"I Much Prefer Rehabilitating And Reusing Old Spaces" – Denise Micallef Xuereb

Jo Caruana - 14th April 2018

As one of the women leading Malta’s construction industry, Denise Micallef Xuereb is putting her focus on restoration and high-quality results.

AX Construction is easily one of Malta’s best-known construction companies, with a history dating back to 1974, when it was launched by Anglu Xuereb. Today, though, it is his daughter Denise Micallef Xuereb who is running the show, and she has quickly proved that she has all the skills needed to spearhead a mammoth operation of this kind.

“My dad started out in the 70s as a one-man-band, and literally grew the business from pavements up,” she says with a smile, sitting in AX Construction’s smart new offices in Burmarrad. “His company grew as he started to take on a number of national projects, including the Freeport, the Delimara Power Station, the Ta’ Qali Stadium and more, and AX was soon one of the largest construction companies on the island.”

Years later, in 2008, Ms Micallef Xuereb started her own training in the business, and began work in the company’s hotel sector. “We were finishing off The Palace back then, and I started to oversee the project floor by floor,” she says. “I quickly realised how passionate I was about construction – I loved the idea that I could take an empty space, build it and then finish it to high standards.”

That’s when she decided to embark on her MsC in Project Management in Paris, after which she returned to Malta to get even more hands-on in the business. “I started following projects from tender stage all the way up to completion, and really enjoyed it. Then, before I knew it, I was running the company without a title, so we decided to make things official and I took over as managing director. Today, my father doesn’t involve himself very much in the construction side of things, and I am proud to be continuing his legacy on his behalf.”

Ms Micallef Xuereb has placed much of her focus on turning AX Construction into a service-driven organisation, and she is proud to count some truly unique projects among its portfolio, with clients including Arkadia Group, KPMG and De La Rue. “These kinds of clients aren’t just looking for a contractor but a company that will go the extra mile,” she explains.

And AX Construction has certainly completed some formidable projects in recent years, including the Suq tal-Belt, which opened its doors just a few weeks ago. “Working in the heart of Valletta during the EU Presidency and on a building that is so fragile was no easy feat,” she smiles. “It wasn’t a case of going in, gutting it and rebuilding it, but working carefully to restore the building’s many elements and to preserve them. It was a challenge but I loved it.”

Is-Suq tal-Belt; Photo - thesaintjohnmalta.com 

And there have been other interesting projects too. AX Construction handled all the above and belowground works on St Paul’s Catacombs, including the construction of the Visitors’ Centre, restoration works on the catacombs and the pedestrian access. “That was another challenging project because we couldn’t work with large machinery as it was a very delicate job,” Denise goes on to explain. “Then there was the restoration and landscaping of the Foss tal-Birgu, which was challenging too, because we discovered a lot of unknown fortifications while we were working, as well as a bomb which had to be diffused! It was worth it though, and we were very pleased with the results for both projects.”

AX Construction now places quite a lot of emphasis on the restoration side of the industry, as well as the construction and civil engineering ones. “There aren’t many companies that can do both but we specialise in that, and our wonderful team is truly dedicated to achieving fantastic results. We all enjoy working on high-profile buildings as there is a lot of satisfaction that comes from knowing we’re not just building a block of flats or a factory but preserving something for the future. We even stress exactly that in our company motto: building our future, restoring our heritage.”

Denise is passionate about reconditioning old buildings in general, and one of the company’s next projects will be the restoration of St John’s Co Cathedral. “Yes, sometimes we have to construct from scratch on new land, but I much prefer rehabilitating and reusing old spaces that have become derelict or unusable in their current state; it’s what gives me my drive. Knowing that a building like the Suq was sitting there empty and dead for years, and that it is now a thriving space that the community is enjoying, is a wonderful feeling.”

And these kind of high-end, rehabilitation-focused projects will be very much part of AX Construction’s future. “We have already developed an edge when it comes to combining construction and restoration, especially when it comes to focusing on quality and service. We have differentiated ourselves in that way and I believe it shows across our portfolio. We’re proud of what we have achieved and look forward to continuing to work hard in this way,” Ms Micallef Xuereb adds.

This interview originally appeared in The Commercial Courier


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