Having grown up in a medical family, it may well have been assumed that Dr Ann Fenech would become a doctor, just like her father and her forefathers. But that wasn’t the path she wanted to take and, instead, Ann began reading Law – something fairly uncommon in Malta in the early 1980s, at a time when few women went to university. Thankfully, her family encouraged her every step of the way and never treated her any differently because she was female.
“After graduating here in 1986, I moved to London with my husband, Thomas, who had studied medicine there at the time,” Ann explains. “I joined Holman Fenwick Willan, a shipping firm in the City with hundreds of international employees. I hadn’t worked in the shipping sector before but I was eager to try, and they gave me a pilot project to work on while I, in the meantime, decided to read for a Maritime Law Master’s.”
In the end – having known nothing about the sector on her first day – Ann went on to specialise in maritime law and she spent six years in the sector exclusively in London. “Back in Malta that would have been unheard of at the time,” she says. “Lawyers then did a bit of everything but I fell in love with maritime law and never looked back. In fact, when Thomas moved to New Orleans to specialise in diseases of the retina, I was seconded from HFW to Chaffe McCall, a shipping firm in New Orleans, and I absolutely loved it. As I look back, I can honestly say I have loved every moment – all the ups and downs – of my professional career.”
Then, with a return to Malta in 1992 on the cards, Ann accepted an offer from Fenech & Fenech to set up a marine litigation department. “The other firms thought it was hilarious, but Fenech & Fenech encouraged me to take on the challenge. They have always been very forward thinking. So, I went ahead, and I haven’t had a single day since when I haven’t been busy. To date we remain the only law firm on the island with a dedicated marine litigation department and it currently employs six people on its own, among the 110 in the Group overall.”
Of course, all of this coincided with a time when the Malta flag was growing, which brought about lots of litigation worldwide and proved to be the perfect time to develop the accompanying sector for the island. “Because we are bang in the middle of the Mediterranean, Maritime Malta is everything to do with the maritime sector across the board – the transhipment of cargo, registration of ships, pilotage collisions, ship repair, the cruise liner business, salvage, yachting and more… our position really lends itself to the sector.”
And with that in mind, Ann found herself with more and more responsibility within the firm, and with a growing role. She also took on other positions outside it, lecturing at the University of Malta in shipping law, becoming the President of the Malta Maritime Law Association, while also becoming the first-ever Maltese executive member of the Comité Maritime International, a role that has helped give Malta a voice in the drafting of international maritime law.
Then, in 2008, the Board at Fenech & Fenech appointed her Managing Partner; the equivalent of most companies’ CEO. “Even though we’re not classified as a business per se, we are offering a professional service to our clients and are very service and results driven,” she says of her approach. “In terms of management, I believe in giving people ownership; I always encourage them to find their niche within our organisation so they can grow. That is how I developed, and it is what I inspire our young recruits to strive for today: find an area that excites you, give your whole heart and soul to it. Grow in it and the firm will grow with you.”
Looking back, Ann says she was never treated any differently because she was a woman. “Being female never entered into the equation,” she says. “Perhaps I was lucky, but it was never an issue. Now, in our organisation, 70 out of 110 people on our team are women; we didn’t engineer it to be that way, they were just the best candidates for the job. We support women to do what makes them happy.”
And moving forward, Ann says that 2019 will doubtlessly be another exciting year for maritime in Malta. “Malta has an excellent product covering all aspects of the maritime industry, serviced by some very good professionals who offer a good service at competitive prices when compared to our international competitors. Thus, it will continue to thrive.”
“Meanwhile, I recently had one of the most memorable events of my career at UNCITRAL – The United Nations Commission on International Trade Law in New York, where I was representing Comité Maritime International. During this 51st Assembly we were successful in persuading UNCITRAL to add ‘cross-border issues surrounding the international recognition of judicial sales’ to their working agenda. This is a huge breakthrough, and something I look forward to pursuing further in the year, and years, to come.”
As for where she sees herself and the firm in five years’ time, Ann says she will be retired from her post of Managing Partner and working more on the international aspects of maritime law. “There are also a number of things I would like to pursue, and I would also like to retire at my peak. As for the firm, I have no doubt it will go from strength to strength, by developing more and more areas of expertise. We have some exceptionally talented people, who will take the firm forward. We will keep trying to be better at what we do while bearing in mind that efficiency and good value for your money is king.”
“When it is all over, I hope to be looked back on as someone who contributed to the advancement of Maritime Malta,” she concludes.
MaltaChamber.org.mt is proud to be serialising MaltaCEOs 2019, a high-profile publication consisting of 50 in-depth interviews with leading CEOs in Malta. Celebrating the most influential business minds in the country, two different interviews will be featured on this business news portal week by week. MaltaCEOs was created by Content House Group in collaboration with the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise & Industry.