Cycling and running get Pio fired up for the day ahead, psyching him for the endless demands and decisions that await him the minute he steps into his office. Although half the day has passed, Pio still seems to be riding on the feel-good endorphins as he settles behind his desk and discusses the milestones of 2022 and the aspirations for the next five years with a fiery energy. “I admit I need intense training in my life for my health and my sanity,” he says, sporting a tan acquired from a recent sailing trip that served as a bonding holiday with his father, Nazzareno, who last year stepped down as Vassallo Group chairman after more than half a century at the helm.
This year, he says, has given birth to a new era for the Vassallo empire and Pio says the focus is now on strengthening the foundations through the Power of Five; the five children who are shareholders and are now entrusted with navigating the future. “Thankfully, my siblings are my best friends. We squabble and argue, but in the end we share the same values. Before, I used to work directly with my father, now it’s about sharing the weight. Thankfully, we have a team around us that understands this dynamic.” This power of five is a thread throughout Pio’s narrative for the Group’s vision, as together they build on the lessons learnt over the past years to forge the future. “Working together was the first challenge to strengthen the core of what our father worked so hard to build,” he adds.
As CEO, Pio has a helicopter view of the Group’s overall operations and the decisions of the past years to tap different markets has helped soften the blows dealt by the pandemic, the war on Ukraine and other international forces that drove prices up. On a positive front, 2022 has seen the tourism sector witness a 90 per cent recovery to pre-Covid figures, leading to a successful opening of its latest hotel, Land’s End, located along Sliema’s Tigné Seafront.
The Group also delivered the first milestone of the Campus Hub, which saw 400, mostly international, students move in and the creation of an exciting space that has sparked a new vibrant community on the university grounds. “It’s hard to explain the sensation of just sitting there watching how the plans have come to life and how people use the space we’ve designed… Freshers Week was the highlight for us; you can really feel the project.”
By the end of this year the Campus Hub will be fully operational, followed by the new Medical School once discussions with the University of Malta are wrapped up. This year has also seen the Mediterranean College of Sport start to rise from the ground on the site of the St Aloysius College sports complex in Birkirkara. Pio smiles with pride as he delves into how the weeks ahead will see the completion and refurbishment of the new indoor pavilion. The school, which will take in students from Form 1 to Form VI, will be officially opened within two years, and works are under way to strengthen connections with international universities to cultivate knowledge sharing and exchanges.
“The Group is working to establish the College as a microcosm for sports science, research and development; it’ll provide a lot of value added for the island, which has plenty to offer in terms of sports tourism and education.” The Group is viewing the College as a springboard to expand its educational arm, and it is working to cast its net in other areas it views as growth opportunities, such as alternative energy and offshore electricity. “There is plenty to explore in the sphere of offshore electricity and as a Group we have always been agile and forward-looking by striking partnerships with others… we’re always on the lookout to explore new opportunities.”
Looking ahead, Pio believes one of the challenges they face is human capital, since hundreds of expats left the island in droves when the pandemic hit and recruiting comes with its own struggles of finding the right people and then obtaining visas. But no challenge is insurmountable with a strong team. “Unity is the message we want to continue reinforcing within the Group… we are much more stronger together.”