Although a lawyer by profession, E&S Group’s CEO Dr Christian Ellul always knew that working in business was his passion.
“My mother and other members of my family were all in business, so I was inclined in that direction,” explains Christian. “Nevertheless, I studied and specialised in tax law, gaining a Master’s degree and lecturing in the Netherlands, before returning to Malta to work for one of the ‘big four’ audit firms. But I found tax advisory too specific and I wanted to see all other aspects of the transaction too – so I went on to work with another established corporate services provider, until I set up E&S with my Partner Karl Schranz.”
The choice to transition from lawyer to businessman and create a new start-up seemed an obvious one to Christian, spotting a lucrative gap in the market for his unique skillset. “In my previous job – since I had a tax background and legal knowledge – I often worked face-to-face with clients, travelling overseas to meet them, and explaining the benefits of all they could achieve in Malta’s booming business climate,” Christian recalls. “Then Karl and I realised we had the know-how to do this ourselves, so we started the business from nothing. Thanks to word-of-mouth recommendations, both from our contacts and by clients to other clients, we’ve kept growing ever since.”
As one of the co-Founders and Directors of E&S, the appointment to CEO was a natural progression for Christian, but he was determined that the title would not undermine one of the core principles of the company: approachability.
“I don’t really call myself a CEO – we don’t have such a hierarchy in the sense that we encourage a more open-door style, both for employees and clients,” he explains. “We have become known by our clients for our hands-on approach, where we prioritise communication with them and work as a team to address their concerns. Likewise, our friendly staff operate on a first-name basis, and we have a happy, motivated and respectful environment here. We all know it’s a business, but we try to have fun at the same time.”
However, Christian says that recruiting team members who have the required skills to join the E&S team is one of the challenges he faces as Malta’s financial services sector grows. “The business environment in Malta, including the boom in blockchain, means it is more difficult to find suitable staff, so we have recruited from overseas to create a multi-national employee base. Many of them have come here to work in industries that are increasingly present locally but provide fewer opportunities abroad, such as blockchain and cryptocurrency.”
In fact, it is Malta’s new dominance internationally in blockchain, cryptocurrency and Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs) that inspired E&S to refocus towards these innovations. “E&S offers a range of corporate, tax and advisory services to an international clientele across a variety of industries including superyachts and private jets, as well as the manufacturing and the services industries. However, around a year ago we started branching into blockchain and crypto-advisory, which I developed a personal passion for several years ago and am now lucky enough to have transformed into the subject of my work,” Christian observes.
“Malta has always had a strong financial services sector, but we have a big opportunity now to make Malta the ‘blockchain island’, since we adopted blockchain early and have already managed to attract some big names. Now we must keep that momentum going, grabbing this opportunity to make our financial services sector more diverse and less reliant on specific sectors such as gaming. There have also been some internationally ground-breaking laws recently passed in Malta, which are making Malta the go-to jurisdiction for blockchain.”
No matter the industry, though, moving forward Christian hopes that E&S will continue to keep contact with clients at its heart. “I want us to remain a boutique firm known for our hands-on approach with clients, and for always being responsive and nimble. I don’t want E&S to grow so big that we don’t know our clients – it’s better to have a few, large, quality clients than have many to whom we would not be able to give the same attention to detail.”
As for Christian himself, the future will hold more work to promote Malta on an international scale, following in the footsteps of his mother, prominent business leader Helga Ellul. “Mum was one of my biggest inspirations in business, but I also saw what she did for Malta, in that it wasn’t always about money, but also what she could give back,” he shares. “That’s something I believe in too – I want to give back to Malta and convince clients that Malta is the right place for them to be. That, I hope, will be my business legacy: to be one of the people who helped make Malta the ultimate international business destination.”
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.