Denise Xuereb

Construction Director, AX Construction Ltd

Denise Xuereb holds a bachelor’s degree in management from the University of Malta, and a Master’s of Science in project and programme management from the Ecole Superieure de Commerce in Paris. She is a member of the AX Group executive board and manages its construction and restoration arms.

Taking Family Business Success to the Next Level

Monday 08th October 2018

Who am I? As most people would refer to me, jien t-tifla ta’ Anglu. And although being my father’s daughter is an important part of me, it doesn’t define me. For those of you who don’t know, my father is a self-made, established Maltese entrepreneur who has worked very hard to get to where he is today. And I must admit I am lucky to have had a stepping stone prepared for me, but it wasn’t always so obvious that I will be joining the family business.

I have been AX’s Group director for Construction and Development for eight years, and I haven’t looked back. And even though I am still navigating my way through the complexities of a family business, I have learnt a couple of lessons that I can already share.

1. Respect the core values of the business

2. Know your personal strengths and accept your limitations

3. Change doesn’t happen overnight

Respect the core values of the business

In The Art of War, Sun Tzu declared that you should ‘Know yourself and your enemies and you need not fear a hundred battles.’ I would say that if you know yourself and your business, you need not fear a hundred tasks. Any business is built on a set of fundamental principles and values. For us, these core values are Creativity, Efficiency and Determination. If you know my father you’ll know that he has consistently lived by these rules. Consequently, we too used these values as guiding principles, especially during times of transition and change.

It is important that any successor of new management knows and understands where the company started from and what the drivers of the business are, so the company can go from strength to strength. Identify what’s worth retaining and don’t be afraid to discard what isn’t. As part of our growth, we understand the need to evolve. Whilst our father has always led with integrity, we felt the need to enshrine this as one of our core values, which we recently have. This, along with the original core values, is what we want to ingrain in today’s business environment and pass on to the next generation.

Currently, AX Group is a dynamic group of nearly 40 companies and we have evolved beyond our previous identity. We are no longer just construction, or just hospitality. We now manage the first retirement village on the island, we were the promoters of the Valletta Cruiseport and are still a major shareholder, we’re in the process of investing in renewable energy proposals such as a solar farm, and are currently in the planning stages for an infrastructural transport project, linking the Grand Harbour with Marsamxett, which has been given the green light by UNESCO.

Know your personal strengths and accept your limitations

Whilst my upbringing helped develop my natural aptitude for construction, no amount of brand and marketing meetings could help me feel comfortable in that area. In contrast, my sister Claire followed her natural flair for design and branding, and today, besides managing AX Hotels, is our go-to person for anything marketing related. However, regardless of our upbringing, the sight of Claire in a hard hat and hi-vis jacket is definitely a funny one. I feel that we’re lucky to have been allowed our own space to grow in whichever direction we felt most comfortable in.

Whilst growing in these areas, we also identified where we would require additional expertise, thus adding external talent to AX Group and always being on the hunt for fresh energy to take us from strength to strength.

Change doesn’t happen overnight

Finally, we must accept that Change doesn’t happen overnight by just appointing a different leader, manager, director or CEO. Change is a process.

The second generation has big shoes to fill, so working in the shadow of the accomplishments of the previous generations will not reap the success that we need to achieve. Members of the succeeding generation need to slowly stand on their own two feet. I clearly remember, at the start of my career in construction, when going on site, clients, or architects used to ask me to talk to my father or husband or brother or manager. Let’s face it I was very young, a woman and the boss’ daughter working in construction, so it took time for people to accept that they needed to talk to me. 

We must remember to respect the past, work for the present and aim for the future. In fact, the AX Construction motto states that we are ‘Restoring our heritage, building our future.’ And although that refers to buildings – it sort of applies here as well.

For all the problems and challenges that a family business brings, there are equal advantages and joys. Blood is thicker than water, and if navigated sensibly, the journey of a family business can be a wonderful one. I speak from experience. The family feeling needs to be present in the way we operate, even the way we deal with our employees. They are our extended family.