This has not been the easiest of years. As the world recovers from the post-Covid shock, and war continues to blight the continent with its domino effect on the supply market, a number of challenges abounded in 2023, mainly surrounding inflation and the increased cost of finance. But, as Group Director of Finance and Company Secretary Stephen Borg points out, Vassallo Group was well positioned to face such challenges head on and capitalise on the opportunities they presented. “The Group performance for 2023 appears solid,” says Stephen emphatically.

“All the Group business pillars performed at the expected budgeted levels.” He added that the University of Malta’s Campus Hub and Vassallo Business Park both registered “an excellent first full year of operation”. Moreover, associated companies mainly in the hospitality industry, which was so badly affected during the pandemic have all returned to pre-2020 levels and even improved upon them. “Overall, 2023 should result in another positive performance for the Vassallo Group.”

With 23 years of experience in the Group, and counting, Stephen has witnessed its journey as it ventured into new areas and projects, with all the inherent obstacles and challenges that growth and innovation inevitably brings. He believes the Group’s drive to always be “dynamic, distinct and diverse” is what contributes towards its success. “By ‘distinct and diverse’ we believe that the Group identifies niche areas of business, assessing them as a standalone. Once viability is established, all efforts are made to support that business initiative throughout its early years and then push to ensure growth,” explains Stephen. That’s not to say that innovation should be pursued at any cost. “The overriding principle is to do something new, or at least do it differently and better, but even though this requires the Group to be bold, sometimes taking the decision to pull the plug is just as bold. I guess it is wiser to admit that you were wrong than to persevere in wrongdoing.”

“Another principle for success has also been the concept of drivers,” he continues. “Unless an activity is owned by a driver it tends to lose steam and impetus and hence, coupled with a ‘distinct and diverse’ business idea, we believe that each activity needs a dynamic driver. I believe these have been the basic principles of the Group’s success.” For the first time ever, the Group brought together all the banks which finance it in one meeting during which Stephen, along with Group chairperson Natalie Briffa Farrugia and Group CEO Pio Vassallo, presented its financial report and proposals for future projects. So groundbreaking was this initiative that Natalie described it as a “meaningful achievement” and there are plans for this to become an annual event.

“Banks are our partners,” points out Stephen. “They share in our success and sometimes even in our disappointments which is why it feels only natural to share with them all our thoughts, results and plans for the future. It is no secret that Vassallo Group has a business relationship with all major local banks and we value each relationship equally and plan to grow it in the years to come.” One of the year’s highlights, which the Group’s senior management always look forward to, is the two-day Budget seminar that sets the tone for the coming year and beyond through a series of presentations and discussions. “Budgeting has always been high on the Group’s agenda. If you don’t have a goal and a path to get there then it is very unlikely the goal can be achieved,” says Stephen.

“In these last couple of years we have also amplified the budgeting process to take it to Group level so that each business entity can visualise its position as a cog in this big wheel which is the Group.” This year Environment, Social and Governance (ESG) goals will also be high on the agenda with the Group expecting to be in a position to announce its position on this matter by 2025. “The Group is aware of its obligations and reporting requirements in this area and is gearing up to be able to face these challenges. The Group’s commitment to ESG principles has always been and remains unwavering. The dedication to these principles is not only integral to the Group’s long-term sustainability but also evidence of resilience and adaptability in the face of global change.”