, not on the basis of my gender,” she maintains, admitting that ultimately, she has always been aware that it would not always be the case. “Having always worked in an intensely male-dominated industry it is not the first time that I was ‘ignored’, ‘overruled’ or

told that I am ‘overreacting’, simply on the basis of my gender,” she admits, revealing that it sometimes left her wanting to give up, but not for long. “As women we have to fight and make an extra effort. It is a fact that women have struggled to be given a voice and to be treated equally,” she asserts, conceding that it is never easy to break barriers, but “where there is a will there is a way.” Acknowledging that women continue to encounter challenges when it comes to achieving top positions, Ms Portelli quips, “often, women are judged as being too hard or too soft, and never just right. Often, women leaders are seen as competent or liked, but not both. When it comes to ability to lead effectively, men have it by default while women still have to repeatedly prove that they too can lead.” On this point, she says, kudos to The Chamber is in order. “Its ethos and outlook towards gender equality can be tangibly seen and felt – merit is given where and to who it is due.” Listing some steps that can be taken to increase representation of women in high-level positions and in the boardroom, Ms Portelli notes, “the mentality that men should ‘take charge’ and women should ‘take care’ still lingers,” describing this type of stereotyping as one of the stumbling blocks. The working environment and support structure do not help either, she continues, confiding, “I would like to wake up to the day when all women would be able to believe that they can do just about anything they set their minds to.” Finally, she adds, “we need a mentality shift in favour of productivity and results, and not time spent at the desk.” Now, just over a month since taking up her CEO role, her sights are firmly set on the task at hand: ensuring that Malta’s businesses continue to thrive and grow. “I want to help business achieve more, beyond whatever one could ever achieve alone. I want to help our members connect better, nationally and internationally, with other businesses and with opportunities,” she says, adding that she will ensure that The Chamber continues to be proactive on the needs and challenges of every section it represents. Finally, she says, it is also her goal to see The Chamber be the catalyst of change. “I see it being the prime mover in bringing about the much-needed paradigm shift in the mentality of how policy is thought out and how things are done.”


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‘Women who are in the driving seat have not made it there coincidentally’ Joanne Bondin, President, Malta Employers’ Association

HAVING BEEN APPOINTED PRESIDENT OF THE MALTA EMPLOYERS’ ASSOCIATION last April, Joanne Bondin joined MISCO’s recruitment team in 2006 and has 15 years of experience in providing consultancy services to various companies. Crediting her post within the recruitment unit at MISCO with helping her develop important networks in the business community, Ms Bondin says, “at a young age I found myself consulting CEOs and business leaders in choosing the right talent for their businesses.” She was appointed Head of Recruitment at the age of 25, and Director six years after that. “Throughout my experience I have coached and helped many individuals advance in their career and everyone has their story,” Ms Bondin says, explaining that everyone faces

challenges to advance in their career, irrespective of their gender. “I think that advancement depends on three elements: the environment you find yourself in, that is how nurturing and encouraging it is, if it gives you the opportunity to express yourself and try new things, and if it gives you the opportunity to develop yourself; the opportunities that come along and the attitude a person has towards seizing these opportunities; and most importantly, how we view and treat ourselves, whether we challenge ourselves constantly or are OK to stay in our comfort zone,” she elucidates. Speaking of whether women tend to face greater obstacles to reach top positions, Ms Bondin believes that women tend to be sensitive to what is traditionally expected of them by society, and this can present obstacles.


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“Societal norms are evolving – due to factors such as financial commitments, lifestyle and also higher levels of education, female participation in the workforce has increased,” she continues, pointing out that in Malta, we generally have more female than male graduates. The obstacles present themselves when couples decide to start a family, with one party elected as main caregiver, causing them to change career priorities by taking a career break, working on reduced hours or juggling a full-time job with taking care of the children. These choices, Ms Bondin says, tend to be detrimental to the career of the caregiver. “Now, the caregiver, in our society, generally tends to be the woman in the relationship,” she explains, positing that, if the care for the family is more balanced, it would result in a more equal playing field. “I also need to be fair and state that there are women who need to step up their game and if they want to be considered for leadership roles they also need to show and believe that they are willing to advance in their career,” she continues, admitting that she’s not in favour of quotas. Rather than quotas, “I believe in setting up and enforcing fair and transparent systems that give equal opportunities to everyone who is interested in being considered for roles.” Apart from this, Ms Bondin also feels that positions on company Boards should be communicated better. “Such roles tend to be offered to individuals forming part of tight networks, which is why networking is important. However, if such roles are promoted better, the selection committee will have a wider choice and can benefit from having a more diverse Board,” she adds. Finally, the MEA President would like to see organisations become more flexible and accommodating towards their employees, moving away from traditional ways of working. “We should focus on deliverables. COVID-19 has shown us that this can be done.” “Prioritising between family and work becomes a tricky situation,” she says, emphasising the importance of a strong support system. “I am expecting my first child and taking up the role of President was a difficult decision to make. I discussed this with my husband and family, the owner of MISCO and also MEA, and as they all showed me support, I felt more confident to take up this challenge,” she confides, drawing on her own experience. In fact, she believes that things are changing, slowly but surely. “I firmly believe that apart from having strong support systems for women, we also need to provide support for men. If we are expecting individuals, whatever their gender, to support their partners and also advance in their careers, we need to reassure them that their career trajectory will not be affected,” she notes, echoing The Chamber CEO’s view that a change in culture and mentality is required.

Having formed part of the MEA’s council for the past few years, Ms Bondin says she has always been impressed by the service and the support system it provides, so she was honoured to take up the role of President. “There is a strong team at MEA, and I intend to continue building on what has already been accomplished,” she says. Commenting on having more female representation at the helm of organisations like MEA, Ms Bondin says that it sends the message that women are being considered and selected for leadership roles. “Women who are in the driving seat have not made it there coincidentally. It takes hard work, dedication and determination,” she maintains. “I feel that this will impact the local business scene positively, not only because there are more women but because there is more diversity amongst business leaders.”

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‘The local business scene has benefitted and will continue to benefit from increased female representation’ Abigail Mamo, CEO, Malta Chamber of SMEs “EVEN THOUGH I WAS NEVER IN BUSINESS MYSELF, I feel that I always had a great affinity with business, especially smaller businesses,” says Abigail Mamo, who has served as CEO of Malta Chamber of SMEs since 2014. Having watched her father start his own business and face the challenges it brought along with it, she says, “I have great admiration for people like my father and businesses in general. Business representation is a true passion and vocation for me.” For Ms Mamo, it was her undergraduate thesis that led her to the Malta Chamber of SMEs. “I sought to analyse a best practice in European legislation where the EU sought to think small first and cater its demand to fit into the capabilities of SMEs,” she says, explaining that the then-Director General, the late Vince Farrugia, was her tutor. “He believed in me and immediately offered me an opportunity to work at the SME Chamber,” she recalls. Within the SME Chamber, she went from setting up an EU support desk for businesses to taking care of policy matters, until she was eventually appointed CEO. This, however, did not come without its challenges. As a young woman forming part of a male-dominated council, Ms Mamo explains that for years, the organisation had been led by older men, and many had become accustomed to interacting with such a profile. “I was still in my late 20s and a female, but I would say that my age featured more of a concern than my gender. I do not feel I have suffered any kind of bias in relation to my gender and I believe this is very reflective of how mindsets in society have already changed,” she attests. Having said that, Ms Mamo is adamant that she has never let her gender stop her from achieving and fulfilling her role. “During the seven years I have served as CEO I had two girls,” she explains, noting that she makes sure to organise her schedule and support her family every day, alongside her partner, who does the same. “Our parents also give us very valuable support. Nonetheless, we are very present in our role as mum and dad, and make sure our family has all it needs.” On this point, Ms Mamo is in agreement with her counterparts that the main obstacle women tend to face is related to their traditional role as main carer of the family. “I do not believe that there is a bias against women, or that women are less capable, but unless the responsibility of caring for the family is balanced between the parents and there is an adequate support structure, the female in

the family will find it harder,” she attests, noting that this can prevent or delay women from reaching top positions. On the other hand, she acknowledges that there are more women who see greater value in investing time with the family than men, and despite having access to support, they still decide to stay home, and that is fine as long as it is their choice. “My appeal is for women not to let themselves be overwhelmed and won over. There are options and they should make full use of them, such as the exceptional free national child-care scheme, working flexibly, etc,” she says. Addressing the lack of women holding Board positions in large companies, Ms Mamo continues to say that women lack role models and suffer from a lack of visibility. “The male clubs start from when they are young,” she says, affirming that males have consistency in their network, whereas it was different for females, particularly in the past. “What we see on today’s Boards is a result of our education system many years back. Girls were not as driven towards careers as they are today. They were driven to be achievers, but only up to a certain extent,” she asserts, maintaining that doing more of what we are already doing in the education system, by introducing co-ed schools, driving girls and giving them visible role models will make big differences. “Females need more visibility to address the gaps we have today – gaps that will start to close as we start reaping the benefits of our improved education system,” Ms Mamo adds. Within her role as CEO of Malta Chamber of SMEs, she feels that she has grown in tandem with the organisation and looks forward to continuing to build on this growth moving forward. And as major business bodies like The Malta Chamber and The Malta Employers Association follow suit by appointing women to their topmost positions, Ms Mamo considers this a “clear example” of female empowerment. “It is a clear message of how much our society and businesses themselves believe in females. All of us in such positions were chosen by businesses themselves, not just to do a good job, but to be their voice and represent their interest,” says the SME Chamber CEO, who believes that this says a lot. “The local business scene has benefitted and will continue to benefit from increased female representation. It will surely be a contributor to having greater diversity also at enterprise level.”


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Post-pandemic Malta – What’s on the horizon? As local businesses continue to project and plan for better days, Martina Said reaches out to the experts for their views on Malta’s post-COVID recovery, current business sentiment, and what lies ahead. AT THE START OF 2021, when Malta had just begun rolling out its vaccination programme, the feeling on the ground among businesses and the public was somewhat grim – COVID-19 cases were skyrocketing, businesses were forced to close once again, and the uncertainty of 2020 that everyone hoped would be left behind at the start of the new year re-emerged in full force. Seven months down the line, however, the islands’ pandemic prospects have taken a positive turn, and today, with few reported daily cases and over 60 per cent of the population fully vaccinated against COVID-19, a ‘post-pandemic Malta’ seems more within reach. But what does this mean for the country’s economy, its businesses and the livelihoods of its citizens?

Economist and Bank of Valletta Chairman, Gordon Cordina, says a useful way to appreciate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the economy is to gauge the number of years that it will have set us back by the end of 2021, when the first emerging signs of recovery can be expected to take root. Key indicators include the production of the economy as measured by its Gross Domestic Product – “if the EU Commission forecast for 2021 growth is correct, Malta’s GDP will reach €11.9 billion this year, roughly the value of 2018 – therefore a loss of three years’ worth of growth; value added in tourism- and retail-related sectors will see a loss of between five and six years of past growth by the end of 2021; there has been no loss in value added in the rest of the economy – there was actually growth in 2020, spurred by activity in iGaming,


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PHOTO BY TYLER CALLEJA

“If the EU Commission forecast for 2021 growth is correct, Malta’s GDP will reach €11.9 billion this year, roughly the value of 2018 – therefore a loss of three years’ worth of growth.” Gordon Cordina, Chairman, Bank of Valletta

ICT, financial services and construction, albeit at three per cent, the average growth in these sectors was at only half the strength seen in the past five years.” Dr Cordina adds that employment flexed only marginally downwards, so the economy suffered no substantial losses on that front, sustained by support schemes implemented by Government, while the public debt to GDP ratio is to reach 65 per cent by the end of 2021, “thereby cancelling seven years of progress”. In line with most projections, Dr Cordina says that the Maltese economy can be expected to recover relatively quickly due to pent-up demand for international tourism and the permanence of the underlying factors that have vouched for the country’s business competitiveness over the past few years. “The increase in public debt will, however, act as a drag to longer-term growth possibilities. Malta may have been relying on the low level of public debt perhaps more than

other economies as a factor to attract foreign direct investment (FDI), to invest in environmental amelioration and technological improvements, and to restructure its taxation system,” he asserts. “It is probable that these plans may need to be implemented over a longer period of time, necessitating additional measures to attain the intended objectives.” The Chairman adds that the success of Malta’s recovery will also depend on the speed at which change can be implemented – including green and blue economic activities, digitalisation and skills enhancements, “focusing on resilient higher value-added opportunities that have long been touted as the key elements of Malta’s future development.” Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development, Miriam Dalli, says it is encouraging to see a high level of consistency among different forecast reports, which are all pointing towards a rapid recovery for Malta’s economy. “This is the result of our ability to counter the challenges brought about by the pandemic by prioritising health while safeguarding jobs and the livelihoods of our people.”

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“Companies that embrace the transition towards a more digital and sustainable business model will be investing in their own growth and long-term prosperity.”

Dr Dalli says that Malta’s successful vaccination programme will have a strong bearing on consumer confidence, and many local businesses have already experienced a faster bounceback in their operations compared to last year’s reopening phase. “This feel-good-factor can also leverage on a robust financial position enjoyed by many Maltese residents who have collectively seen their savings increase by €1.3 billion in the last year, as we managed to effectively protect employment and ensure a continued income for our working population.” The Minister adds that, by being the first European country to achieve herd immunity, Malta has been able to unlock its tourism sector, which “will enable our economic recovery to benefit directly from external consumption. All these factors combined will help support a quick and healthy economic recovery in the months to come.” Sharing her projections for Malta’s post-pandemic business environment, Dr Dalli says that COVID-19 could be described as a corporate watershed moment which not only accelerated the pace of businesses’ digital transition, but also irreversibly changed the way consumers will interact with businesses on a global scale. “Maltese businesses are no exception. They need to be agile, digitally visible and proactive in placing their products and services in a way that makes it easy for their clients to purchase,” she asserts. “Green technology can enable a significantly lower cost base across operations and simultaneously widen new revenue streams. Companies that embrace the transition towards a more digital and sustainable business model will be investing in their own growth and long-term prosperity.” The Minister adds that, with the technology available today and its level of accessibility, the current generation can not only dream big, but also implement change and make things happen. “Digital technology allows products and services to be made available globally and open capital markets are making it much easier for innovation to flourish. We can also make the leap towards more sustainable and greener business models because of the ongoing improvement in energy efficiency and green technology.”

PHOTO BY BERNARD POLIDANO

Miriam Dalli, Minister for Energy, Enterprise and Sustainable Development

“As a policy maker, I want to continue to work hard to enable our business community to make this leap, embrace these opportunities and overcome the challenges ahead of us,” says Dr Dalli. “This is the ethos of my work, and this is the direction that, together with all stakeholders and Malta Enterprise, we want to help Maltese companies take in the years to come.” On behalf of Malta Enterprise, Chief Executive Officer, Kurt Farrugia, says that going forward, the resilience of the Maltese economy, industry and employers will be crucial. “Currently, business sentiment is cautious, but still positive. The element of trust among all the stakeholders, including employees and their employers is a remarkable factor in underlining Malta’s ability to bounce back,” he says. “Government is also committed towards assisting the Maltese economy to recover, and the Economic Recovery Plan announced in May clearly highlights this commitment to not only bounce back, but also to channel our resources in the right direction, namely by helping businesses attain profitability by regenerating and investing in a more sustainable business model with a green and digital mindset at the core of their operations.”


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As Malta’s economic development agency tasked with attracting new FDI, Mr Farrugia says that while 2020 was a difficult year, Malta’s economy was in a good position to weather the storm due to its diverse niches. Indeed, in 2020, Malta Enterprise managed to attract more single FDI projects compared to 2019, which he says were the outcome of years of discussion. “However, investors still believed in Malta’s potential to bounce back. Malta’s success in dealing with the pandemic, its impeccable vaccine rollout, low unemployment rates and being the first in Europe to reach herd immunity, did not go unnoticed. Malta’s proactive approach offered the clarity required for them to seal the deal,” says the CEO. “The same positive trends in relation to FDI are still being felt in 2021.” Throughout the past year, the agency has been appealing to Maltese businesses to look at their models and engage in change and adaptation. “Businesses that think everything will return to the reality of 2019 will find that they are mistaken – customer needs and expectations have changed. In light of this, Malta Enterprise is managing schemes which assist businesses on various levels,” says Mr Farrugia. These include the Change to Grow scheme, aimed at helping businesses carry out an analysis of their business model to identify where they can implement change to be more effective and sustainable, as well as the Smart and Sustainable Investments scheme, among others. Mr Farrugia insists that changing one’s operation to be more efficient, agile and technology enabled can ultimately lead to penetration into new markets as well as reaching new niches of local and international customers.

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Throughout the pandemic, the Malta Development Bank (MDB) has also played a crucial role in ensuring that the damage inflicted by COVID-19 on the local economy is not long lasting, supporting operators of different sizes and across all economic sectors. MDB Chairman, Josef Bonnici, says that since the launch of the COVID-19 Guarantee Scheme in April of 2020, “we have sanctioned over €440 million in working capital loans to more than 570 beneficiaries. Together, these employ over 40,000 employees. As businesses have been reopening, we are optimistic that Malta is prepared for a gradual build-up of economic momentum. Indeed, a number of the operators supported during the pandemic are taking the opportunity to invest in upgrading their facilities, their processes, and their workforce.” Sharing his economic outlook for the rest of 2021, Prof. Bonnici says that the latest macroeconomic projections published by the European Commission and the Central Bank of Malta augur well. “The Maltese economy is expected to rebound strongly in 2021 and 2022, partly mirroring a notable growth in the investment component of the GDP. As Malta’s only national promotional bank, we are ready to continue assisting local businesses in accessing the required finance,” he asserts.

Kurt Farrugia, CEO, Malta Enterprise

PHOTO BY JASON BORG

“Malta’s proactive approach offered the clarity required for [foreign investors] to seal the deal.”


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“However, let us not forget that Malta is an open economy. We do not exist in a vacuum. Our economic growth is highly dependent on interactions with trading partners; therefore, our ability to remain competitive is also susceptible to developments in international markets.” Prof. Bonnici says that while the pandemic and the necessary health and travel restrictions brought many economic sectors to a standstill, many businesses managed to survive in very challenging and unprecedented circumstances. “This was not easy and entailed a lot of personal sacrifices. Although the general feeling among businesses is well below the bullish levels recorded in 2019, available indices suggest a marked improvement in economic sentiment indicators when compared to 2020,” says the Chairman. “I believe that on the back of the resilience shown during this difficult period, many entrepreneurs are cautiously optimistic that the worst is hopefully over. This sentiment is also spurred by the very successful and fast roll-out of vaccines in Malta, as well as the lifting of restrictive measures in our main trading partners.”

“On the back of the resilience shown during this difficult period, many entrepreneurs are cautiously optimistic that the worst is hopefully over.” Josef Bonnici, Chairman, Malta Development Bank

Reflecting on the risks that businesses would do well to anticipate in a post-pandemic scenario, Prof. Bonnici says that crises tend to be unpredictable and therefore difficult, if not impossible, to plan for, except to have robust systems in place and watch business trends carefully. “I think that our collective hardships of the past year have given new dimensions to business continuity and that our experience with COVID-19 has driven many businesses, even those deeply dependent upon personal interaction, to explore what technology could offer and to develop new perspectives for older business models,” he asserts, adding that, as connectivity is at the core of almost all of Malta’s economic activity and with the technological developments that have been influencing business models in diverse industries, “it would be apt to continue to explore how digital connectivity can offer new opportunities to Maltese businesses.” Sharing his views on Malta’s economic forecast for 2021, Former Finance Minister and Executive Director at Von der Heyden Group, Tonio Fenech, says that while at first sight Malta’s recovery rate looks encouraging, in reality “4.6 per cent is only a partial catch up from the seven per cent drop that the economy experienced in 2020 due to the pandemic”, and while advancing with the vaccination roll-out will allow the country to move quicker into a normalised environment, “not all businesses will be able to restart so easily, as businesses are not a ‘switch off-switch on’ mechanism.”


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“The heavy public investment in the country’s infrastructure and the support measures to companies not to lay off workers remain a contributor to the GDP, and make the forecast achievable, however the recovery of the private sector as a contributor to growth in some sectors is still weak and may require more time to recover.” With this in mind, Mr Fenech believes that business sentiment in Malta is still low. “While I understand Government’s efforts to keep positive and talk the economy up, this crisis was not economic – this is a health crisis whose victims were not only people, but also economic activity,” he asserts. “Malta, being highly dependent on tourism, still faces uncertainties despite the hope of a normal summer. This is proving challenging with a lot of countries still imposing restrictions.”

Looking ahead towards Malta’s post-pandemic business environment, Mr Fenech says there are some serious challenges that need to be addressed to ensure that businesses can do business again in Malta. “With the advent of MoneyVal, more than the pandemic, regulation has become very heavy, not merely increasing compliance costs, which in itself is an issue, but making business difficult to do,” he asserts.

Critical to a boost in tourism will be the normalisation of flight connections and the level of pick-up in private consumption, that still appears low, says Mr Fenech. “People on wage supplements have certainly not had it easy and their propensity to spend is limited. The voucher system to encourage spending is a good measure, however, some families will not afford to spend beyond those amounts.”

Mr Fenech adds that opening a company can now take weeks, rather than days; uncertainty abounds as to whether a bank account will be granted for any business proposition; and the responsibilities imposed on anti-money laundering (AML) checks, although needed, risk choking start-ups and other businesses. “We do risk entering a phase of over regulation which, in itself, kills business.”

“This crisis was not economic – this is a health crisis whose victims were not only people, but also economic activity.” Tonio Fenech, former Finance Minister and Executive Director, Von der Heyden Group

There are, however, opportunities ahead that have been spurred on by the pandemic. The former finance minister says that COVID-19 has shown that businesses can still work differently, online and from home. “I believe IT literacy and the use of internet communication tools have grown, and this is an investment. The fact that workers who can work remotely from home have done so efficiently proves that teleworking arrangements for parents with children can work, and need not be seen as though a favour is being granted to an employee,” says Mr Fenech. “The cost of doing business in terms of space and infrastructure can be cheaper, and businesses are expected to take opportunity of this evolution. Online purchasing has increased, with local companies also focusing on their online presence, which has become an important part of their business and will complement their core activities,” he concludes. “Opportunities are there – businesses have had to restructure and adapt and, in some cases, this has made them stronger.”


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Driving growth and innovation in the face of adversity As a pillar of Malta’s manufacturing industry, Farsons Group is no stranger to challenges – but COVID-19 has proven to be a challenge unlike any other, for the company and the industry at large. Martina Said catches up with Group Chief Executive Officer Norman Aquilina, for his views on the state of the sector and Malta’s economy in a post-pandemic environment. AT THE END OF MAY, Farsons Group published its financial statements for the year ending 31st January 2021, revealing the devastating effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on its business and revenue during the previous 12 months. In April 2020, the first full month after the pandemic broke locally, Group turnover fell by 55 per cent. Despite the company’s resilience and its ability to withstand the storm, the results offer a snapshot of the sheer impact of COVID-19 on Malta’s manufacturing sector, which Norman Aquilina, Chief Executive Officer at Farsons Group, says has affected all manufacturing sectors to varying degrees, “some more than others”. “Nonetheless, manufacturing remains an important pillar within Malta’s economic infrastructure, whether it’s in relation to employment, investment levels or contribution to GDP, which stands at around 12 per cent.”

“Manufacturing remains an important pillar within Malta’s economic infrastructure.”

Commenting on the sector’s status, more than a year since life and business as we knew it got turned on its head, Mr Aquilina says it is disconcerting to note a significant decrease in the index of industrial production for Malta as published by Eurostat up to February 2021. “The industrial production index is a monthly economic indicator measuring real output in manufacturing. The data for February 2020 to February 2021 incorporates almost a full year of COVID-19, so even if the overall decline remains disconcerting, one must acknowledge that any manufacturing firms dependent on tourism and hospitality, such as ours, would be understandably affected.” Despite the ongoing economic uncertainties posed by the pandemic, Mr Aquilina confidently believes that the manufacturing industry as a whole “has managed to weather the storm” but is less optimistic about defining the coming months as a gradual return to normality. “I would qualify normality as ‘relative normality’, because COVID-19 is not something that is here today and gone tomorrow. I believe it will have some lasting effects on our lives and businesses in general, including manufacturing, hence why many are referring to the ‘new normal’.” The CEO says that while everyone wishes to put the pandemic behind them, “there still remains some uncertainty as to whether we will see an economic rebound, implying a quick recovery, or a spill-over effect, implying a more gradual recovery. In the case of


PHOTOS BY BERNARD POLIDANO

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“The importance of policy-makers taking all the right decisions and measures to stimulate the economy cannot be over-emphasised.”

manufacturing, the speed of recovery will need to be considered from a sector specific perspective.”

trade segment, which incorporates hotels, bars and restaurants,” he asserts.

As an operator within the Food and Beverage (F&B) industry, Farsons Group was among those immediately affected by the restrictions on travel and social activity imposed by the authorities in March 2020. Mr Aquilina highlights that, with tourism being a mainstay of Malta’s economy, by default, anything that hits tourism will certainly have a knock-on effect on many other sectors.

Mr Aquilina draws attention to the Group’s 55 per cent decline in turnover in April 2020 compared to the previous year, saying “the immediate impact was massive, even if it eventually levelled out to a drop of 29 per cent by the end of our financial year, 31st January 2021.”

“One particular sector which directly impacts the F&B sector is hospitality. Therefore, the closure and restrictive measures had a major impact on the demand of F&B consumption within what we refer to as the on-

He adds that the Group responded in various ways to mitigate the impact, “most notably by means of restraining our expenditure and containing our operating costs, apart from the obvious changes to working conditions. That said, we took a conscious decision to retain all our workforce,” says the CEO.


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“We constantly invest in the training and upskilling of our workers. They are an integral part of what Farsons produces and represents. We view our workers as an integral ‘asset’, and certainly not simply as a payroll cost. We must recognise that they played a critically important role in dealing with the pandemic, and going forward, they will undoubtedly be an essential pre-requisite in us effectively addressing the COVID-19 spill-over, ultimately within a post-COVID recovery scenario.” Taking a broader perspective on Malta’s economic recovery in a post-COVID environment, Mr Aquilina says he subscribes to the belief that Malta’s economic recovery, from a macroeconomic point of view, is more likely to be gradual, in terms of reaching the island’s pre-COVID economic performance, but most certainly, different sectors of the economy will progress at different paces. “Our economic recovery is of particular importance because as we know, Government expenditure has been significantly impacted in dealing with the health and economic crises, and as reaffirmed on a number of occasions, Government is relying not only on our economic recovery, but also our economic growth, which is needed to alleviate Government revenue as opposed to resorting to increases in taxation,” says Mr Aquilina. “Therefore, the key challenge is not the public debt per se, but more the policies to manage and sustain the economy from growing out of any possible debt distress. The importance of policy-makers taking all the right decisions and measures to stimulate the economy cannot be over-emphasised.”

“This pandemic has brought about a more challenging environment, but it has likewise also compelled us to challenge ourselves.”

Turning to the long-term challenges and implications of the pandemic on Malta’s manufacturing sector, the CEO says that the extraordinary events of the past year have compelled many businesses, manufacturing in particular, to revisit their business models, which includes “revisiting one’s set-up, ways of working and related working environment, cost structures with particular focus on mitigating fixed costs, whilst leaning towards a more variable cost structure, and much more.” He adds that all these actions are transforming most businesses, “with the industry being particularly impacted from a competitiveness point of view, keeping in mind that manufacturing typically requires an element of economies of scale with relatively low margins,” he asserts, highlighting the sensitivity to balance out a transformed work set-up, which needs to hold on to an adequate level of scale to retain a highly efficient and competitive production line.

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However, wherever there are challenges, there are also opportunities – and Mr Aquilina certainly sees these in Farsons Group’s future. “This pandemic has brought about a more challenging environment, but it has likewise also compelled us to challenge ourselves, to dig deeper into our operations and ways of working with a view to seeing how we can work smarter.” He explains that COVID-19 has further underlined the importance of agility and the ability to be able to respond effectively. “Over time, businesses tend to become complex, sometimes overly so, yet I do believe that prevailing circumstances have compelled many to streamline and simplify operations, rendering many businesses more efficient.” “This has brought along far-reaching opportunities for transformation and the further embracement of change management. I would even extend this to incorporate opportunities for innovation in the broadest of senses – be it from a corporate set-up point of view to ways of working, new products or services, development, and much more.” Singling out a prominent opportunity which cannot be left out of the ‘business transformation’ conversation is the extent to which the pandemic has promoted the importance of adopting the use of technology, as Malta is now moving faster than ever before towards a digital economy. “Today, more and more businesses have recognised that the use of technology within this context is not just a useful tool to have but an essential prerequisite in a business’s ability to stay in the game. The growing presence of eCommerce has now more than ever made us aware that digitalisation is a must.”

“The growing presence of eCommerce has now more than ever made us aware that digitalisation is a must.”

As the person at the forefront of leading a large-scale business through such uncharted waters, I ask Mr Aquilina where he hopes to steer Farsons Group in the years to come, as well as his greatest aspirations for the company. Off the bat, the CEO says he supports the belief that being at the helm of a company is “more about a journey and much less about a destination, with set yet moving targets of a creative, qualitative and competitive nature.” “Staying competitive is a never-ending story. We need to constantly keep challenging ourselves to always stay ahead of the curve. Challenges are there to be overcome and not overlooked, and, as we pursue our growth strategy, I see lots of challenges ahead, but certainly even more opportunities,” says Mr Aquilina. “My aspirations for the company can be summed up as that of staying ambitious and to keep growing by constantly pushing for a culture of driving performance,” the CEO concludes – “performance that can withstand constantly-growing competitive pressures and drive continuous innovation as we set our sights on reaching greater heights.”


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The road to recovery The economic shock brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has seen industries and businesses battle unprecedented challenges. Yet, says Edward Scicluna, Malta’s former Finance Minister and now the Governor of the Central Bank, the island’s economy is on the “verge of normalising”. Here, speaking to Rebecca Anastasi, he reflects upon the past 18 months, and on what lies ahead.

AT THE BEGINNING OF LAST YEAR, few could have predicted the way the following months of 2020 would have upended lives and livelihoods. The COVID-19 pandemic had a debilitating effect on relationships, businesses and economies across the globe. Here in Malta, according to the National Statistics Office, the crisis had a negative impact on macroeconomic indicators – the island’s Gross Domestic Product contracted by nearly six per cent over 2019 – as well as economic activity, which declined by 13 per cent over the same period. To counter the challenges, a generous Government aid package was provided to Malta’s struggling businesses, which included a Wage Supplement to prevent mass unemployment; the distribution of restaurant and retail vouchers to encourage consumer spending; and the raising of the tax-free threshold for VAT-exempt businesses from €20,000 to €30,000. As a result, Government’s Consolidated Fund registered a deficit of nearly €1.5 billion in 2020, compared to a surplus of around nine million euro recorded in 2019, NSO figures have shown. Yet, Malta’s successful vaccination programme and mitigation measures have, more recently, pushed down virus figures, allowing the authorities to ease restrictions and further reopen Malta’s economy, with stakeholders and analysts predicting a financial recovery on the horizon. Indeed, German credit rating agency, Scope Ratings, has recently accorded Malta an A+ credit rating, highlighting the island’s stable outlook, and potential for

growth across various sectors. Moreover, in February, the Central Bank of Malta published projections which show that Malta’s GDP will increase five per cent in 2021; 5.5 per cent in 2022; and 4.7 per cent in 2023. “The underlying assumption behind these projections is that economic activity levels will return to prepandemic levels by 2022, conditional on the successful implementation of the vaccination programme,” Governor of the Central Bank Edward Scicluna, says, highlighting, however, that the restrictions introduced in March, less than one month later, have had an impact on these figures. “Containment measures were re-introduced in March and April. On the other hand, Government extended its fiscal support to the private sector and the vaccination rate has been faster than was assumed in February. These two considerations imply that the first half of 2021 should be weaker than anticipated, but the second half of 2021 should be stronger. On balance, therefore, we do not anticipate large adjustments to our projections for economic activity for 2021 as a whole, and we retain the assumption that pre-pandemic levels will be attained next year,” he explains. Malta’s economic resilience is the result of the country’s solid GDP growth over the previous years, as well as the fiscal space available at the outset of the unprecedented social and economic shocks caused by the coronavirus crisis, the Governor insists.


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“We have learnt that one should not take things for granted. We also learnt that it paid to be fiscally prudent when the economy could afford it.”

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“In the first three months of 2021, while uncertainty was still viewed as elevated, it has come down sharply.”

“We have learnt that one should not take things for granted. We also learnt that it paid to be fiscally prudent when the economy could afford it. That fiscal space is like reserves of oxygen which might be required during difficult times when your room for manoeuvre becomes more restrained. It is important that when the economy allows it, this view of fiscal governance and lower indebtedness continues,” Prof. Scicluna says. Indeed, he attributes Government’s generous aid package – for which he was substantially responsible, as former Minister of Finance – for the positive outlook facing the country’s businesses, across all sectors. “The enormous fiscal support schemes – especially those which kept staff on the firms’ payroll – meant that, today, the economy is on the verge of normalising: employers in general may proceed from where they left off before COVID,” he says.

However, difficulties remain and the road to recovery will not be smooth, he warns. Reflecting this cautious approach, according to a Central Bank survey featured in the Bank’s new publication, Business Dialogue, two thirds of local firms continue to assess current business conditions as weak and well below pre-COVID-19 levels, while a third reported positive developments. “One of the main themes raised in our conversations with businesses has been the high level of uncertainty. However, in the first three months of 2021, while uncertainty was still viewed as elevated, it has come down sharply. In fact, when commenting on the near term, over 40 per cent of businesses reported that they expect a stable outlook over the coming months,” he asserts, underlining that this “does not mean that economic activity levels are anywhere near pre-pandemic levels.”


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“The remarkable rate of vaccination in Malta should support confidence and economic activity as we enter the second half of the year.”

For, he insists, “the pandemic is still with us and some sectors – in particular those providing certain services – continue to report weak business conditions.” Despite this, he reiterates that better days are ahead: “the remarkable rate of vaccination in Malta should support confidence and economic activity as we enter the second half of the year,” he stresses. Prof. Scicluna also underscores that the impact of the pandemic has not been the same in every sector. “The services sector – especially firms with links to tourism and those relying on direct contact with consumers – have generally reported very low levels of economic activity, as one would expect. However, other sectors – such as the pharmaceutical industry – have reported positive developments throughout. Other industries – such as the gaming industry – quickly recovered from the initial shock,” he attests. Despite this, the pandemic is not the only challenge Maltese businesses have to contend with, and Brexit has put some pressure on the island’s intricate trade links to the United Kingdom. “Some businesses, especially in certain pockets of manufacturing, are reporting increased costs related to complex customs procedures, adherence to new regulations and disruptions to supply. For example, some retailers in the fashion industry had to change their suppliers to avoid certain costs. Importers of used cars from the UK also report increases in costs,” he explains. “It is, though, early to assess if such costs will have an immediate and lasting impact on consumers. Should firms succeed in identifying alternative sources for their imports – and some have – or otherwise ‘learn’ to minimise the costs of burdensome procedures, the impact on consumers would be more limited,” he says. Yet, he continues, Britain’s exit from the bloc “does not seem to be the most important issue faced by most businesses.” Indeed, its impact could have been substantially worse had the UK and the EU not reached consensus as to what the future relationship would be.

Indeed, Prof. Scicluna asserts, “it is very difficult to assess the impact of Brexit, because this is masked by a larger shock, which is the pandemic. Similar to other countries, Malta is also experiencing an increase in commodity and transport costs that are not related to Brexit but have more to do with supply bottlenecks caused by the pandemic. This is more likely to result in higher prices of certain goods in the coming months, given that it is affecting several countries and various stages of production simultaneously.” Looking ahead, to the next few months of 2021, Prof. Scicluna stresses the Central Bank’s role in ensuring the stability of the country’s financial and economic systems. “We want the Bank to be an independent and credible Central Bank,” he says. To this end, the Bank “needs to implement monetary policy with an intelligent voice with the Eurosystem backed by high quality research. Its Central Banking services need to be of the same quality. Above all, it must be an innovative institution, leveraging on new technologies which are the tools for securing a future based on increasing efficiency and effectiveness.” Indeed, the Bank has “embarked on a digital transformation journey”, establishing a new role of Chief Operating Officer, responsible for overseeing the Bank’s Strategic Plan, Prof. Scicluna says. This plan aims to “enhance efficiency and effectiveness, and to help the Bank mitigate the risk” while also increasing transparency so “that every employee can clearly see the connection between our mission, the Bank’s strategic objectives and the contribution required by each Division, Department and Office, in line with our organisational structure.” This will empower the institution’s employees to “develop their full potential, thus continuing to attract and retain the best talent,” Prof. Scicluna insists. For, in his view, to achieve the Bank’s current and future strategy, “a knowledgeable, professional and well-trained workforce” is imperative – one which is loyal to the protection of Malta’s economic stability.


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PHOTO BY ED MUSCAT AZZOPARDI

A fresh, playful take on Maltese identity The recently opened Souvenirs That Don’t Suck shop on St John’s Square in Valletta sits somewhere between a museum shop and a retail experience, brimming with character, culture and creativity. Sarah Micallef discovers what went into it with Craig Macdonald, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Te fit-Tazza.

PHOTO BY ANDREW INGUANEZ

PHOTO BY MATT THOMPSON

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Malta’s Most Beautiful Businesses

IN THE MIDST OF A TRYING PANDEMIC YEAR which saw the unfortunate closure of several retail outlets, Malta’s capital city welcomed a shop unlike any other along its storied streets. Intended as a space that provides creative and authentic tokens of the culture that surrounds us by a team of creatives who are on a mission to give the world higher-quality and better-designed souvenirs, the new Souvenirs That Don’t Suck shop on St John’s Square threw open its doors last July. Craig Macdonald, Creative Director and Co-Founder at Te fit-Tazza, which took over operations of the brand in 2018, explains that the aim behind the design of the space was to provide as much of an authentic modern local experience as possible. “The concept for the store is

“The concept for the store is to serve as a natural extension of the island culture and experience, almost like a museum gift shop of sorts, with the country being the museum.”


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to serve as a natural extension of the island culture and experience, almost like a museum gift shop of sorts, with the country being the museum,” he says. Delving into the design brief, Craig says that it was mainly focused on three pillars: “to use the limited footprint in a way that is coherent with the surrounding area; to create a retail experience that is clear, intuitive and communicates the product offering effectively; and to fall as closely to the aesthetic objective as possible with the materials that are presently available.”

“Given that the scope of our work has been the Maltese identity and aesthetic, we wanted to draw from our years of research and exploration, and translate this into our new retail space,” explains Craig, revealing that the team largely drew inspiration from the materials and geometry in local post-war modernist architecture built between the 1950s and 1980s. This aesthetic objective, he says, as well as the functional scope of the project, were the handover point to Anna Horváth from Aha Objects and Neil Pace O’Shea and Pippa Cachia from Brief, who were tasked with articulating the brief into a functional space.

PHOTO BY ANDREW INGUANEZ

Apart from the retail space on ground level, he continues, the team also wanted to convert the upstairs floor into a Te fit-Tazza community space, which would serve as an office, studio and recording space for the team, their friends and collaborators.

Speaking of the talented minds behind the project, Craig affirms that working with Anna Horvath was a very easy decision to make, describing her work as very much in line with the Te fit-Tazza aesthetic. “Her expertise in furniture design and the fact that we are very aligned with our visual language meant that we could achieve a sum that was greater than the individual parts,” he maintains, noting that this comes across clearly, particularly when observing how the space has been designed to feel like an extension of the pjazza. “The inclusion of the geometry, taken from the arches and neighbouring Co-Cathedral, feature heavily on the furniture, creating a sense of continuity between the surrounding area and the store,” the Creative Director says, adding that “the Terrazzo seen in-store draws directly from the Paladino Terrazzo that is found under the arches, further creating a visual connection between the square and the retail space.”

PHOTO BY ANDREW INGUANEZ

“The inclusion of the geometry, taken from the arches and neighbouring Co-Cathedral, feature heavily on the furniture, creating a sense of continuity between the surrounding area and the store.”


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PHOTO BY ED MUSCAT AZZOPARDI

PHOTO BY ED MUSCAT AZZOPARDI

Lighting and colour palette also form an important part of the retail experience, he continues, emphasising the decision to opt for a darker colour for the floor and walls, serving as a way to allow the colourful products to stand out and take centre stage. And, to further add to the experience, Aha Objects also designed a number of interactive product displays that invite the user to engage with the space. The eclectic space also features décor elements that were custom made by Scenic Sets in London, which produce sets, backdrops, models and props for some of the world’s largest brands. “When exploring ways to communicate the Maltese culture and identity to our customers in an eye-catching way, we decided to work with Scenic Sets, who we have

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PHOTO BY ED MUSCAT AZZOPARDI

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collaborated with on previous occasions, to create a series of concept pieces to put on display in-store. These pieces draw inspiration from the sun and the sea, tradition, food and the location of the store,” Craig explains. The resulting pieces are a custom crafted pastizz that looks like you could easily take a bite of it, an abstract piece that shows the sun, sea and local prickly pear, an abstraction of a luzzu and a model of St John’s Co-Cathedral. “All of these pieces were handcrafted and really add to the curiosity of anyone passing by or interacting with us in the store,” the Creative Director continues, adding that they serve as a general, but honest representation of the pillars that make up the Maltese identity. Prior to its rebirth as Souvenirs That Don’t Suck, the shop on St John’s Square was a clothes outlet, and the process of its renovation began with gutting it of any old furniture, redoing all utilities and flooring, as well as revisiting the facade. This was done in a way that retained the original form and characteristics of the space, while also creating a relationship between the facade and the newly refurbished space.

“Initially, it was the task of the Te fit-Tazza team to gut the shop and get the space up to the spec needed in order for Brief to start their work translating Anna’s furniture design into the final result, and ultimately bring the project together. The initial stage lasted about two months, between April and May, with Brief finishing off the works by early July 2020,” says Craig. Discussing the materials and finishes chosen, he affirms that all furniture was placed on a black backdrop, so the walls, floor, ceiling and any apertures and lighting are all designed so as not to draw focus away from the products and furniture design. “The desk area and main window display are clad in Terrazzo. The furniture for the retail space is made of Birch plywood, with arches being the predominant form found in the design, seeking to echo the forms found in the area outside the space. The furniture also features rattan, which is a common material found in Maltese furniture, as well as bronze aluminium, which was included to create coherence with the bronze aluminium facade. The space is tied


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“Every aspect of the shop has a relation to our story and to our islands, and this is at the heart of everything we do.”

together with a bold yellow spiral staircase that leads up to the community area upstairs,” he says. Upstairs, an inspiration wall contains a collection of local objects which the team has gathered over the years. “The wall serves as a timestamp of our work and research, and serves as both an archive but also a signifier of the work that we do at Te fitTazza,” Craig adds. The upstairs area also features two desks that double up as a wall unit, allowing for it to be used as a hot-desking space, whilst also giving the team the option to quickly convert it from an office into a more casual setting. Viewing the finished product, Craig considers the defining elements of the space primarily to be the attention to detail and the neat balance between the concise nature of the space and the form that the space has taken on.

“Whilst the final result is modern, this is achieved by looking toward the local architectural landscape for inspiration, allowing for the creation of a space that is very representative of modern-day aesthetics, but is also directly linked to Maltese visual characteristics,” he explains, noting that this was done through the clever use of materials employed by Anna, as well as the exquisite workmanship of Neil and Pippa when constructing the furniture. The Creative Director also considers the inspiration wall in the community space as a very defining element, describing it as “a living, constantly changing curated collection of the items and relics of the islands that bind us together as locals.” The final result of the passionate team’s hard work is a fresh, playful take on the Maltese identity that is representative of the ethos of Te fit-Tazza. “Every aspect of the shop has a relation to our story and to our islands, and this is at the heart of everything we do,” concludes Craig, adding that working with Anna, Neil and Pippa allowed the team to explore how their approach can be articulated into a functional yet beautiful environment for the visitor.

PHOTO BY ANDREW INGUANEZ


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Tech trends From AI-powered home fitness equipment to a smokeless portable fire pit, Martina Said rounds up some of the top gadgets to spend your money on. 1. Marshall Major IV headphones While relative newcomers to the headphones market, British sound gurus, Marshall are delivering the goods with the Major IV device. The latest edition of its retro-inspired, overear Major series delivers over 80 hours of wireless playtime, wireless charging and, of course, top-quality sound. 2. Biolite FirePit+ Ideal for outdoorsy types, this portable firepit eliminates the presence of smoke thanks to battery-powered fans that stoke the flames from the bottom, and mesh sides that let in lots of air, greatly improving airflow. It even has room for charcoal and a grill on top. Smores, anyone? 3. Dyson Purifier Hot+Cool This powerful air purifier by Dyson not only captures dust, allergens, gases and other ultrafine pollutants, but it also has a formaldehyde sensor with a catalytic filter that destroys the colourless gas used for making many household products, which could be harmful to our health.

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4. Belkin magnetic phone mount The Belkin magnetic phone mount with face tracking puts the selfie stick to shame. The motorised phone stand, which is compatible with the iPhone 12, will follow its user around the room – a perfect gadget for those who vlog, YouTube or Zoom all day long. 5. Carol bike This stationary home fitness bike is powered by artificial intelligence, creating a tailored training regime according to your fitness level. With a €3,000 price tag, the creators of the Carol bike claim that it delivers cardio health and fitness benefits with just 26 minutes of exercise per week. 6. Amazon Smart Plug As underwhelming a gadget as this may seem, the Amazon Smart Plug packs a lot of punch. It works using Alexa, adding voice control to any power outlet, allowing you to schedule lights, fans and appliances to turn on and off automatically, as well as control them when you’re not at home.

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Tackling Asia – Re-igniting the connection Marilyn Formosa, Director at PKF Malta, discusses the company’s long-standing efforts to promote business collaborations between Malta and China, spearheaded by PKF Partner George Mangion. MALTA IS 7,753KM AWAY FROM CHINA, we speak different languages, live cultures that are intrinsically polar opposites, and have no overwhelming historic affiliation with the great land. So why the unfaltering enthusiasm? PKF partners, George and Pierre Mangion, have been travelling to China with a business development purview for many years, as early as 2007, when remote gaming was a chief proponent. Since 2017, I and other lawyers have made repeat trips covering vast provinces within China, promoting Malta as a base for immigration solutions, which went down nicely and gained momentum. By then, it must be said that the FDI potential in China had been recognised by the entire local industry and firms were flocking to Beijing and Shanghai as naturally as one would earlier have gone to London to watch the Lion King. However, PKF Malta, and most notably its senior partner George Mangion, was something of a forerunner when one considers his earlier travels, continued research and writings through the early years of career. He keenly followed and still follows the movements of China’s government, the recurring US-China trade wars and decreased economic growth in 2011, noting the urgency of job creation and struggling exports, and contemplating the integration of China as an aid to Europeans in raising the defense for troubled Eurozone countries around the same time, as well as the adjusted monetary policies to boost the economy and upwards incline of the real estate market in 2012.

Marilyn Formosa accepting an award on behalf of PKF Malta, Beijing, November 2019.


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When the ‘Silk Road’ or ‘One Belt One Road’ initiative was incorporated into Chinese policy in 2017, PKF Malta was one of the first to absorb it into our daily vocabulary, advocating for the concept and actualising it by setting up a dedicated China desk and recruiting Chinese managers to oversee it. Having several PKF network offices in China helped quicken the tangibility process and several exchange trips were organised, both with Maltese delegations being flown to all manners of Chinese provinces as well as Chinese investors being brought to Malta on familiarisation tours. Both ends of these arrangements saw expressions of considerable culture shock. Throughout 2018 and 2019, the Maltese brand became better known and established within China, in part thanks to the significant investment planted in this direction by

“PKF partners, George and Pierre Mangion, have been travelling to China with a business development purview for many years, as early as 2007.”

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the Maltese Government in marketing targeted residency programmes to willing takers. Beyond immigration, the Maltese offering quickly grew to encapsulate all measures of real estate investment and blockchain solutions too, which by this point had also been acknowledged as a viable contender in an emerging facet of financial services. By 2019, PKF Malta was honoured with an award presentation during the 24th edition of the Etouce Industry Elite Convention held in Beijing, China. In it, PKF Malta was recognised for its unrelenting hard work in the pursuit of promoting Malta as a choice jurisdiction with emphasis placed on quality of the clients to complement Malta’s exclusive stance in offering the various immigration opportunities – an award which I received on behalf of PKF Malta.


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Presentation delivered by PKF Malta in Shanghai, August 2017.

The award was also significant for us as we continue in our endeavours to bridge the gap between Asia and Europe. While 2020 was almost entirely a wasted year, where all efforts were brought to a grinding halt by the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, PKF has, at an international level, come together to revive the China Strategy, and as a first step, we have asked to gain a greater understanding of what China Desk operations (or similar) exist across the network. The PKF International China Strategy centres around three key initiatives. Firstly, reconnecting with and strengthening PKF’s network of China Desks globally – including assisting firms to strengthen existing China Desks, helping firms establish a China Desk where it is either wanted or needed, and facilitating greater collaboration between the network’s China Desks themselves, and between the China Desks and member firms in China. The second initiative is to work with PKF member firms in China to establish an ‘International Desk’, whereby inbound and outbound international work and collaboration opportunities would flow, which would be a natural link and access point for our network of China Desks. Thirdly, to market and promote our capabilities as a network to handle Chinese business through our China Desk operations at an international level as well as support firms’ marketing efforts at a local level.

“In 2021, PKF has, at an international level, come together to revive the China Strategy

Marilyn Formosa (front row, third from right) in Beijing, August 2017.

This is being done by expanding on the following subcategories of joint collaboration: • Service capabilities: Showcasing the capabilities of the network as a whole and the China Desks specifically, to PKF China firms, to raise awareness of what the China Desks are and what they can fully offer clients who are looking to expand internationally. • Client Sharing: Increase sharing of client information for specific clients that would create opportunities for other China Desks. • Networking: Bolster networking opportunities and one-on-one meetings to develop relationships. • Referrals: Creating an ability to share what kind of clients or referrals a firm is looking for, and what kind of clients or referrals that firm can give. Also creating a list of companies which a firm is trying to target and share that with other firms that can highlight if they have contacts there, or if they would be able to make any kind of introduction. • PKF China Firms: Setting up of meetings with all member firms in China to discuss this project. Hence, it seems that the Orient love affair whose early seeds were planted by George Mangion have grown to include a colourful and multi-disciplinary cast of willing contenders. While challenges remain, like the unceasing difficulty to move money out of China for investment purposes, the drive of adaptability for finding fitting solutions and ever new attractions, fuels the journey to go on, steadfastly into the future. For more information, contact Dr Marilyn Formosa on mmifsud@pkfmalta.com or visit www.pkfmalta.com


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Corporate

PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR


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Corporate

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Corporate alternatives to traditional banks Helena Grech sits down with Managing Director of Insignia Cards Jurate Kajackiene, who stresses that in the current climate, where traditional banks and large financial institutions choose to adopt a ‘stop-and-block’ approach to risk, many segments of the corporate community find themselves in particular difficulty to do business.

KNOWN FOR ITS TRAVEL AND LUXURY lifestyle services, Insignia Cards has invested heavily in its regulated business card issuing service offering, as well as in its compliance and riskmanagement technology, allowing and providing corporate clients with an attractive alternative to traditional banks.

monitoring technology in order to effectively manage client risks, rather than limit and/or prevent the corporate client from transacting.

Insignia commenced operations in 1996 as a travel-related service, which grew into an all-encompassing luxury lifestyle management group with a global presence. And while Insignia’s concierge services focus on travel and lifestyle, wellness and shopping, Insignia Cards Ltd, incorporated in Malta in 2011, also offers credit cards “with extraordinary spending power.”  Today, serving Malta’s corporate client needs through the issuing of corporate cards is where it seeks to distinguish itself, by offering additional value through financial freedom.

“Normally, this is what industry does because of the risks related, such as AML and fraud risk. Instead of managing these risks and dealing with them, traditional banks are choosing different paths, choosing to close, restrict, limit, block and in reality, they make life difficult for customers.”

Over the years, increased scrutiny of banks and heightened compliance requirements have led to situations where corporate players in industries deemed high-risk, such as Electronic Money Issuers (EMI), gaming companies and others, found closed doors and increased bureaucracy when dealing with their banking partners. Rather than finding a way to manage relatively riskier clients, traditional financial institutions often choose to end the relationship, consequently minimising their own risk. Situations such as this illustrate the value being offered by Insignia Cards, Managing Director Jurate Kajackiene points out. The company is licensed by the Malta Financial Services Authority and has invested heavily in a robust compliance and transaction

Ms Kajackiene remarks that the company does not “impose restrictions on the transaction types, neither the merchant types”.

“Our customers have the freedom to pay for anything – whatever any business might need, such as payments to Amazon for use of its server, Google/Facebook ads or to withdraw cash from ATMs, if needed.” The card issuing company primarily offers two main products for corporate clients, in addition to the variety of cards available to private customers.

“Corporate clients always deal with the same person – and this person knows your business, your employees and your day-to-day.”


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The ‘C by Insignia Card’ is designed exclusively for C-level executives “who demand an exceptional level of service. It is the first superpremium corporate card offering seamless travel management, substantial spending power and real-time control that help businesses manage their expenses with ease.” The Insignia Platinum Business Card is “a practical, convenient and secure payment solution offering a world-class range of benefits to help your company control expenses and save money.” It targets everyday business expenses, allowing executives to enjoy a smoother, safer and more productive travel and business experience. Ms Kajackiene, addressing corporate customers, says “instead of restricting transactions, we enhanced our transaction monitoring systems and AML framework, so we are ready to accept and onboard industries that are normally suffering because of the low-risk tolerance capacity of traditional banks.” “Any legitimate business deserves proper financial services,” she adds. Further expanding on the two products the company offers its corporate clients, Ms Kajackiene explains that the first is a credit card, with a pre-arranged credit line following an assessment. Here, clients use Insignia’s funds and then repay what is owed at the end of the billing cycle. Those clients who would like to have higher spending power, are able to deposit funds up front into their Insignia card. This is the same approach being used for the company’s concierge and lifestyle services. Clients can choose the company’s top service, which gives them access to a personal assistant available 24/7 and an Insignia credit card, or a card which grants access to an Insignia concierge team.

“We can temporarily increase limits and offer exclusive services when we are contacted, even on weekends, by clients in emergency situations.” While the company’s services dedicated to affluent individuals have been around since 2013, Ms Kajackiene says the company is focusing efforts on enhancing its business lines which serve its corporate clients’ needs. “We are still offering the same products and services to high net-worth individuals, but now we are implementing new products that will be offered and meet the needs of the corporate client.” As part of its new product offering, Insignia Cards is aiming to roll out the facilitation of international payments by offering IBAN accounts to its corporate customers. Thanks to a partnership with an institution directly connected to the SEPA payment system, worldwide payments will be possible in up to 34 different currencies. In addition, as part of its corporate offering, clients are given access to Key Account Managers, who can be best described as private bankers. “Corporate clients always deal with the same person – and this person knows your business, your employees and your day-today. They can even represent the client internally within the company, taking through the onboarding process, and assisting in the increase and decrease of card limits, which may be done online; however, some situations require getting in touch with Insignia, explains Ms Kajackiene. “We can temporarily increase limits and offer exclusive services when we are contacted, even on weekends, by clients in emergency situations. We also have the facility to give a temporary credit limit, where the client agrees to repay in a short time window. In addition to financial freedom through flexibility, Insignia Cards is offering bespoke core brand solutions to its clients, offering branded bespoke cards. Such a service is usually reserved by traditional banks for corporate giants, however, Ms Kajackiene believes smaller players should receive the same level of attention. “Such branded cards may be an advantage for corporate clients against competitors. For example, an aviation company may want corporate cards bearing the logo or other attributes of the company. The card may be part of their loyalty scheme to customers, salary cards or corporate cards for corporate expenses. “I am proud that we offer such services to smaller players, as a niche player ourselves. We are also happy to offer card branding solutions for a company requiring just 50 cards,” she concludes.


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Providing direction in dire straits As this last year has shown, companies of any size can encounter crippling difficulties, with solutions hard to formulate. However, even in times of business duress, the Malta Business Registry is on hand to provide support, as Kevan Azzopardi, the MBR’s Official Receiver responsible for overseeing insolvency and dissolutions, tells Rebecca Anastasi.

“Most important is the adoption of early warning tools to identify those companies that are experiencing financial distress as quickly as possible and to guide them towards solid restructuring procedures.”


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ACCORDING TO FIGURES published by the National Statistics Office, 2020 saw registered business units in Malta rising to 130,745, an increase of 3.7 per cent over 2019. Yet, the past year has seen enterprises – large and small – contend with the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Fortunately, figures issued by Eurostat, the European Union’s statistical information office, have not revealed a sharp increase in the number of company bankruptcies in the first quarter of this year, with the seasonally adjusted declarations having only increased by 5.8 per cent in the European Union and by 1.8 per cent in the euro area, compared with Q4, in 2020. Despite this, the fallout from the pandemic is still evolving and has yet to be fully assessed, with entrepreneurs having to fire-fight on an almost daily basis as measures have been lifted, and then re-instated, over the past 18 months. “Sadly, we are likely to see a new wave of company insolvencies which will be brought about by the pandemic,” Dr Kevan Azzopardi, the Malta Business Registry’s Official Receiver says. His assertion is stated matterof-factly, a professional cognisant of the trauma experienced in a time of crisis, on hand to step into the quagmire and offer solutions when much seems lost. For, indeed, Dr Azzopardi’s role in easing affairs when companies are commencing insolvency proceedings, being liquidated and windingdown, has put him on the frontline of the business community in bad times. “Companies can face financial distress brought on by various factors, such as simple market conditions, extraordinary events – such as the pandemic – which create havoc within the economy of a state, as well as mismanagement. You could also have perfectly capable managers and company directors who flourish in normal circumstances but flounder when the tide turns,” he explains. However, with proper attention and timely intervention, Dr Azzopardi insists, companies which would have started insolvency proceedings – due to their financial difficulties – can turn things around. “Not all insolvent companies will eventually be dissolved. There are those which could be helped, and which can prosper once again,” he states. The office of the Official Receiver, previously falling under the auspices of the Malta Financial Services Authority, is, indeed, crucial to guiding companies in such dire situations, and overseeing procedures

when dissolutions are ordered by the Court, through three main duties. Firstly, this entails ensuring the submission of the company’s statement of affairs – which includes information such as the list of creditors, debtors and the reasons for dissolution – within 21 days of the Court order. “Once the Official Receiver gets the statement, we analyse it and produce – within the earliest time possible – a report on the status of the company. Importantly, this report will indicate whether we think that an investigation should be carried out in the affairs of the company. If so, article 260 of the Companies Act lays out the procedure whereby the person involved in the formation or management of the business will be summoned to the Court, assisted by a lawyer, during which the Official Receiver would also be present. An examination of this person would be conducted, together with the Court, to determine any irregularity,” Dr Azzopardi explains. Secondly, the Official Receiver can also step in to be liquidator, should the company not possess one, or, in the interim, until the stakeholders determine one. “Technically, the Official Receiver becomes the liquidator by default, whenever the Court orders a dissolution. However, often, companies would have appointed one. Despite this, if a vacancy arises in the role, the office steps in until a new liquidator is chosen,” he says. There is a mechanism, moreover, which ensures the office is not overwhelmed in this respect. “The office’s resources are not unlimited, so if there’s a situation in which the Official Receiver cannot cope with the number of dissolutions being assigned, they are also able to delegate this role to others.” Finally, the Official Receiver can also act as the provisional administrator of a company – as delineated in article 228 of the Companies Act in the winding up procedure of an enterprise. “Whenever there is an application for the dissolution of a company, and its consequential winding up, the Court will need to examine whether there are the requirements for such a dissolution and will have to listen to witnesses, examine proof from all parties, and so on. During that period, particularly if the dissolution is being filed by a creditor, the company will need to assign someone to monitor the company’s dealings. However, the law is silent on the precise duties of the provisional administrator, so the Court will need to specify the functions they will need to perform.”

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Over the past few years, the office’s responsibilities have extended to include policy implementation, development of legislation, the restructuring of companies to avoid insolvency and the representation of Maltese interests in international fora, with a spate of changes lined up to take effect by June 2022. “Policies are identified by the office of the Official Receiver, then approved by the ministries and implemented in the law. The office is also charged with monitoring the adequacy of the European Union framework, as well as tracking any developments necessary from a legal perspective,” Dr Azzopardi explains. “The office also represents Maltese interests abroad, in Europe and more broadly. For instance, when Malta held the Presidency of the European Union in 2017, I chaired a meeting among the member states on a new Restructuring Directive, 209/1023EU, which is being transposed by all members by not later than June 2022. We also represent Malta on UNCITRAL – the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law – dealing with cross-border harmonisation on the dissolution of companies, and liaising with the ministries for finance, the economy and justice.” Elaborating on the new EU directive on the restructuring of companies – to ensure timely intervention so businesses can survive in the long-term – Dr Azzopardi refers to the provisions planned. “Most importantly, is the adoption of early warning tools to identify those companies that are experiencing financial distress and to guide them towards solid restructuring procedures.” These “pre-packed” procedures, the Official Receiver says, include the ones currently being utilised – such as the “CPR for companies”, a company recovery procedure, in

which the Court controls all operations to ensure survival – as well as three new systems. “We’re introducing another three, which are more accountant friendly, with the first one involving the least Court involvement, and the third the most. Of course, the drafts are ready and we’ve had meetings with stakeholders. We have the support of the industry and we will soon have a fully-fledged restructuring framework which stands shoulder-to-shoulder with other frameworks across all other EU member states,” he continues.

“We cannot look at insolvency as failure. We need to shift our mentality and eliminate the stigma... Companies can recover and, if not, there are second chances for every entrepreneur.” These amendments are also part of the MBR’s strategic plan 2020-2025, which includes an overhaul of many of its systems, through “a customer-centric” approach. “It’s quite clear to the public that the MBR does not stand still, and we’re always trying to improve and evolve to ensure that the public is served. We aim to make our systems as effortless as possible, and part of this is also ensuring we have a healthy and happy workforce, who are able to build on our good relations with the public,” he says, adding that, through this strategy, the Registry is also trying to keep abreast of international developments and opportunities to excel. Looking ahead to further initiatives aimed at helping companies facing insolvency, the MBR is embarking on a €1 million project – €500,000 of which is coming from the EU to modernise our restructuring framework – and an equivalent amount to provide liquidity to companies that are struggling to pay professionals, such as accountants or lawyers needed during such proceedings, as well to settle urgent bills. Long-term, however, Dr Azzopardi insists on the necessity of a change in mentality. “We cannot look at insolvency as failure. We need to shift our mentality and eliminate the stigma which is attached to insolvencies. Companies can recover and, if not, there are second chances for every entrepreneur. We need to give the business community the tools necessary to recover, help them learn from the past, and grow.”


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Motoring & Boating News

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Motoring & Boating News While pandemic-led trends may have led many to seek the sea over land, a number of interesting developments in the motoring world may lure us back. Sarah Micallef discovers some noteworthy happenings in recent months.

Boat sales on the rise As a result of COVID-19 restrictions on travel, boat sales reportedly shot up in 2020, as the Maltese sought a safe getaway at sea. A total of 708 new boats were registered with the Transport Authority last year, representing a significant 22 per cent increase on 2019 figures. The rise is attributed to smaller vessels coming in at under 24 metres, while the registration of larger vessels actually dropped, with 432 boats registered, down 12 per cent from 485 the previous year.

50th anniversary of iconic Lamborghini Miura SV 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most iconic Lamborghinis ever produced, both in terms of design and performance: the Lamborghini Miura SV. Making its debut at the Geneva Motor Show in 1971, the Lamborghini Miura SV is considered the most coveted production vehicle ever to be produced by the luxury car maker. Marking the anniversary, CEO at Automobili Lamborghini Stephan Winkelmann acknowledges the iconic supercar’s status today, calling it “the highest expression of the ‘supercar’ concept of its time”.

While vehicle demand drops Recent data issued by the National Statistics Office reveals the extent of the impact of COVID-19 on vehicle demand on the island. Despite the stock of licensed motor vehicles in the first quarter of 2021 coming in at 1,900 higher than the previous quarter, the average daily change in the stock of licensed motor vehicles remains well below pre-pandemic levels. Viewed alongside continued population growth throughout the pandemic, the numbers point to a drop in vehicles per head in Malta to 2014 levels. Rolls-Royce X Hermès Rolls-Royce has collaborated with luxury goods manufacturer Hermès to produce a oneoff Phantom named Oribe, commissioned by Japanese fashion entrepreneur Yusaka Maezawa. The interior is upholstered in Hermès’ Enea Green leather, with other features including the liberal use of wood veneers and Hermès’ Toile H canvas. The front fascia features an artwork based on a design by French artist Pierre Péron, which is inspired by Hermès’ horse motif. The outside, meanwhile, features a two-tone paint job influenced by the green and cream glazes of antique Japanese Oribe ware.

2021 to be watershed year for electric vehicles 2021 may be the year when Malta sees greater adoption of EV vehicles among its consumers, following Government’s announcement last April that it allocated a budget of €2.5 million for the purchase of EVs and plug-in hybrids, a scheme whose aim is to replace existing ICE vehicles with new, cleaner and emission-free vehicles. The incentives include a €9,000 grant when registering a new electric vehicle while de-registering and scrapping another that is at least 10 years old; €8,000 when registering a new electric vehicle without deregistering and scrapping an older ICE vehicle; and €5,000 when registering a used electric vehicle that is not older than six months from date of first registration, among others.


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Insurance

Putting employee protection first Following the recent launch of MAPFRE Middlesea’s new Group Life Lite Plan, Martina Said catches up with Chief Commercial Officer Boris Curmi, to find out how companies and their employees stand to gain.

“WITH AN INCREASING DEMAND for employee benefits insurance, we felt the need to launch a Group Life product into the market that is customer oriented, inexpensive, easily understandable and that requires no medical tests,” says Boris Curmi, Chief Commercial Officer at MAPFRE Middlesea. “This unique product offering puts MAPFRE Middlesea at the forefront of innovation in the local market.” Designed for businesses and organisations that employ a minimum of five employees, and who are engaged solely in professional, administrative or clerical duties, the new Group Life Lite Plan is a simplified group policy offering, with the main highlight being that, unlike the traditional Group Life products, “it is much easier for the client to understand and administer, thus enhancing the overall customer experience.” “It is essentially a type of life insurance where a single contract covers an entire group of people. The policy owner is the employer or an entity such as an association, and the policy covers the employees or members of the group,” says Mr Curmi. “The standard policy cover provides a benefit for each policy member in the event of death from any cause. Clients have the option to upgrade to the ‘Plus Cover’

option, which would also include an ‘Accidental Death Benefit’ and cover for ‘Permanent Total Disability’. Cover is operative on a 24/7 worldwide basis.” Highlighting the advantages of providing insurance as an employee benefit, Mr Curmi says that it is an important tool for employers to attract new recruits, while also satisfying the requirements of their current workforce. “Protecting employees with life cover helps companies improve employee retention, recruitment, productivity and morale. A good life insurance policy can mean a lot to an employee, especially if they have a family or children.” Indeed, life insurance is a key benefit that employees look for when job searching, and so, Mr Curmi says that offering such insurance protection along with other work benefits can help set a company apart as an employer of choice for desirable candidates. Notwithstanding the benefits, the outbreak of COVID-19 has forced many businesses to cut costs, which often resulted in scaling back employee benefits, including the provision of such an attractive benefit as life insurance. However, despite the impact of COVID-19 on the local economy, Mr Curmi says that unemployment

“This unique product offering puts MAPFRE Middlesea at the forefront of innovation in the local market.”


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has remained contained, and has increased only marginally from pre-COVID levels. “This means that competition between companies vying for the best recruits is still a reality. A good benefits programme helps companies attract and keep the best employees, which leads to happier and more productive workers, and ultimately can help the business thrive – which is why I believe such benefits should continue to be provided.” Mr Curmi adds that the pandemic has transformed work and life, creating new challenges for employees and employers alike across all economic sectors, including the insurance sector and MAPFRE Middlesea. “There are definitely challenges of promoting such insurance solutions during this climate of economic uncertainty, but our message is that companies need to, more than ever, address the holistic needs of their employees,” asserts the Chief Commercial Officer. “Employees need to feel more protected and cared for, which in turn improves productivity, engagement and reduces stress and burnout. Companies that take this approach are better positioned to meet the evolving challenges of the pandemic, and support both employee and business performance.” Apart from Group Life insurance, MAPFRE Middlesea offers a range of other products and tailor-made solutions that complement employee benefit packages. Mr Curmi singles out Group Health insurance, which provides coverage to employees at a reduced cost due to the spread of risk across the group. “Employers have the option to carry the full cost of the insurance or share part of the cost with their employees. Cover may be extended to employees’ families or other dependents for an extra cost.” Group Personal Accident is another policy – a comprehensive benefit insurance that protects employees against accidents leading to disability or death. Mr Curmi says that availing of such coverage could offer financial security to employees, as “accidents not only create physical disablement but can also come with financial crisis for the injured party and his/her family.” “Moreover, there is the Employers’ Liability policy which protects the legal responsibility of the employer towards the employees in case of injury at the place of work,” he explains. “Through our subsidiary, MAPFRE MSV Life, we also offer a choice of defined contribution retirement solutions to both individuals and employers. All our solutions are flexible and can be individually tailored to meet the needs of both individuals and employers.”

“All our solutions are flexible and can be individually tailored to meet the needs of both individuals and employers.”

“Protecting employees with life cover helps companies improve employee retention, recruitment, productivity and morale.”

Since launching the Group Life Lite Plan in June, MAPFRE Middlesea has already started reaping its rewards. Mr Curmi describes the feedback received by clients and distributors alike as “very encouraging”. “Our aim was to provide a simple and inexpensive insurance solution for businesses to capitalise on their employee benefits programmes while retaining the option of full tailor-made solutions through traditional Group Life products,” he concludes.


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Interview

The hospitality way of life From spending his childhood summers in his family’s hotel to becoming Country General Manager at Hilton Seychelles, Andre Borg has had a lifelong love for hospitality. He chats to Martina Said about his career development, the responsibility that comes with the role, and living in the idyllic Seychelles.


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Interview

FOR MANY, FINDING THE RIGHT CAREER PATH could be a years-long process that extends beyond a person’s formative and academic years. But not for Andre Borg. The Country General Manager at Hilton Seychelles, who has built an admirable track record within the hospitality sector in Malta and overseas, says he has a very clear memory of when he decided to follow in his father’s footsteps and pursue a career in hospitality – at the tender age of six. Throughout his childhood, Mr Borg says he was blessed to grow up in a local hotel which his family used to run. “I spent entire summers during school holidays exploring hotel life,” he says, highlighting vivid memories from this time, including marvelling at the Whitney board (a manual reservation system), reservations coming in by Telex – “the amount of paper involved fascinated me at

the time” – and the huge switchboard that needed to be overseen by a person all day to connect calls to various extensions. “My favourite job was collecting keys with huge keychains and placing them into pigeonholes,” he recalls. Mr Borg also remembers being sensitive to the challenges that hotel operators faced back in the late ‘70s, “with constant power and water cuts in the north of Malta, I recall the bold decision to install a reverse osmosis plant and generators to keep the hotel going throughout the year. These experiences influenced and shaped me,” he says. “I knew from the very start that hospitality is fun but also a tough business.” After completing his studies at the Institute for Tourism Studies and subsequently the University of Malta, Mr

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Borg was offered to join Island Hotels Group, where he worked at The Radisson Bay Point Resort, Island Caterers and The Golden Sands. “These were amazing, unforgettable years. I experienced the rapid growth of incentive travel in Malta and one event after another simply made us stronger and better,” he says. At a certain point, Mr Borg says he felt a calling for international exposure and a drive to explore and develop his career beyond Malta’s shores. And, for the past 13 years in four very different countries, that is exactly what he’s done. Upon leaving Malta in 2008, Mr Borg joined the global Hilton family with his first post in the United Arab Emirates – and has

“All of my aspirations since leaving Malta 13 years ago have been fulfilled through my relationship with Hilton.”

never looked back since. “All of my aspirations since leaving Malta 13 years ago have been fulfilled through my relationship with Hilton,” says Mr Borg. “Since joining Hilton Ras Al Khaimah Resort and Spa in the UAE, I have found mentors and systems that have supported my development. When I joined as Food and Beverage Manager, I was almost immediately challenged by a huge opportunity to open a new and bigger resort. Since then, there hasn’t been one day that I didn’t wake up without looking forward to a new opportunity.” Mr Borg is a big believer that self-development is driven by progressive learning and opportunities obtained from travelling far and wide, taking the chance to learn from experts and colleagues with very diverse backgrounds and cultures.


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“From a career perspective, the more you travel, the more exposure you get.”

“From a career perspective, the more you travel, the more exposure you get. I have countless experiences from living in big cities in Europe and the Middle East, to living on a remote island,” he asserts. “What is common though is the high expectations that the Hilton brand delivers to its guests and team members alike. Being a leader in such a brand brings with it a huge responsibility that needs to be carried throughout one’s life, and this can be very rewarding.” Following his post in the UAE, Mr Borg took up the role of Director of Operations at the Athenee Palace Hilton in Bucharest, Romania, before taking on his first General Manager opportunity with Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa in the Seychelles, which he describes as “a huge step in my career”. “I approached the challenge of taking on a remote island with 350 team members, an eight-boat fleet and its own powerhouse, with courage and conviction – and that nobody can do it like an island boy can,” says Mr Borg. “Silhouette Island is a unique location in the world. Arriving guests describe it as paradise on Earth, others as Jurassic Park,” he jokes, explaining that the island is a national park and the largest marine park in the Seychelles. “The resort is the only development on the island – it occupies seven per cent of the land and must be run with very high sustainability standards. As a leader, my challenge was to build a team around me to take this resort to a new level of service while fully respecting nature. This experience has been fulfilling and highly satisfactory,” he says, adding that the success he achieved through the Hilton Labriz Resort and Spa exposed him to other, new developments in the Seychelles, extending his responsibilities to other islands in the archipelago, including the opening of a new luxury resort – currently in its final stages – on the island of Mahé.

“Opening a resort during this time has brought unbelievable challenges which we’ve managed to overcome. It has stimulated me and the team to think positively and work harder to achieve results,” says Mr Borg. “We also have two resorts in the construction phase, one of them being a Waldorf Astoria on a private island. This will be one of the best resorts in the world when it opens in two years’ time.” Zooming in on the effects of the pandemic on the hotel’s operations, the Country General Manager says that it has been long and difficult for everyone. During last year’s lockdown, the team was isolated on the island for almost three months. “We used this time positively to refresh our product, and everyone on the island physically and mentally contributed to the various projects that we started. This accomplishment remains one of my lifetime highlights,” says Mr Borg. “We reinvented hospitality through various concepts, such as ‘Campcation’ which was our reopening family concept, and ‘Workation’, which, for the numerous families who spent long stretches of time on the island, were able to work and educate their children. This created a bond between guests and the team that I had never seen before.”


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“The restrictions that people had to endure have only reinforced the need to travel.”

Turning towards a post-COVID scenario, Mr Borg believes “that we will come out of the pandemic stronger than ever. The restrictions that people had to endure have only reinforced the need to travel, the need to spend time together as a family or with friends, and the need to be in nature. The Seychelles has been very responsible in protecting its borders – the vaccination campaign has been successful, and the country is already open and hosting thousands of visitors every day.” Sharing his top career achievements since moving to the Seychelles, Mr Borg says “when you mentor and support colleagues to develop their success, it fills you with a great sense of satisfaction.” Additionally, in 2018, Hilton Labriz was awarded the Blue Energy award for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA); a significant recognition of living the company culture. “On Silhouette Island, we have been honoured with a number of awards relating to sustainability projects, such as the eradication of singleuse plastics, which is a significant milestone as it required extensive planning and commitment.”

Reflecting on his lifelong career in hospitality thus far, Mr Borg says he has enjoyed every day of it, “whether it is connecting with people, overseeing the culinary side, or handling the finance and logistics – it’s an incredible journey that I would recommend for anybody to take on. However, the job can be very challenging, so one needs to be prepared for it, and learn how to balance their time.” On a personal level, the Country General Manager says that the experience of living in the Seychelles with his wife, Stephania, and raising their three children on Silhouette Island has had its blessings, as well as its challenges. “I believe that giving our children the opportunity to grow up in such pure natural surroundings is unique. However, everything comes at a cost,” he says. “My son, Samuel, travelled on a boat twice a day for a year to get to school. When you live in a remote place, you gain simple luxuries that come with living in nature, but you must also endure challenges and embrace living a simple life.”


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“The company is all about female empowerment. And my daughter was, and remains, my motivation for what I do.”


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Dream big At only 37 years old, Krystle Penza, the Founder and Managing Director of Mvintage, has spearheaded a revolution in the jewellery sector in Malta, creating a brand which champions female empowerment. Yet, she is not about to rest on her laurels anytime soon, as Rebecca Anastasi finds out.

“MY MOTHER SAYS BEING SUCCESSFUL in business is all about luck. I tell her, no, it’s about hard work.” Krystle Penza is disarming. She sits in her office, with her dog beside her, as we conduct this interview. Notes are pinned on the wall behind her, testament to the passion and drive required to build a business from the ground-up, a business whose growth shows no sign of stopping, despite the difficulties of the past 18 months, with the pandemic hitting the retail sector hard.

PHOTOS BY ALAN CARVILLE

For Krystle knows a thing or two about sheer determination. Brought up in a single-parent family, the young entrepreneur never had things handed to her. “I come from a normal family, brought up by a single mother, and we barely had money to put food on the table. But my mother pushed me to get a good education, to stand on my own two feet and to figure out how to solve every issue.” This formative experience was offset by the typical gender discrimination experienced – at times, surreptitiously, and at times not – by women on the island. “As women, we’re not typically brought up to be leaders. We are usually assigned the role of a shadow,” Krystle says, adding that, while this is changing, it’s essential for young girls to be able to look up to women as role models and see the change they can become, to see how their potential could be realised, because “if you haven’t seen it before, you cannot imagine it,” she says.

This was the philosophy behind the launch of Mvintage in 2012, precipitated by a life-changing event: the birth of her daughter, Francesca. “The company is all about female empowerment. And, my daughter was, and remains, my motivation for what I do,” she affirms, explaining how, after spending many years working in retail – starting her career working in the perfumes and fragrance industry before moving on to the watch and jewellery business – she decided to “move on” when she became pregnant. “Over those years of experience, I developed a passion for branding, and I had recognised a niche in the market, in that there were retailers who specialised in high-end jewellery, or those who were on the lower-end of the market, but there was nothing much, locally, which was in-between: offering a good quality product, using expensive materials – so, no nickel, for instance – but also reasonably priced. So, I decided to try to open that door.” She left with an initial plan, she explains, saying that the business evolved through trial and error. “On the back of every business plan, we would analyse the results and the performance of the company, and always improve, catering more to what customers want. I feel that, as a Maltese brand, we’re very much geared towards the Maltese customer, and we are always seeking feedback.”


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However, those early years for the new mother and entrepreneur were tough. Krystle admits she “didn’t make money for the first six years”, which left her perpetually broke. “When I started, I was the salesperson, the accountant, the cleaner, the person responsible for operations and product development – I did absolutely everything,” she laughs, adding that, despite the hard work, it was an immensely invigorating period, particularly when it came to shaping the product line, which was inspired by local designs, iconography and colours. “Since the beginning, our jewellery pieces have been inspired by everything around us. When we launched Munita, we got a good response. Now, it’s traditional to launch a Maltese collection every once in a while,” she explains. Krystle is, indeed, still heavily involved in product development – many of the other aspects of the business have now been delegated. “I manage the product development team myself; there’s a lot of passion for it, and a lot of heart and love in it,” she says. Indeed, it’s that passion which has seen Mvintage move from strength to strength over the past nine years, from a small kiosk at Tigné Point, to five outlets, in Valletta, Paola, Gozo, the Mvintage Concept Store in Iklin – the company’s flagship outlet – as well as, today, an expanded Tigné kiosk. “We launched the business in July 2012,” Krystle recalls, “and, since my husband is very much involved in e-commerce, we tried and tested a digital shop first.

“When I started, I was the salesperson, the accountant, the cleaner, the person responsible for operations and product development – I did absolutely everything.”


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“Nowadays, many people starting off don’t need a store,” she says. Is this due to the pandemic, I ask? “Well, COVID has changed things substantially. However, on our end, we were always also working on our digital presence, so we were prepared both the first time, when the pandemic first hit, and, later, when stores had to close again. It was heart-breaking seeing all the stores closed [during COVID], since we love being on the shop floor and understanding what our customers want.” That ‘we’ is peppered throughout our conversation for, as Krystle stresses, the key to Mvintage’s durability has

been the team. “We’re like a family, and I’m so proud of the entire team. When COVID hit, we really saw staff stepping up, pulling up their sleeves and just getting on with things to make sure we kept going. We also all get on very well – I spend more time here than I do at home, so I’ve always felt that had to be important,” she continues, adding that the team is a tightknit community, always pushing each other to go above and beyond what they think could be achieved. “I think it’s essential not to remain passive, but to continue growing and challenging yourself,” she says.

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“No man (or woman) is an island, so build a good team which can help you and whom you’d like to have with you on this journey.”

Is it an all-female team? Krystle laughs and admits that, for many years, it was. “Up until a couple of years ago we were all women, and, when we employed the first man, I was a bit sceptical, but I’ve seen how healthy it is to have a mix of genders,” she explains, saying that the balance has been productive for the business and all the staff. “The past two years have been very tough, but I have been lucky to have a solid team, and I’ve worked a lot on moulding the team. Handling human resources is still, in fact, a function I’m very much involved in, since it’s important to understand who your employees are, and to create that sense of community,” she affirms. Indeed, the team go to Pilates – “it’s quite funny when the boys join us since they’re not as flexible as we are,” Krystle laughs – and celebrate personal milestones together. Investing time and energy in choosing the right people has paid Krystle in dividends: she is now able to leave many aspects of the company in her team’s capable hands, with last year being the first since the business was launched in which she was able to enjoy Mother’s Day and Christmas Day with her family. Today, Krystle – while still tied to her strong work ethic – makes sure to leave time for herself and her family. “To retain a work-life balance, I have to be very disciplined with time management. My week is all organised. I don’t stop for chitchats – I don’t have time to – although I make sure to speak to the team every Monday morning and in the evenings,” she says, explaining how she never takes her laptop home with her, and stating her insistence that staff take their leave. “They need to rest, otherwise they cannot help me. I need them to be fresh. Then, when we need to work hard on a launch, for instance, I don’t need to tell them anything: everyone will be here early and will stay on as late as needed,” she says.

Looking ahead to the rest of 2021, Krystle stresses that her priority will be to keep developing the team. This must be a priority for all entrepreneurs, particularly those just starting out, she says. “No man (or woman) is an island, so build a good team which can help you and whom you’d like to have with you on this journey. Because this is a journey, and you must dream big; you must never be discouraged,” she smiles.


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Family business dynamics FAMILY BUSINESS CAN BE CONSIDERED the backbone of the majority of economies the world over. In Malta, this is no different. It is estimated that around 75 per cent of all operational enterprises in Malta are family run, which naturally brings them to the forefront of almost all major changes in the economic landscape. They are at the heartbeat of Malta’s exponential growth – from the small corner shop to the multinational exportation company, family businesses run the show. In recent years, Malta has made strides in recognising family businesses on a national level, by enacting the Family Business Act in 2017 and putting a spotlight on what has always been a vital pillar of Malta’s economic development. “We are strongly behind increasing the awareness of the specific needs of family businesses and the right approaches, tools, and techniques that serve such businesses best. At KPMG, we have been working with family businesses for decades, assisting and supporting them in achieving their goals, fostering new alliances, expanding their reach, and most importantly, sustaining their legacy,” says David Pace, Partner and Head of Advisory at KPMG.

Impact of COVID-19 on family businesses The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it, among other things, a disruption in the ‘normal’ operations of businesses worldwide. That being said, family businesses are no strangers to challenging times. Wars, pandemics and transitions are but a few of the challenges that multi-generational enterprising families have faced. COVID-19 presented an extraordinary opportunity to see how family businesses – in real time – are resilient and adaptive to sudden change. From a recent report published by KPMG Private Enterprise, STEP Project Global Consortium and the European Family Businesses, in the initial aftershock of the pandemic, family businesses were found to be 1) making a vital contribution to restarting the economy across Europe, 2) successfully stabilising their business in the short term, 3) succeeding in opening up opportunities to tap into emerging markets, 4) prioritising concerns of their stakeholders, and 5) garnering the knowledge and skills of multiple generations to reimagine their strategic direction.1 Family values and beliefs A unique element found in family businesses, especially among their employees, is that the family’s values and beliefs become


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Anthony Pace, Partner - Head of Tax, KPMG Malta

engrained within the business and its operations. At KPMG we have seen this as one of the unique selling points that attracts people to work with them. It’s the strong sense of belonging and the harmony of taking the long-term view with value-driven goals. Family businesses have also been seen as the frontrunners when it comes to Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) practices.2 Over the past year, businesses have become energised to reflect on their purpose and values and whether they align with where the world is going. Family businesses have always been known to have a purpose-driven approach, but now more than ever, their commitments to stakeholders and the community at large have heightened further. The COVID-19 pandemic has helped in accelerating the evolution of the ESG agenda in family businesses.3 The next generation, with the guidance of their predecessors, have begun to reimagine the future through a new lens, whilst maintaining the core values of their founders. Looking beyond the horizon Over the years we have noticed that family businesses tend to think in terms of quarter centuries rather than next quarter’s financial results.4 It has always been in these enterprises’ nature and best interest to think in the long-term. The multi-generational aspect of family businesses puts them in a precarious situation should they decide to put off planning the family’s future. Having a plan early on can allow for these businesses to focus on building the business further and cater for sitting generations to make their own impact without worrying about what will happen next. A few particular areas that family

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David Pace, Partner – Head of Advisory, KPMG Malta

businesses ought to look at when assessing their succession plan range from ownership and management succession, family involvement, establishment of family rules, to the creation of a family council. In planning for the future, family businesses need not go the journey alone. Oftentimes, family businesses have looked to their trusted advisors as a guiding beacon, shining the light on possibilities that to the family members were shrouded in conflict, distrust and emotional weight. Advisers can often be key to unlocking opportunities for families and their businesses in planning their long-term growth and peaceful succession. Sustaining the family legacy As the family grows further away in time from the founders’ era, it is important to capture, preserve, nurture, and effectively transfer the weight of the family’s legacy.5 Family and legacy go hand in hand, and most families in business together have a desire to sustain their legacy across generations.6 Older generations have taken to sustaining the name, values and mission of the family founders as a sort of creed. Younger generations, though viewing this as a weighty obligation, have also been seen to shoulder this responsibility. Inheriting a family legacy is a responsibility on all future generations, whether they decide to continue growing the business or branch off on their own. “We believe that among other things, the most salient property that a family legacy can hold is trust,” comments Anthony Pace, Partner and Head of Tax at KPMG. “Trust in the name, values and goals that the family has. In Malta, we are lucky to host a wide variety of household names that imbue this trait, and that we are sure will continue to strengthen for generations to come.”

1 KPMG Private Enterprise, STEP Project Global Consortium, and European Family Businesses, Taking the long view – Lessons in endurance from European Family Businesses, May 2021. https://home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/05/taking-the-long-view.pdf 2 KPMG Private Enterprise (Tom McGinness, Partner), The empowered family business, 16 April 2021. https://home.kpmg/xx/en/blogs/home/posts/2021/04/the-empoweredfamily-business.html 3 KPMG Private Enterprise (Tom McGinness, Partner), Purpose-drive leadership – How family businesses can accelerate ESG, 14 June 2021. https://home.kpmg/xx/en/blogs/ home/posts/2021/06/purpose-driven-leadership.html 4 KPMG Private Enterprise, STEP Project Global Consortium, and European Family Businesses, Taking the long view – Lessons in endurance from European Family Businesses, May 2021. https://home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/05/taking-the-long-view.pdf 5 Family Firm Institute (Jonathan Ramos, ACFWA), The heartbeat of Family Business Leadership Succession, June 9 2021. 6 KPMG Private Enterprise and STEP Project Global Consortium, The enduring legacy of business families – Uniting business purpose and family values, January 2021. https:// home.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/01/the-enduring-legacy-of-business-families.pdf


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Guiding Malta’s family businesses into the future Four years since the Family Business Act came into force, Sarah Micallef talks to Joseph Gerada, Regulator at the Family Business Office, about the milestones the office has achieved in that time, and his drive to ensure that the lessons learnt over the past year are not lost, so as to keep building on the successes achieved.

Between 2017 and 2018, a total of 85 family businesses had registered, formally receiving recognition as family businesses under the Act, and by the end of 2019, another 50 had registered. As of today, more than 200 family businesses are registered with the Family Business Office in Malta. This year marks the office’s fourth anniversary, and the second for its Regulator. “Back in 2017, my predecessor was tasked with putting together a pool of incentives and support measures addressing areas where family businesses needed most assistance. The incentives are aimed at addressing financial support requirements, education and training, and succession planning, among others,” Dr Gerada reveals, adding that most of the incentives set out at that time expired at the end of 2020. While those which proved to be most beneficial were extended and strengthened, several new incentives were also launched to better address the needs of family businesses. “Due to COVID-19, the past year has not been easy for anyone, more so for anyone who is in business. However, it has shown how resilient family businesses can be and what a determining factor for the success of our local economy they are,” the Regulator says, setting his sights on the coming year and beyond, where he will endeavour to ensure that the

lessons learnt over the past year are not lost, and that the office continues to build on the successes achieved. Detailing some of the tangible ways the Family Business Office has helped Malta’s family-run businesses over the years, Dr Gerada states that since the inception of the Act, over 120 people have transferred their business to family members across Malta and Gozo. “This means that since the Family Business Act and stamp duty exemption schemes were introduced, more than 1,120 persons transferred their business,” he says, emphasising that this is a significant figure of business transfers taking place over the span of just three years, which shows the positive effect that the introduction of the Act has had on family businesses and the economy alike. Apart from that, through fiscal incentives, governance incentives and tax credits supported by Malta Enterprise alone, family businesses on the island have benefited from over €1.4 million over 2019. Furthermore, thanks to the stamp duty exemption schemes offered to family businesses by the Ministry for Finance, family businesses registered savings on taxes of more than €23 million, Dr Gerada details, quoting figures from the last Budget speech. “This means that €23 million were left in the pockets of family businesses, thus giving them the possibility to further invest and grow their enterprise,” he outlines, adding that simultaneously, over €1.5 million in stamp duty have been received by the Ministry for Finance in taxes, which further add to economic growth. And, by extending this measure resulting in savings on taxes for family businesses to the end of 2021, Government will be investing a further €7.5 million in family businesses.

PHOTOS BY DARYL CAUCHI

“2017 WAS A VERY SPECIAL YEAR for family businesses in Malta,” explains Dr Joseph Gerada, Regulator at the Family Business Office. With the Family Business Act coming into force on 1st January, its objective was to “encourage the regulation of family businesses, their governance and the transfer of the family business from one generation to the next.”


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Of course, COVID-19 has had profound effects on businesses across industries, including those run by families. Dr Gerada says that family-run enterprises also face unique challenges, particularly when it comes to making tough decisions in difficult times. “Since family businesses involve the participation of family members, the survival of the family is often closely associated with the survival of the business since, if the business fails, the family will lose its main source of income. This would have far-reaching effects on the family, including on its pride and reputation within the business world,” he explains. The Regulator goes on to say that even those which were well organised and prepared for scenarios of significant changes in the market were not spared the effects of the pandemic. “During the worst months of 2020, we saw examples of businesses with revenues dropping by 50 per cent, and in some cases even by 90 per cent. No one builds a plan envisaging such an extensive drop in revenue overnight,” he laments. However, Dr Gerada believes that Malta’s family-run businesses have shown that they are well-positioned to survive such a shock. “I can gladly say that the Family Business Office has had no de-registrations due to business closure since the COVID-19 pandemic hit our islands. This in itself is very encouraging and is a sign that our family businesses are resilient and prepared to withstand the tests and obstacles faced during such a crisis,” he says. Describing how the pandemic affected the way in which family-run enterprises do business locally, the Regulator affirms that 2020 saw many such businesses realise the importance of innovation and digital transformation – that is, having an online presence, embracing ecommerce to gain access to a larger, global market, as well as the importance of re-skilling and creating alternative revenue streams through the use of modern technologies.

“We need to train our family businesses to think outside the box and explore new revenue streams so that they spread their risk further and are better prepared for rainy days.”

More than ever, he says, during difficult times, it is important to think outside the box and to look at ways of adapting your business model in order for it to survive and deal with ever-changing circumstances and demands. “Through various support measures, including the Investment Aid for COVID Products and the Business Re-engineering Consultancy incentives administered by Malta Enterprise, as well as the Business Advisory incentive offered to our registered family businesses, local enterprises received the help and guidance they required to take the right decisions for their business, to adapt and survive,” Dr Gerada continues. “We have seen clothing companies switching to the production of masks and other protective clothing, chemical manufacturing companies producing sanitizing products, taxi companies switching to delivery services, and restaurants and retail outlets introducing ecommerce sites so that they would be able to maintain a minimum level of sales and their businesses and workforce going.


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“The new generation can help the family business focus on innovation.”

On the more creative side, we have seen printing companies switching to 3D printing and making face shields. At least one such company also managed to export its product during these difficult times, thus entering the export market,” the Regulator reveals, giving examples of innovative re-engineering efforts.

the assistance prior to acquiring the services of the consultant or service provider by contacting the Family Business Office to request authorisation for the services to be acquired,” he continues, advising that applications for this grant are currently being accepted and may be submitted until 30th November 2023. 

As for how the Family Business Office can assist in this drive moving forward, Dr Gerada says that while many have realised the importance of digitising processes and the potential of the internet, Maltese enterprises are at a disadvantage when it comes to competing with other European businesses due to Malta’s insularity, the reliance on limited connectivity, including internet connectivity, and higher transportation costs.

Moving forward, the Regulator believes that the pandemic has taught those in business a number of lessons, and family businesses are no exception. Listing the crucial lessons learnt, he emphasises “the importance of planning ahead and being prepared for rainy days, thinking out of the box and being able to take critical actions to help the business get through difficult times.”

To tackle this, he says, “Government needs to explore ways of building a case so that Malta’s insularity is given further recognition by the European Union, which should in turn result in further allowances for economic assistance and subsidies for local businesses, so that they can truly be on a level playing field with companies in mainland Europe.” Another area where Dr Gerada believes Malta can invest more in relation to family business is training, education and re-skilling. “We are currently working very closely with Malta Enterprise on the development of training specifically intended to address needs which are intrinsic to family businesses,” he says, highlighting that, apart from the importance of receiving training in areas which will help business growth, “we also need to train our family businesses to think outside the box and explore new revenue streams so that they spread their risk further and are better prepared for rainy days.”

As for specific takeaways for family businesses, Dr Gerada maintains that the COVID-19 crisis and its aftermath may be a good opportunity to get family members more involved in the business. “Times such as these tend to provide a fertile ground for bringing family members into discussions in which they might otherwise not have been asked to participate. These members can provide the creativity and ideas required to overcome some of the obstacles that the business is facing,” he attests, noting that the new generation often tends to come up with ideas which are in line with the developments the world is currently experiencing. “This is an opportunity to bring the next generation into the conversation, so that they can learn from the founders and the previous generations, whilst giving their input and bringing in new ideas. The new generation can help the family business focus on innovation,” he continues.

Finally, the Regulator also feels more can be done when it comes to succession planning. To this end, the Office has introduced a new incentive providing financial support for advisory and mediation services within the ambit of succession planning. Here, Dr Gerada highlights the recent launch of the Family Business Grant, with the support of Malta Enterprise, which aims to provide financial support to those who engage consultants to help them develop a succession plan for their family business.

Meanwhile, the Regulator says, if family businesses have something they value in their business beyond financial results, it is probably the impact on the community. “Through innovation, they can perhaps create something that motivates and brings people together, or perhaps provide a useful product which they can produce by making some changes to their current production line,” he suggests, acknowledging that this may require re-training of employees or re-skilling, but would ultimately provide the alternative revenue streams which the business requires to survive during times of difficulty.

“The Family Businesses Grant is intended to support family businesses address transitionary issues by facilitating access to advisory and mediation services,” he says, explaining that the maximum grant that can be awarded is capped at €15,000 per business in any rolling three-year period. “Any costs incurred before the submission of application will not be considered eligible, and therefore family businesses would need to submit the request for

“If you are producing clothing which is currently in low demand, switch to something else – the production of face masks for example, for which there is currently a high demand. The opportunities are there, we just need to look for them and be willing to adapt our business accordingly,” he concludes.


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Gastronomy Trend Report: Summer 2021 As bars and restaurants enjoy a resurgence in time for the hot months, Sarah Micallef discovers what’s hot in the world of food in the coming months, both locally and abroad. Flexitarian diet While vegetarianism has been steadily on the rise for a few years now, many are those who are not quite prepared to go completely plant based. Enter the ‘flexitarian’ approach, which sees meat consumption lessened to once or twice a week, rather than forming part of the daily diet. With research continuing to show that a reduced dependence on meat-based products can be beneficial to our environment and general health, it’s really no wonder that meat consumption continues to decline. 100-day residency at ION Starting on 17th June, Alex Dilling, former Executive Chef of two Michelin star restaurant The Greenhouse, Mayfair, began a 100day residency at ION – The Harbour, within Iniala Harbour House in Valletta, which has also recently been awarded a Michelin star. During his residency, Alex is making use of local, seasonal and artisanal ingredients that champion Mediterranean flavours, while bringing a number of his famed signature dishes, such as Hunter Chicken and Andignac Foie Gras with Black Truffle, to the table. Herbs, roots and mushrooms Alongside incorporating a healthy dose of high-nutrient vegetables to your diet, ingredients such as herbs, roots and humble mushrooms are expected to enjoy the spotlight as a food trend in 2021. Boasting numerous adaptogens and vitamins to help fuel your body against a backdrop in which more of us than ever are embarking on health-conscious diets, these classic ingredients are set to take centre stage.

Terrone opens in Birgu Following news last year that seafood favourite Terrone would be closing the doors of its Marsaxlokk eatery, fans of the restaurant, which boasts a Michelin Bib Gourmand, have been waxing lyrical about its new location, within Fort St Angelo in Birgu. Opening its doors in May, the new site looks every bit as picturesque as the food, and with the second lockdown creating further delays to opening earlier in the year, it certainly looks worth the extended wait. Virtual cooking classes While following an online cooking class may have enjoyed a spike in appeal as many endured the restrictions brought about by the pandemic, virtual learning looks set to go the distance, with forecasters predicting continued popularity throughout 2021. With everyone from culinary institutions and celebrity chefs to renowned restaurants jumping on the bandwagon, learning to cook online has never been so appealing. Low and non-alcoholic beverages With interest in low and non-alcoholic drinks continuing to skyrocket over the last few years, non-alcoholic beers and premium mocktails are making waves, alongside hard seltzers, hard coffees and kombucha. Be it beverages with less sugar and alcohol or traditionally nonalcoholic drinks with a slight ‘kick’, low and nonalcoholic beverages are on the up.


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‘The satisfaction of successfully closing a project is comparable to none’ Daniela Caruana Sciberras, Head of the Sales & Contracts Division at Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd, takes Sarah Micallef through the division’s role as commercial advisors, product promoters and local project coordinators for multi-national companies, looking back on milestone projects and ahead at what’s to come. FOR DANIELA CARUANA SCIBERRAS, this year marks 16 years at Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd, a subsidiary of M. Demajo Group – a length of time which she describes as rife with fulfilling experiences as the company continues to lead the way with fundamental projects within the fields of energy, the environment, money-handling and security, amongst others. “I was employed with Joseph Cachia & Son as a Contracts Officer in 2005,” recalls Ms Caruana Sciberras, who now heads the Sales & Contracts Division of the company. Since then, she says, the company’s growth and evolution has been nothing short of inspiring. Established by Joseph Cachia as an import and distribution company, the company started out selling electrical goods, Ms Caruana Sciberras explains, before Mr Cachia decided to sell it to M. Demajo Group in 1965. Over the years, the company went from a small firm to a formidable enterprise which now handles multi-million-euro projects. The supply of boilers at Delimara Power Station was one of the first major commissions undertaken by the company, she maintains; followed by the provision of security products such as the Malta Driving License cards, the Maltese Biometric Passports and the National Identity Management System (NIDMS). Yet while the nature of the projects it handles may be diverse, the Head of the Sales & Contracts Division explains, “our role remains the same” – that of commercial advisors,

product promoters, and the engagement of local and foreign subcontractors for multi-national companies. Elaborating on the work of her division, Ms Caruana Sciberras says that JCS has represented both the public and private sectors, depending on the project at hand. “We try to work in parallel,” she maintains, affirming that some of the products they offer are more of interest to Government – such as infrastructural projects – while others are more diversified and targeted to the private sector. “My primary role includes being proactive and seeking new projects,” she explains, adding, “we are always out there closely following the roadmap of the country, whilst also keeping an eye on developments within the private sector. I head a team of very hands-on individuals. We review new tenders which are issued and study them to see whether they are feasible for us to participate.” The Sales & Contracts Division also fulfils the crucial role of commercial advisor and sales promoter for a selection of large and medium-sized companies, Ms Caruana Sciberras states; making reference to some of the landmark projects it has handled, such as the Malta-Sicily interconnector, which was worth €200 million and took five years to manage and complete locally; as well as the more recent Malta-Gozo fibre optic link. “I was personally managing all of the local and foreign subcontractors for the civil and marine works involved to make it happen,” she shares with pride.


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“We are always out there closely following the roadmap of the country, whilst also keeping an eye on developments within the private sector.”

PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR

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“Product diversification and new technologies enable us to stay ahead of the curve.”

Tasked with overseeing processes both prior and post tender stage, Ms Caruana Sciberras affirms that her team tends to “work backwards”, explaining that “in our proactivity we think outside the box, coming up with new projects which would interest Government or private companies, and go on to propose them.” Prior to tender stage, the division handles tender preparation, feasibility, financing, liabilities and insurance, among other necessary factors, and, following a stringent evaluation process, if JCS are chosen to carry it through, that is where the project management aspect of their role begins. “This involves attending meetings on behalf of our principals, assisting them with reporting, supervising works on site and doing whatever is needed day-to-day – you have to have excellent planning skills to pursue this career,” she smiles. Looking back on what she considers to be JCS’ milestone projects, Ms Caruana Sciberras highlights the Malta-Sicily interconnector, despite not being directly assigned to it, as well as the introduction of Horizontal Directional Drilling (HDD) in Malta, which was applied between Mgarr and Mellieha, aimed at laying water pipes without having to unearth the surface. “I was heavily involved in this project, monitoring works on site and being a quick thinker when decisions had to be made on the spot,” she shares.

Finally, she mentions the Malta-Gozo fibre optic cable, which Ms Caruana Sciberras says she has “very much at heart.” Explaining that she acted as the primary contact on the project, together with her Executive Director Maronna Filletti, it involved a lot of travelling before the commencement of works, and once work started, she needed to coordinate between several different subcontractors. “Everyone had a strict schedule to follow, and one couldn’t delay by a single day! The satisfaction you get from seeing the works happening and successfully closing a project is comparable to none,” she says. Assessing the impact of COVID-19 on business in recent months, the Head of the Sales & Contracts Division maintains that day-to-day operations continued, with the team adopting remote working measures right at the outset of the pandemic, which Ms Caruana Sciberras has found particularly beneficial as a working mother. Despite this, long-term projects certainly slowed down. “Our projects are worked on and planned for years in advance, so in 2020, we were busy working on and finalising what we had started planning prior to the pandemic. This year, things are more challenging,” she says, explaining that 2020 didn’t bring much opportunity for new business. Now, as the world slowly begins to emerge from the shadow cast by COVID-19, Ms Caruana Sciberras is happy to report that there is light at the end of the tunnel, with several authorities and private organisations having started to look beyond the pandemic. “You can feel that there is more tranquillity – people are once again starting to think ahead. There is a continuation, or a new start,” she affirms. “We are working on some very interesting projects,” she teases, despite not being able to divulge much detail at this stage, adding that they’ll release more “later this year” about projects in the pipeline relating to the environmental sector, among other areas. As for her plans for JCS’ Sales & Contracts Division, her primary goal is to consolidate what they already have, and in parallel, continue to strive for product and professional services diversification within the industries the company serves. “Product diversification and new technologies enable us to stay ahead of the curve. I also look forward to bringing in new projects, continuing to work with existing suppliers and bringing new representations on board,” she concludes.


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Tackling things head on: From Malta to Manchester Winston J Zahra is a household name within local business circles, amassing over 30 years’ experience in the hospitality industry in Malta before moving to the UK in 2018 to take up his current role as CEO of GG Hospitality – a hotel and restaurant firm backed by Manchester United footballers Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville. Now, in the midst of reopening the firm’s properties following a lengthy lockdown due to the pandemic, Sarah Micallef catches up with him to take stock of his experience at the helm of GG Hospitality and find out his plans for it moving forward.

LOOKING BACK ON HOW HIS JOURNEY with GG Hospitality all started, Winston J Zahra recalls first meeting Gary Neville and Ryan Giggs in 2009, when they were in Malta for the 50th anniversary celebrations of the local Manchester United supporters’ club. “John Buttigieg, who was very involved with the local club and a close friend, had introduced me to Gary and Ryan,” he says, recalling that first meeting with distinct clarity. “It was 9th February, the eve of a public holiday, and John had called me to ask if I could show Gary and Ryan around the Golden Sands Hotel prior to a dinner that we were hosting. Both were very impressed with the property at the time, and they had asked to come and speak to me the next day to discuss a hotel project that they were planning in

Manchester. We met at my house the next day and discussed the project, and to be honest, since that day we became friends, and things have developed to what they are today,” he explains. That initial discussion led to several visits to Manchester, where the trio continued to discuss the project, along with Gary and Ryan’s advisors. “Ultimately, as we were taking Island Hotels Group public later on in 2009, I had suggested to them that should they wish to invest as part of the public offering, they could get more closely involved with a company that was already heavily invested in hospitality,” Mr Zahra continues. And of course, they agreed, with Gary also sitting on the board of directors for a number of years, helping him to gain insight into the hotel industry.


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“We met at my house the next day and discussed the project, and to be honest, since that day we became friends, and things have developed to what they are today.”

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Winston J Zahra is joined by Ryan Giggs and Gary Neville outside the Stock Exchange Hotel a few weeks before opening

“After many a discussion with Gary [Neville], I decided to co-invest and also head up the company in the position of CEO.”

Then, after stepping out of his executive role at International Hotels Investment (IHI plc – the investment arm of the Corinthia Group), Gary and Ryan asked if he would join them in Manchester as CEO of GG Hospitality. “My role at IHI was a transitionary one,” Mr Zahra says, explaining that after Corinthia Group (International Hotel Investments) and Radisson Group (Island Hotels Group Holdings), came together in 2015, the primary concern was making sure that the transition period was as smooth as possible, particularly for all the longstanding team members. However, he confides, “after heading up your own family company for such a long time, it is difficult to remain in a position where you do not have clear authority on the decision-making process.”

Bull & Bear restaurant within the Stock Exchange Hotel


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In a move he believes was somewhat expected by many, including Gary and Ryan, Mr Zahra resigned from his position at IHI in 2017. “When I told Gary about my decision, he immediately asked me if I was interested in having a look at their company in Manchester, and I was more than happy to do so. It was not something that I was expecting, but I was happy to support,” Mr Zahra says, humbly. Admitting that he did not expect his involvement with the company to develop into a long-term situation at the outset, he continues, “the reality is that I liked what I saw, and I believed in the potential of the brand and the projects that were on the table. After many a discussion with Gary, I decided to co-invest and also head up the company in the position of CEO. The investment side was important to me as I always like to have ‘skin in the game’, so to speak.” “Adjusting and learning about a new opportunity is always necessary,” he says of his first few months at GG, affirming that while the industry was one he knew well, he needed to consider that he was in a different country with a different culture, and with a tourism industry that works a little differently to what he was used to in Malta. Despite this, the CEO says, “the fundamentals of treating your team well and with respect, creating the best possible product, offering the friendliest and most genuine service possible and ultimately giving value to your guests remain the same, irrespective of where you are operating.”

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Yet, while he admits that the overall business of operating hotels is similar in many ways, the biggest difference he notices is of a cultural nature. “What struck me most was the broader outlook on doing business as opposed to the more insular approach we have in Malta, which is the result of being a small island,” he reveals. Sharing some of the highlights of his experience at GG so far, Mr Zahra says that without a doubt, seeing the results of the company improve significantly over the period of time that he has been there has been a very satisfying outcome for the whole team. However, he says, “the main highlight was the opening of the Stock Exchange Hotel in November 2019. That was a very special moment.” Sadly, as was the case for many in 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic sent many of the team’s plans grinding to a halt. “What transpired in 2020 could not be more different to what we had planned. On paper, in January 2020 we were looking at a very good year. The advance bookings that we had were very healthy, we had just opened the Stock Exchange Hotel, and the team was full of energy and ready to perform. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other plans and we had to very quickly adjust,” he says. Tackling things head on, the CEO confides that at the early stages of the pandemic, it was clear to the team that it would be a long-term situation, although admittedly, they considered

The Lobby at the Stock Exchange Hotel


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long-term to be the end of 2020 and not more. “We set out our plan in football terms for the whole team and started with our defensive tactics while planning our midfield work, and kept our attacking strategy in mind as well. We drew this out very clearly and included various elements in each part of the strategy which we shared with the whole team,” he reveals. “Part of our defensive strategy was to look after our team and contribute to the community while shoring up our financial position,” Mr Zahra continues, explaining that all employees were retained and paid in full, with grateful support by the furlough system put in place by the UK government. “We also extended our hotels to the NHS for use by their team members at no cost. This was very important for us as a company to show support to the wider community,” he adds. Concurrently, they set about creating a large number of events for the team over Zoom. “These events helped the team keep close together and support each other during what was a very difficult period for many. Ironically, the team has come back much stronger than it was before COVID-19 as a result.” Finally, continuing the football analogy, Mr Zahra explains that the ‘attacking’ part of the strategy included various points that ensured the team would be ready upon reopening of the properties to guests. “All in all, we have had a very strong restart since being allowed to reopen, and we are very happy that the majority of the decisions we took during this difficult period have yielded the desired results,” he maintains. Admitting that COVID-19 has dealt a massive blow to the hospitality industry, the CEO says that “without a doubt, many companies are today sitting on balance sheets that are not as

“We extended our hotels to the NHS for use by their team members at no cost. This was very important for us as a company to show support to the wider community.”

healthy as they were going into the pandemic,” yet, despite this, it has not been without its opportunities. “I feel that the main opportunity presented by the pandemic was the time given to companies to reassess their operation cost base and overall approach to the market. By doing this, one could choose to adjust things in an effective manner where in normal times you do not necessarily have the time or desire to do so,” he posits. Turning his attention to the months ahead, the CEO says that the team’s main focus for 2021 is to ensure they deliver on all the targets set in their existing hotels, while also working on expansion plans and considering various opportunities. “We remain very positive and confident that we can grow the company in the years ahead,” Mr Zahra concludes with optimism.

Hotel Football, located directly opposite Old Trafford


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Business Update

At the forefront of innovation and ergonomic solutions JMP WAS ESTABLISHED 25 years ago. Our initial role was importing and distributing top quality chemicals to the hospitality sector. Since the early days, we have supplied our customers with a whole system, complete with training, technical and COSHH support, signage and hygiene service reports. Our vision was and is now even more so, to find sustainable solutions for our customers. Another requisite which influences our decision-making in choosing our suppliers is that they must manufacture top quality goods which are long lasting and have all the necessary EU required certifications. The companies we represent are at the forefront of innovation and ergonomic solutions. One of our aims was to have a one-stop-shop. Today, we supply cleaning chemicals, haccp tools, trolleys, bins, signs, specialised professional matting, front of the house stainless steel furnishings, bathroom hygiene lines, paper towels, tissues, guest supplies, first aid kits and many other solutions. Our team offers quick and efficient service. We are totally oriented towards customer’s satisfaction. People choosing JMP know they can count on a supplier of top quality goods, a fount of knowledge, and excellent aftersales service. They know that we support them with training on site, and where necessary with monthly visits. T: 2141 3154; M: 7941 3159; E: info@jmpmalta.com; www.hygienemalta.com

Introducing iGamingCapital.mt: A new voice for the industry IGAMINGCAPITAL.MT – a major iGaming online news platform for the industry launched by Content House Group – is now live. “The decision to invest in iGamingCapital.mt forms part of our strategy to continue investing in online media,” explains Managing Director Jesmond Bonello, noting that iGamingCapital. mt is the seventh online portal run by Content House – a record number for Malta.

‘The actions of the few have impacted the second largest industry in Malta’ – iGen founder and chairman BY SOLOMON CEFAI 14 MAY 2021

Speaking of the choice of focus, Mr Bonello describes the local iGaming industry as “massive”, and one that has proven its resilience, both in the face of the global financial crisis as well as in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. So much so, that the company believed that the time was right to launch a sister brand to the successful iGaming Capital Magazine, and invest in a modern online portal that can continue strengthening the communication between the various players in the industry. Ultimately, the goal behind iGamingCapital.mt is to be of benefit to the industry, as well as other sectors and industries that work in tandem with people in iGaming. “The scope is to give a voice to the local industry and to have a platform that consistently provides daily content on what is happening in the dynamic world of iGaming. The fact that our organisation is backed by a large team of journalists and writers makes it easier for us to reach our goals in a sustainable way, on a long-term basis,” the Managing Director says.


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

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

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

CASHINFINITY™: Transforming cash into a contactless payment method COVID HAS SEEN A rise in contactless payments. It has also driven an urgency among retailers to turn to cash automation. It is a way for retailers to implement processes that allow consumers to pay in cash whilst complying with social distancing regulations. As a solution, we at Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd are recommending the use of CASHINFINITY™ solution set from Glory Global Solutions, which are note and coin recycling machines that can handle cash in an accurate, efficient and safe manner. Front office solutions within the product range can be deployed to help your staff and your customers keep their distance at the point of payment, transforming cash into a contactless payment method. For every businessperson out there, the daily struggle at the end of the day is to reconcile cash, and CASHINFINITY™ back-office solutions can do the reconciliation without the need to count any cash. Notes are safely stored in a safe cassette whereas the coins will be available as change in the machine for the next day. The CASHINFINITY™ solution set comes in various sizes to suit every business need. Joseph Cachia & Son Ltd, 103, ‘Demajo House’, Archbishop Street, Valletta. T: 2552 9000 E: info@jcs.com.mt


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“We were known as the Camilleris who import Parisian fashion. From that, it turned into camilleriparismode.”


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A la Ville De Lyon

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Uncle Lewis and Uncle Sunny, the third generation

Carmelo with Joseph and Paul, along with representatives

131 years of passion Last year, while businesses across myriad industries and sectors were busy dealing with the effects of COVID-19, camilleriparismode – one of a handful of local firms which can claim to have been in business continuously since the 1800s – turned 130 years old. In the first of a series of stories dedicated to Malta’s industry greats, Sarah Micallef discovers the passion and heritage behind camilleriparismode. FOUNDED BY PAOLO CAMILLERI IN 1890 under the name A La Ville de Lyon, camilleriparismode is now run by the fourth and fifth generations of the Camilleri family, and retails the finest fabrics, homeware, furniture and fashion articles. Now in its 131st year, Mark and Hannah Camilleri, two of Paolo’s great great grandchildren, reveal that the business at the time was very different to what it is today. “It started out as a small shop on the corner of Merchants Street and St John’s Square in Valletta,” Mark explains, highlighting the fact

that Valletta was very much the business centre of the island. “The population of the capital at the time was of 26,000 people – nowadays Valletta has 6,000 inhabitants. Everything happened in Valletta, making it the place to be if you wanted to be in business.” Back then, the shop traded in items primarily dedicated to ladies, including lingerie, hats, handbags and perfume. Later, in the 1930s, the business expanded to trading more in fashion, but not as we know it today. “At the time, readyto-wear or prêt-à-porter fashion didn’t exist, so


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we would deal in fashion fabrics for both men and women,” Mark maintains, adding that the suspicion today was that the opening of a second shop, just across the street, was a way of separating the men’s and women’s fabric selection at a time when it was considered more proper to do so. This is also where the current name originates from, Mark and Hannah reveal. After Paolo’s two sons split the business, Carmelo went on to invest in the second shop, growing it and becoming renowned as the purveyor of the latest in Parisian fashion. “We were known as the Camilleris who import Parisian fashion. From that, it turned into camilleriparismode,” they say. Carmelo would go on to further expand into home furnishings – a line of the business which Mark and Hannah reveal would experience huge growth following World War II, as “Malta had to be rebuilt.” Carmelo’s children made up the third generation – Mark and Hannah’s grandfather and his three brothers. After them, the shares filtered down to the fourth generation, current directors Franco (Hannah’s father), Victor (Paul’s Father) and Anthony (Mark’s Father). Finally, Mark, his brother Andrew, Paul, Hannah and her two sisters (Mara and Sophie) are the fifth generation..

Old CPM packaging


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“We wanted to go beyond the visual, so we started introducing scented candles to add atmosphere, and from there, one thing led to another.”

Valletta Shop - 1960s

While the women from previous generations were involved in different capacities, Hannah happily reveals, “my sisters and I are the first women in the management sphere of the business. It’s refreshing for a 130-year-old company – I think they needed a woman’s touch!” Looking back on its vast history, Mark considers the first major milestone in camilleriparismode’s story to be the opening of the second shop in Valletta, where the shift to home furnishings took place, followed by the opening of their shop in Sliema in 1990. Then, between 1995 and 1996, they purchased GK Interiors – a company that produced sofas, which was struggling to stay afloat. “We wanted to acquire a factory where we could manufacture quality sofas – back then, and even today, it was difficult to find the quality we were looking for, so we wanted to expand our portfolio of products related to our fabrics and their use,” explains Mark.

Old Advert- A la Ville De Lyon

In the year 2000, upon refurbishing the Sliema shop, the decision was made to go beyond being just a fabric shop. “We wanted to go beyond the visual, so we started introducing scented candles to add atmosphere, and from there, one thing led to another. From candles we brought in lighting and chandeliers, tableware and even wines, to introduce the sense of taste. It was about a holistic approach to what a home should be. We recognised the need to grow horizontally, and that also prompted the need for larger premises,” they say. From there, the next milestone was the opening of the Rabat factory premises as a shop in 2009, where the team also launched their design department, headed by Paul.


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“I was born a year before the Sliema shop opened, and I will always remember the excitement around the concept of the Rabat shop as a girl,” recalls Hannah, remembering happy childhood days playing in the factory with her sisters and cousins. “It was our playground,” Mark agrees, “I remember playing hide and seek with my brother between the fabrics.”

Valletta Shop - Fashion Fabrics

Reflecting on the nature of the family business, Hannah says that camilleriparismode is more than just a job, but an intrinsic part of who they are. What’s more, the family atmosphere also extends to employees who are not directly related, they add, revealing that some employees are even in their third generation, and others have spent their lifetime with the company. “We call them our extended family,” they smile, adding that “the term family business is lived here. Our philosophy on the way we were brought up with the business is not something we can switch off. Work is our life and family, and that extends to everyone that works with us.” They also consider their heritage to be one of their strengths. “The fact that we have been dealing in fabrics since the 1930s, when the internet did not exist, means that we have acquired a lot of knowledge,” Mark says. In that time, the business landscape on the island has changed immensely. Asked about what this has meant for their industry, Hannah emphasises that you can’t look at the industry without first considering how much Malta has changed. “Demographically, we have so many different nationalities now living amongst us,” she explains, describing it as a learning experience. “We’d have clients from different parts of the world that would even make us aware of new brands – keeping our ears open helped us to adapt,” she says, adding that what has perhaps been the biggest recent change is the development of Malta in general. As a company that focuses on quality with a penchant for aesthetics, Hannah can’t help but wish that every project gave importance to certain details but acknowledges that isn’t always the case. On the plus side, she notes that people are more informed than ever before, partly due to the internet, and are looking for beauty. “That helps us as a company that deals in beautiful things,” she laughs, adding “people are looking more for beauty, and thankfully, we have it.” And, apart from the beautiful items they present, it is the passion which the team possesses which they feel really sets them apart. Describing the qualities that make camilleriparismode special, Mark and Hannah list talent, dedication and discretion as important aspects of the business, along with creativity and innovation. These aspects also translate into the most recent sector of their business: camilleriparismode’s projects and design department. Having been recently awarded the Rehabilitation and Conservation Award at the Malta Architectural and Spatial Planning (MASP) awards for their work on Villa La Fiorentina in Attard, Hannah describes this new offshoot of the business as “a response to the growing demand for beauty with the way Malta is developing, and has grown to include our in-house architect, project manager and interior designers, enabling us to tackle any project from start to finish.”

“We have a crazy passion for what we do. And I use the word crazy intentionally!” laughs Hannah, as Mark nods in agreement. “I remember we once moved the set-up of the entire store because one of the racks was 5cm off!” Indeed, other than just looking great, Hannah maintains, “the work and the passion behind all that we do translates into an energy that resonates within our shops, which people feel when they walk in. This carries through in projects we present and products we create.” This also forms part of their heritage – a passion which they say filtered down all the way from their great great grandfather. “We feel that we have been handed something that isn’t just ours. We are always on a mission to be better, do better and find ways we can improve. It is much more than a job to us. I feel the responsibility entrusted to us by those that came before us,”


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Hannah says, explaining that it is truly the family legacy. “You feel the weight of it, but also the drive to push forward and keep it going.”

“We feel that we have been handed something that isn’t just ours. We are always on a mission to be better, do better and find ways we can improve.”

As for how the company dealt with the difficulties brought about by COVID-19, Mark sums it up as adopting a philosophy, as they say in Maltese, of: rasek fuq ghonqok, u saqajk ma’ l-art. “We didn’t lose our head in World War II, so we didn’t lose our head in the pandemic,” he smiles. And as they assess the future as the business lives out its 131st year, I ask, what’s next for camilleriparismode? “World domination!”, they laugh, before answering seriously, “we are looking at continuing to expand our portfolio, and also possibly looking to expand geographically within Malta” – indeed, it certainly looks like the Camilleris who once made a name for themselves importing Parisian fashion have far more up their stylish sleeves.


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Meet the Artist

The beautiful marriage of form and function For architect Neal Vella, the basis of his business, Form Matters, is about adopting conscious design to create beautifully crafted products that can stand the test of time. He chats with Martina Said about how the brand came about, where he hopes to steer it – and his passion for anything hand-crafted.

It could be said, however, that his passion for craftsmanship was sparked at an early age. “Growing up in my father’s carpentry workshop, I was exposed to a hands-on approach to problem-

solving. My time spent at the workshop alongside my father instilled in me a love for manufacturing and raw materials, which at the time consisted mainly of woodwork,” says Neal. This, coupled with a fascination for how a piece of wood could be transformed into an object “that has a purpose, aesthetic and most importantly, that fulfils a function,” as well as his exposure to the work of different designers and architects from his studies, allowed Neal to learn many aspects of design; “from the importance of detailing to

PHOTOS BY INIGO TAYLOR

A COUPLE OF YEARS INTO WORKING in the construction industry after graduating with an Architectural Master’s degree in 2016, Neal Vella, founder of bespoke and hand-crafted products brand Form Matters, discovered a love for furniture and product design, with a special interest in the manufacturing processes that go into production.


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“I would say that Form Matters can be summed up in five words: sophisticated, distinct, personal, hand-crafted and experimental.”


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different material properties; from purely aesthetic conceptual work to functional and practical objectives,” he explains. The turning point that led Neal to switch gears from working as an architect to starting his own business as a product designer happened around the time that he, along with his wife, began working on their home, which posed several design challenges and opportunities of its own. “The house required a spiral staircase to connect different spaces within it. My wife challenged me to design the staircase and build it from scratch. Admittedly, this was no mean feat, but a crucial point of encouragement was when my wife bought me a CNC machine,” says Neal, which is used to cut a variety of materials, including wood and steel. “Upon receiving positive feedback from my friends and family, and the personal satisfaction I got from the design and manufacturing process of the project, I knew that product design was the career I wanted to pursue.” This satisfaction served as the basis for Neal’s brand Form Matters, the primary idea behind which was to launch “a consistent brand that focuses on beautifully crafted pieces, which are functional and made to last.” This evolved into the production of exclusive, limited edition collections, a concept, as he puts it, “that goes against today’s ideology and demand for mass production. Ultimately, I would say that Form Matters can be summed up in five words: sophisticated, distinct, personal, hand-crafted and experimental.” From bespoke side-tables to coasters and kitchenware, a material favoured by the designer is terrazzo, which he describes as extremely versatile and that can be combined with other materials such as wood, marble and recycled plastic to create distinct finish colours and material combinations.


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“It is also easily recyclable, allowing us to adopt a sustainable approach to our manufacturing process. Further to this, authenticity lies at the heart of terrazzo making. Every colour and chip combination is unique and almost impossible to recreate precisely. The process is fun, especially since we are not in control of how the chips fall into the mould, making every product individual.”

“Authenticity lies at the heart of terrazzo making. Every colour and chip combination is unique and almost impossible to recreate precisely.”

There are, however, challenges that arise from working with terrazzo. Neal says it is a brittle material, “and even though it can take the shape of practically anything you cast it into, the form dictates the structural integrity of the object. Moreover, it is a very porous material – this brings about some challenges when we use it to create kitchenware objects for our collection.” Describing the creative process behind the products designed by Form Matters, Neal says that everything is designed in-house by a small creative team – from the initial sketches to the final product. “Our production process is a collaborative effort with the single aim of creating products that are well made and made to last,” he explains. “Further to this, our designs are characterised by functionality. We experiment with how things are constructed, developing new details and techniques for bringing different materials together in their simplest form.”


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Meet the Artist

“Our production process is a collaborative effort with the single aim of creating products that are well made and made to last.”

The design phase begins with ample brainstorming, bouncing of ideas, criticism, sketching and prototyping, which allow the team to analyse and understand the product’s potential function, manufacturing issues, and aesthetic. Their go-to material for prototyping is wood due to its versatility and widespread local availability. “When we’re pleased with the final prototype, we move onto the mould-making process to create reproductions. We experiment a lot with colours and other mixture additives such as marble, glass or recycled plastics, to create different finishes and textures,” says Neal. “Once the finish is decided, we then start producing several limited and exclusive runs from each design.” Sharing the design which has proven to be the trickiest to produce so far, Neal says that, while all product designs pose their own challenges, the cross tops the list. “The biggest challenge was to achieve the desired form with the smallest thickness of material possible, to be able to easily remove the product with care from the mould without breaking it.”

Recently, the team has also started exploring and experimenting with a unique vase-making process – a product they will be launching soon. “In such a production process, we use sacrificial moulds. To make each product, one has to achieve the perfect balance between the viscosity of the mixture, the ratio of chips to base material, the thickness of the surface and the evenness of the material on the mould,” Neal explains. “The ultimate challenge of vase-making is that all of this has to be achieved in a relatively short period of time before the mixture hardens. Messing up any of these crucial aspects of production is a recipe for disaster.” Going forward, the aim of the team is to continue building its terrazzo collection by introducing new products and exploring different materials, such as ceramics and recycled plastics, always backed by the aim of promoting local contemporary design, “integrated with traditional craftsmanship such as carpentry and metalwork and the modern processes of manufacturing to challenge the boundaries of conventional design.”


BusinessNow

Meet the Artist

The founder adds that, being an environmentally conscious brand, the next step is to introduce a new range of products that integrates reused and recycled materials as part of its manufacturing process. “This is one of the main reasons we use terrazzo, since the majority of the material produced can be reused at any stage of the production process.” Sharing some personal highlights since launching Form Matters in 2018, Neal asserts that among the most rewarding ones from the past year was turning his business “from a hobbyist Facebook page into a brand, promoting local hand-made design and manufacturing”, followed by the launch of the Terrazzo Collection. “We have also been privileged enough to

be approached by a number of potential foreign clients to export our products abroad. This notion does not only appeal to us, but it also motivates us to grow our small business further and to introduce our locally made products to the foreign market.” While challenges, naturally, have also surfaced – Neal singles out the design of the wall clock as the team’s ultimate challenge – he is driven to continue delivering brand consistency, “sticking to our core values and visual identity as the ultimate guide for anything we release to our customers. Lastly and most importantly, we intend to keep on challenging our current work ethic, to explore new methods of manufacturing as we strive to improve upon our work.”

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BusinessNow

Style Trends

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3. Wide leg trousers Goodbye sticky, skinny trousers (for now)! Another womenswear trend we’re glad to embrace that’s perfectly suited for our sweltering climate is wide leg trousers. Whether in linen, cotton or a drapey viscose, the loose-fitting style of wide leg trousers can take you from the office to cocktail hour with ease.

4. Bermudas Loose-fitting bottoms have also been adopted in menswear, and this summer, Bermudas are the shorts of choice. From Jacquemus’ patterned pairs to plain iterations by high street brands the likes of Mango, Bermuda shorts are a summer must-have for men. 5. Black and white Although a somewhat sombre summer trend, monochrome is back in striking ways. From chequered dresses and asymmetric designs to half black half white ensembles, this is a seasonal favourite that, frankly, transcends trends and fashion fads. 6. Printed shirts Also challenging the mood of the past year is the printed shirt, debuted by many designers this season in vibrant and playful ways – and there could be no better time to flaunt these than during summer. From floral designs to Origami-inspired prints, this trend is all about living in the moment.

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Alberta Ferretti

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Zara

2. Nautical Summer fashion would be lacking without a touch of nautical panache. In menswear, designers such as Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and Casablanca embraced nautical notes in the form of sailor sweaters, anchor-covered tops, blue and green stripes, and lots of white.

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Zara

1. Maxi dresses Considered a summer wardrobe staple, maxi dresses have graced the catwalks of many designers’ spring/ summer 2021 collections, from Michael Kors to Alberta Ferretti, in a range of ethereal and floor-sweeping designs reminiscent of blissful summer holidays spent cruising along the Mediterranean coast.

Jacquemus

Style Trends Summer 2021 fashion trends are all about keeping cool and living in the moment. Martina Said picks her favourites for the hot months ahead.

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Casablanca

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Profile for Content House Group

Business Now Issue One - Summer 2021  

Business Now Issue One - Summer 2021  

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