Frederick Micallef’s career has always been all about numbers. In fact, he talks about having an intimacy with numbers and number handling for as long as he can remember, and cites that as the major impetus for his early career – a profession that saw him hunt for industries where numbers were at the centre of the business.
"The first work experience I ever had put me in charge of the full production planning for a British-owned horticultural company that employed over 200 people,” he recalls. “That meant I was engrossed in number crunching for most of my work day, back in an age when computers had not yet made any material impact on organisations.”
It was the need and urgency to automate those laborious and manual processes to throughput accurately and efficiently that first attracted Frederick to early computing developments. “I was eventually sucked into the data processing industry (as we called it back then),” he smiles. “I took some very early training courses via correspondence and developed a new love for software development. It is, after all, more number crunching and logic flows than anything else. I realised then that, through proper interaction with users, I had developed a knack for systems analysis too. Later on I took up an offer for the post of Senior Programmer at Foster Clark Products, until I cofounded DataByte with Joseph Ross – a person that, to this day, I regard as one of my work-life mentors,” he says.
It was in 1986 that Frederick and Joseph officially formed DataByte, supported by a few forward-looking clients that wanted to explore the benefits of introducing computers and computing power into their organisations. “Our client list grew as much as the diversity of the projects that we were entrusted to develop,” Frederick says. “In the early years I recall that, among other projects, we wrote the first contributory pensions system for the then-Department of Social Services, we created market research interpretation software for MISCO, we developed a totally-integrated Hotel Management System that was deployed in about 30 of Malta’s leading hotels, we developed a freight management system, and we developed and supported software for SMEs in different disciplines and business sectors.”
Together, the duo stayed very hands-on, while growing the business organically and maintaining a very active link with their clients. Frederick then took over as Managing Director in 2007, after over 20 years in business. “I must add that reading for my MBA halfway through my career helped me bring a different dimension to my approach to work. It was a case of polishing the act I suppose. It worked!” he says.
In fact, when it came to designing his role as CEO, Frederick says his objective was always to ensure he delivered on the strategy approved by the DataByte Board, while helping to steer and grow the organisation through the complex internal and external forces that affect any organisation. “Our corporate approach is based on developing strategy, keeping good relationships with all our clients and other stakeholders, while ensuring good internal relationships with our development and support teams. It is this that takes up a good part of my work day, coupled with the constant challenges of the business development process. Today the strength of our present human resources cloud software offering gives me a head-start like never before when we present our new software solutions to prospective clients. A CEO needs good quality leadership with a strong mind to tactfully deliver both short- and long-term plans.”
As for the challenges he faces, Frederick outlines the need to keep up-to-date with the technology and operating standards that enable the company to retain the lead it is achieving. “It’s not easy,” he says. “And neither is the internal financing of long man-years of research and development to produce a top-rated product. On the flip side, though, there is so much I love about the role, including getting to work with many formidable team members in-house and with our clients. There is still nothing I love more than a meeting that ends with the warm handshake of a prospective client. This crowns the efforts of our various teams.”
Meanwhile, Frederick is also very focused on one of the most important things DataByte is working on, which is Workforce – a fully integrated cloud solution for human resources management that is planned to grow to 12 modules over the coming months, from the present six modules that the company has already deployed. “We are also involved in a very challenging project that we have embarked on with a local logistics provider to produce another cloud solution, this time for Managed Warehousing Third Party Logistics (WMS 3PL) that has international clients in mind,” he says. “We are developing this under the wings of international consulting firm Gartner as our technology and marketing advisors, and I have no doubt that it will be one of our biggest projects for 2019.”
Finally, Frederick reflects on how he would like to be remembered years into the future, both from a business perspective and from his own personal one. “I would like to be respected for what DataByte stands for and what it has delivered over the years,” he says. “I hope that the company ethos in the future will reflect and sustain the corporate conduct that I have helped instil in the company.”
“Looking to the future, I see myself as managing a company with international clients and attending international expositions of our products. I plan to be ready to design the handover of a stronger set-up to selected people who will continue to deliver and grow the business with our revised strategies for the time. This will secure business continuity for many more successful years to come. I plan to be around to sustain the networking role and delegate day-to-day management to people with new energies and new business approaches. I will be always ready to have a coffee and start a new business relationship!”
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.