When I was given the brief for this article I was asked for the definition of “young”. As with everything else in life all is relative. To the child of nine, his elder cousin who is 11 is admirably old—the younger cousin will look at the older one in awe. We grow up wishing we were older—to wear what we want, to drive cars, to run our life, to drink and party at all times of the day and night. Then there comes a time when we want to decrease the years or stop the passage of time.
Many successful businessmen remain young at heart and can easily be termed young even if they have long been given their old-age pension and kartanzjan. Can Richard Branson be called a man who does not have the flair and the passion for adventure and drive? And can anyone imagine Sir Richard on one of his island retreats twiddling his thumbs? There are many examples like him: entrepreneurship and drive hardly have any boundaries, age or otherwise.
Like gender, age is no big deal—some are born old and grouchy with no aim in life but to twiddle those thumbs Sir Richard keeps so busy. But the world needs to hear of the successes, of the young and the young at heart, so that the idlers might be impressed and turn a new leaf.
Whatever people say about inherent talent or birthright, there is an entrepreneur in all of us. What we all need to ignite the flare of action is a good look at what happens and some inspiration. Everyone has a talent—some have it in bucketloads some in little sprinkles, others have loads of it but cannot realise they have it unless they are goaded.
Here we meet and hear the success story of people who have achieved what others thought was unachievable. These men and women had a dream which they turned into reality. That is all one needs—and a lot of staying power, belief in oneself and a determination that failure or near-failure need not be the end of the dream. In fact sometimes failure has been turned into a bigger achievement. Read all about these men and woman who made it and what it took to make it.
Jonathan Vella is CEO and Owner of Express Logigroup Limited which specialises in Freight forwarding, trucking, sea and air transport and customs clearance.He has held various high positions including Deputy Chairman of Transport Malta. He holds an MBA and for a long time held important posts in the business his family owned.
Mr Vella thinks that “the feeling of owing and running my own business is by far more exciting and challenging than anything I did before. Turning an idea into a tangible and successful organisation does not come easy and therefore what I have achieved so far gives me great satisfaction. I have to keep my feet solidly on the ground and focus on strategy and operational synergies which are customer-centric and, above all, profitable.”
Being the Chief Executive of Express Logigroup (ELG), a total logistics company, is no easy task as the company deals in high-performance logistics, a specialist vehicle which has to provide highly-efficient solutions for clients to optimise every process in the value chain for their own clients’ benefit.
“Success does not come as standard,” says Mr Vella, “when it comes to managing a company, especially in the open market in which we operate. We have been vigilant and hands-on from the day we thought of the company as a concept. Success is not measured only by profitability but by continuous growth and customer satisfaction.”
To Mr Vella success in his market has all been due to determination. His aim is to focus on Express Logigroup and to make sure it becomes one of the most successful logistics companies in Malta. And, according to Mr Vella, this success is measured by “exceeding customer expectations at all levels.” Vella feels that anyone who has been successful is to be admired and emulated. He likes being surrounded by people who are successful.
Although the company he heads is still young and the local market still only slightly tapped they have already been contracted abroad by an international events organisation which asked them to handle all their exhibition material into and out of Libya. An operation which, according to Mr Vella, was “seamlessly done from planning to execution to closure of contract.
Mr Vella is confident that, just as we as a nation have been successful so far, we will keep up the tempo and all that was started by the previous government will be continued by the new one. The pension time-bomb needs to be sorted out and kept away from being politicised. He believes that, with proper consultation and debate, a good way forward will be found and a balance between what is good for society and business will be struck. And, just as we need innovation in the way we tackle national problems like the deficit and pensions, according to Mr Vella “we need to change our mindset with regard to education.
Our educational system has to change from rewarding only those students who pass their exams by way of memorising text books and regurgitating what they are told by lecturers to rec ognising those who promote innovation and are in themselves innovators.”
To Mr Vella it is imperative that Malta continues to create spaces for business to emerge in different sectors whilst government has to ensure that bureaucracy is lessened to the barest minimum.
Mark Abela Schinas
While still a student, Mr Mark Abela Schinas worked as a software developer at Hetronic Malta for two years, where he designed, developed and implemented software to automate business processes.
Following his graduation from the University of Malta, Mr Abela Schinas co-founded MAP IT, a software development partnership focusing on custom business applications, where he has been working as Managing Partner since 2009. His main responsibilities are strategy development as well as the management of the business and development of new products. In 2011 Mark joined Wikibetting Ltd as Head of Product, where he is responsible for the strategy, development and management of their flagship product.
Mr Abela Schinas says that “Being an entrepreneur is great. Even while I was still studying, I couldn’t wait to get into the business world to start solving real problems that real people or businesses have. It’s just such a rewarding feeling knowing that solutions I have helped develop have helped solve problems for people and businesses.” Mr Abela Schinas believes he and his enterprise have succeeded because they focus “on what we are good at and we work tirelessly to meet our clients’ requirements and deadlines. We are also a small and dynamic company which allows us to be flexible. Most importantly, we have a very capable and dedicated team of professionals who simply get the job done.”
What, according to Mr Abela Schinas, is the secret to success? He says that “it is to keep trying since I believe that no one ever achieved anything without first trying. Good work ethic and professionalism are also important.” Ambition and belief in one’s capabilities are also important facets of everyone’s success and Mr Abela Schinas’s aim is “to see MAP IT grow into a major competitor in the Maltese market as well as develop products that companies all around the world will rely on for their business.”
Few successful entrepreneurs have no heroes to emulate and, although Mr Abela Schinas says he is not a hero, he does say he admires how Michael O’Leary spotted an opportunity in low-cost travel and went on to carry it through with great success. He has a successful pricing strategy and, most importantly, knows his firms’ strengths and plays to them. Mr Abela Schinas has had only one mentor and that is his father “who has been,” an invaluable source of experience during these past years.”
Malta is still the only market for MAP IT but he is hopeful that it will soon change. Mr Abela Schinas feels that Malta can serve as a terrific source of market research as, from the feedback about the market, they can find out which features are essential, which aren’t and what could be added. To Mr Abela Schinas the business venture, even if successful, has been fraught with tough challenges. He admits that “My generation surely faces greater challenges than the previous one – these are no longer boom years, as we are so often reminded. Coupled with today’s sluggish growth is the problem of government debt. Governments have overspent and are now finding it difficult to sustain the welfare systems that the voting public demands. And yes, it may also be difficult to sustain our pensions in the future.”
To a question whether he thinks ‘people like him’ are the solution he says “That might be a little presumptuous, but entrepreneurial drive will help turn things around for the better. Instead of looking for jobs and depending on existing employers, our young and bright graduates should be more willing to roll up their sleeves and make the jobs themselves. Malta has a vibrant IT industry, which, on balance, tends to reward innovation, ambition and hard work. The demand is out there. A good way to encourage innovation and entrepreneurship is to incentivise these activities through schemes similar to MicroInvest.
“Having said that I do think that we need a paradigm shift in the way we treat higher education here in Malta. We need to stop looking simply at the number of graduates that the University churns out but the quality of our teaching. Exams shouldn’t be about the ability to regurgitate power-point slides from lectures. Our courses need to encourage more critical thinking and less memory work.”
Being a young—and successful—entrepreneur should give people like Abela Schinas more say in what lies in the future—and how we should be looking at it. Success stories should not just be disseminated but should be seen to contribute with their shared know-how and their own ideas of how to change or improve the future. Mr Abela Schinas thinks that “we should encourage entrepreneurial ability, and government could set up a fund for students who have viable business ideas – serving as a sort of ‘generous venture capitalist’.
There should be more competitions within or between faculties, where groups of students come up with practical business ideas from which they intend to make a profit. Those with the best business plan win the money, which must be used for the business idea. Of course, this would come at a cost to the taxpayer, but then so do stipends.
“Very often, students do not need to see ‘big money’ in order to be enticed to come up with an innovative, profitable idea. We need to harness this pool of human capital by offering the right incentives, not by simply transferring an amount into their bank accounts every month, rain or shine.” Wise words indeed!
Nathan Farrugia is the Chief Executive of Inspire, one of Malta’s leading non-profit organisations. He is a record-breaking endurance athlete, entrepreneur, mentor and motivator to others. He is married to Deirdre and has two young daughters. He believes that leadership and strong values are the keys to both personal and business success, and that challenges are merely stepping stones along that road.
Mr Farrugia says the best description of him is that he is “a value-driven, passionate person. I feel I’m focused on achieving long-term goals through leadership in the sector I am fortunate to work in.”
As Chief Executive and Trustee of Inspire, Mr Farrugia heads a big organisation that supports families and individuals with disabilities. “I am also on a number of boards and councils, besides which I run my own small enterprises that either support other CEOs in their leadership development, organise extreme sports events or raise funds for the sector I work in.”
To the man who heads Inspire “success has intrinsic value. I do not measure success in comparison to others, such as winning market share, beating competitors to innovate or delivering greater financial return to shareholders. To me success is the satisfaction derived from reaching goals I have set for myself, my organisation and in my life in general. And these goals are always value-driven. Often this may be very difficult to measure in my line of work as it often requires a positive reply to the question: are we making a difference?
At the same time, we need to be sustainable as a business and regular performance indicators give us an idea of where we stand. To me the secret to success is creating value. I must be able to add value to the organisation or business I run or I will walk away. The overall business must be adding value to society, the marketplace or the shareholders or it should be re-thought.
To Mr Farrugia “doing something that makes me want to get up in the morning and face the challenge” is what he needs to feel now and in the future. He says he “needs to feel that I am contributing to the organisation or business I am involved in. I could never ‘sit and watch’ whilst others run the operations. I enjoy strategy, decision-making and negotiating, but more than everything I enjoy working with passionate people and getting the best out of them whilst learning new things myself every day.”
Mr Farrugia feels his parents were both invaluable to his leadership development. He says: “My mother taught me about passion, taking risks and challenging the status quo. My father the values of hard work, respect of others and the reality that the ‘buck must stop at you’, irrespective of how uncomfortable that may be. I also derive a lot of support from my wife Deirdre and our kids Robyn and Keira. It’s amazing how useful a child’s mind can be when deciding business strategy.”
Inspire is mainly based in Malta but Mr Farrugia feels it could be an agent for change in some emerging countries. How does Mr Farrugia feel Malta has fared in these last years from an economic point of view? “I think that Malta has done a remarkable job in sustaining the current way of life at such a difficult time and this seems largely due to good governance by government, institutions and business leaders.”
Pierre Grech Pillow
Mr Pierre Grech Pillow is an auctioneer and valuer, and, together with his father, was instrumental in setting up Obelisk Auctions in 2007. Auction sales conducted by Obelisk see sales of various pieces of heritage like the private contents of the house of the former Prime Minister of Malta, Dr Gorg Borg Olivier, and also include Old Master Paintings. In fact the highest price ever paid for an Old Master painting was for one sold in an Obelisk Auction. Prices of items sold at Obelisk range from a paltry €10 to items reaching over a million euro. Obelisk holds auctions at its own premises in Attard and in private residences.
Mr Grech Pillow is an auctioneer, and a true believer in all things beautiful and worth preserving. He believes that fine art and antiques are part of our heritage and the more people appreciate and collect them the more we can look after our true spirit.
Mr Grech Pillow believes that, in any profession, the secret of success is a passion for what one is doing. “This,” he adds “has to be complemented by a very strong belief in oneself and one’s capabilities.” According to Mr Grech Pillow, one must study one’s competitors and offer a better service than they do, making use of technology, being firm and resolute, not being side-tracked by success and not being afraid to fail.”
Mr Grech’s vision of his future is quite straightforward: he thinks he will be doing the same thing but with an expanded business base, both on a local and international level. His father, who introduced him to antiques at a young age, remains his mentor. From antiques to auctioneering was one sure step in the right direction.
According to Mr Grech Pillow, Malta needs to work with other countries to reduce the amount of red tape which hinders individual businesses and companies from being able to adjust quickly to changing market conditions.
Sandro Vella was born in 1969 and was educated at the Mellieha Primary school and St Aloysius’ College. He continued his studies at the precursor of ITS, at the Mediterranean Conference Centre, where he obtained a diploma in Catering Management. He subsequently worked in various hotels in Malta and UK as a chef. He has won various awards in food competitions locally and abroad. Since opening Il-Mitħna Restaurant, he has won several awards and certificates of excellence from Trip Advisor.
Mr Vella does not consider himself young but his character and drive definitely make him more than young at heart. He feels that, throughout his work experience, he has been brazen and bold—or at least very determined and hard-working. Mr Vella says that “success comes to the ones who try come what may. But mainly you succeed due to hard work, constant monitoring and changing. You have to be proactive to what guests want to see in their plates and in their glasses. Change makes us stronger.”
Asked the secret to his success he says immediately that it is “being ambitious. But the main thing that begets success in my line is love of and passion for food.” He loves doing his work and wants to go on doing it for many years to come—although he wants to be doing the same amount of work in 10 years but less in 20.
Mr Vella has worked with several great people and thinks all gave him a bit or a lot of what he knows today. “But there is one hero in my life who, when I was still very young, showed me a lot of what I still use today. This is John Vella, who was chef at the Arches Restaurant back when I started. A true and real professional.”
Mr Vella is very happy with what he has achieved. He is content to stay put with his restaurant, concentrating all his energies in one place.
“Since greed is not in my vocab, money does not motivate me so I’m more than happy with what I do.” These final words of his are pure gold. Those who bite off more than they can chew end up losing sight of entrepreneurship. It is useless having a lot but not being able to enjoy the rewards.
Ms Maria Farrugia grew up in Sweden where she studied and obtained top degrees in YATA education, economics and international business. Three years ago she came to Malta and opened her own café business. She also organises Lebanese events and will soon be opening a beauty clinic.
Ms Farrugia is quite a determined and confident woman who does not let any obstacle hinder her in her plans. She feels that her success is due to hard work and a true friendship with customers. But the true secret to her success is that she has a commitment to deliver constantly and she has a real passion for her work.
Ms Farrugia says that “I am not particularly ambitious. I feel good at what I do and try to do it right and I do love feeling independent.” She tries hard to keep constantly updated with all that is happening in her field and to have full market awareness.
Malta is a great base for Ms Farrugia and she thinks the ageing problem Europe faces could be turned slightly to Malta’s advantage as we could be an ideal place for people to retire in. Ms Farrugia believes that Malta just needs slight polishing on the efficiency and the cleanliness side.