When lawyer Dr Nadine Lia was offered the chance to make a difference to family-run businesses across the Maltese islands, and potentially the world, she jumped at the opportunity.
“I have always wanted to be a lawyer, ever since I was little,” she says. “After I studied law in Malta, Canada and the UK, I started my professional career as a diplomat at the Foreign Office, then I practised as a prosecutor at the Attorney General’s office, before becoming a partner in a private law firm,” she explains. “Then, when I was carrying out various legal work for the Ministry for the Economy, Investment and Small Business, I was asked to draft innovative legislation for family businesses – something that was new not only for Malta, but also for Europe and the rest of the world.”
In fact, the task was so new that Nadine had to start completely from scratch, working towards a legislation that would be game-changing for family businesses on the island, as well as the Maltese economy. “I started from nothing, as nothing existed out there that I could build upon. But it was high time to address the needs of family businesses in Malta and to offer them the initiatives and support to continue, especially as they have been an economic pillar and a backbone of our society for so long.”
Shortly after she had successfully completed the legislation, the Family Business Office was opened in Malta and Nadine was asked to continue in her role as Regulator. Today, just over a year and a half after that launch, she is relishing the chance to join the dynamic team at the office in giving hands-on help to local family-operated businesses.
“I’m not so much a CEO as a Regulator, and this is not purely an administrative role behind a desk. Far from it – I believe in being at the heart of everything and make it a point to be actively involved in communication with the business owners,” explains Nadine. “Alongside the strong, supportive team at our office, we speak directly to every business we work with, building relationships and avoiding the miscommunication that usually comes with technological barriers, while helping these long-standing family businesses to trust us, since we are still so new.”
However, the newness of the Family Business Office has not prevented Nadine and her team from quickly becoming an essential resource for family-run local organisations, no matter their sector. “The Family Business Office offers a unique one-stop-shop for family businesses and associated professionals across the Maltese islands,” she points out. “We are there to comprehensively represent the sector, giving overall assistance via an easily-accessible and friendly forum that’s available across a variety of media.”
The work of the Family Business Office in Malta, the first of its kind in the world, is especially necessary given the country’s small size and the high percentage of family-run businesses which bolster the local economy. “Family businesses need to operate properly, or they risk closing – which has consequences in terms of their employees, credit, or investments, for example, and generally has a negative impact on the Maltese economy,” Nadine highlights. “This is why we are witnessing such a commitment from the Government in this area – we must proactively ensure that family businesses are able to continue.”
Focusing on the families that represent such a huge part of Malta’s booming economy is immensely satisfying for Nadine and her colleagues. “We love seeing results. By helping these businesses bring about healthy change, prepare for their future, gain the tools of success and set boundaries between business and family time, we are assisting them in preserving, protecting and growing their business.”
Before being able to fully assist these family businesses, however, the new team needed to first gain their trust – a challenge that Nadine feels is still ongoing. “Early on people were sceptical because we were a new venture, and we had to persuade people that we are here to help – no catch! Now people are more comfortable confiding in us, but there’s still work ahead to keep building our services.”
It is her dedicated team’s passion and determination for the job that Nadine cites as the main reason they have so quickly earned the respect of local family businesses. “We have worked from the ground up, but it has been a labour of love for us all. We’ve met such hardworking people in these family businesses, that you can’t help but understand why there is this commitment to them. Their dedication inspires ours.”
This philosophy of result-oriented hard work is one that has been maintained by Nadine throughout her life and career, and helps her to keep work-related stress at bay. “My parents first inspired me with their work ethic and their values, and their approach to handling a problem. I learned from them to have the courage to just get on with it, to maximise every minute and to surf each wave in life as best you can. As I’ve got older, I’ve also learned not to be so rigid with others – everyone wants to live their life in a happy and simple way, so I always assume that people are trying their best. You can’t ask for more than that!”
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.