Pio Vassallo has been working in construction for the last 25 years, but his journey in the industry began much earlier than that. At the tender age of six, he was already more at home in a construction site than anywhere else.

“This was more than 40 years ago. I vividly remember all the construction we carried out during the late 1980s and of the early 90­s. I spent all my summers working at my father’s office in different departments and sections of the company. I experienced working in the stores, in accounts and in design but I spent most summers on construction sites as an understudy of Joe Schranz, a family friend and company director for many years.”

Even after all these years, Pio feels that the best place to be is not in a cushy office, but on the ground. “Construction cannot be managed remotely, and onsite is where I am in my true element, where I feel most comfortable.”


St Elmo Bridge
St Elmo Bridge


The people who shaped me

Pio says he was shaped not only by early experience but also by the knowledge and wisdom imparted to him by several key people.

“One of my biggest influences was my late grandfather Piju Vassallo, who founded our construction business. He always preached that being a gentleman and staying true to your word is far more valuable than all the money you could ever earn. He taught me the values of honesty, integrity, and humility.”

His father, Nazzareno, a “brilliant negotiator”, taught him how to manage projects. “He always said to me that if people are not given a deadline, they will not be motivated to finish on time.”

After finishing secondary school, Pio decided to stop studying and start working. His first job was on the Radisson Baypoint Hotel, as an assistant to Project Manager Mario Scicluna, from whom he learnt much about the construction process. 

Pio eventually returned to studying at the urging of his mother, Maryanne. “Her perseverance ultimately paid off and I read for a degree in Construction Management and Engineering at the University of Reading in the UK.”


Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Golden Sands
Radisson Blu Resort & Spa, Golden Sands


His previous experience in the sector helped him get through university and graduate with flying colours. “I am forever grateful to my mother for her encouragement and inspiration at the time, and for her unwavering support during my working career.”

Another father-like figure was company lawyer Dr Aldo Vella. “He taught me to always defend my rights but at the same time always try to seek amicable solutions. He always says that it’s better to settle for a less favourable agreement than to endure the long process of a good judgment.”

A baptism of fire

On his return to Malta in 1999, Pio’s first assignment was the refurbishment of the old Garrison Church in Valletta, which today houses the Malta Stock Exchange. Being one of his firsts, the project remains one of his absolute favourites.

A few weeks into the works, Joe Schranz, then CEO, stepped down to start his own business. This came as a shock to Pio, but not as much as what would come next. “My father entrusted me with managing all our construction. It was my baptism of fire, but I never looked back.”

It didn’t take long for him to realise how hard it can be to be at the helm of a company at such a young age, especially in a dynamic industry like construction, but he persevered.


Campus Hub
Campus Hub


“Managing more experienced people is not easy but, with the right attitude, you can earn their respect. You have to seek different opinions but ultimately make your own judgment. From the outset, my father had full trust in my management capabilities, and he never got involved in the day-to-day running of the company or projects. He directed me at boardroom level and was an encyclopaedia of knowledge and experience. Whilst our management styles differ, our way of thinking has always been aligned.”

From churches to embassies

Under his leadership, the company has so far completed 374 construction projects. “We have built hotels, elderly homes, blocks of apartments, houses, churches, embassies, banks, bridges, schools, power stations and solar parks.”

The only hospital built in the last 10 years, the Sir Anthony Mamo Oncology Hospital, was another Vassallo Group project in a joint venture with others.

Asked to name some of his favourite projects, Pio points out the Radisson Golden Sands Hotel, which the company managed to finish in “record time” ahead of the 2005 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM)

Another one is the St Elmo bridge in the Grand Harbour, which was delicately lifted in its place after being shipped over from Spain. The operation was twice cancelled due to bad weather.

The American Embassy in Ta’ Qali was another challenging project, partly because of higher standards set by the US government. “They wanted a particularly strong type of concrete and we ended up importing a special type of gravel from Sicily since the correct material couldn’t be sourced locally.”

Malta Stock Exchange
Malta Stock Exchange


Unfortunately, this project ended up in arbitration abroad, but all was well, in the end. “The biggest satisfaction was travelling to an arbitration court in Washington and walking out victorious. Jonathan Buttigieg, who has been a constant support for me during these 25 years, was instrumental in our fight.”

The Vassallo Business Park and the recently opened Campus Hub are also close to Pio’s heart. Now, he is eagerly waiting for the upcoming opening of the group’s latest project – the Mediterranean College of Sport.

‘A constant learning process’

Construction is a continuous learning process, Pio explains. Each project represents its challenges but also offers many rewards once completed. One of the biggest lessons is that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong, so contingency plans are a must.

Pio has seen the industry evolve over the years, especially when it comes to health and safety. He recalls how, 25 years ago workers walked around construction sites barefooted and without helmets. That has changed.

But not all change is good, he adds. “Unfortunately, we are losing the skills once possessed by Maltese builders, particularly when it comes to stonemasonry.”

A servant leader

Despite his experience and success, Pio likes to keep his feet on the ground.

“I couldn’t do any of this without the support of our amazing team. I have to thank all of our workers, suppliers, subcontractors and colleagues for all their efforts and contributions during all these years.”

As a gesture of gratitude, the family business has a tradition of breaking a champagne bottle during the last concrete pour, followed by a small party for the workers.


From left: Pio Vassallo, his late grandfather Piju and his father Nazzareno.
From left: Pio Vassallo, his late grandfather Piju and his father Nazzareno.


Pio does not believe in the greatness of the individual, but rather in the power of teams. He considers himself to be a ‘servant leader’.

“Apart from the prestigious projects we have developed, one of my biggest satisfactions is seeing people reaching their full potential.”

Loyalty is a value he holds dear, mentioning group Director of Finance Stephen Borg and his personal assistant, Audrey Galea, as two of the most loyal people he has ever met.

“Finally, a big thank you also goes to all my siblings and to my son Samuel who is another inspiration and my special uplift during challenging times.”