For Joseph Cuschieri, a lifelong passion for business management was the catalyst that propelled his early career in accountancy towards his recent appointment as CEO at the Malta Financial Services Authority (MFSA).
“I started my career as a professional accountant but my love for business management inspired me to read for a Business Management degree at Henley College in the UK,” he recalls. “Although I advanced in the financial sector early on, I soon ventured into more business-related roles where I was much more effective and far happier. Then, in 2001, I had a defining moment: I joined the Malta Communications Authority, and assisted there in the major reforms required as Malta joined the EU.”
Senior positions followed for Joseph at Vodafone and at the Malta Gaming Authority, where his strong performance record and approach to handling challenges brought him to the attention of practitioners in the local financial services sector, who lobbied for him to take over the CEO role at the MFSA – a role which he accepted in April this year.
“I have enjoyed a number of leadership roles, but the context in which you are working must always shape your approach,” Joseph explains. “You must adjust your leadership style to the sector, and to the challenges presented to you in your role. In the case of the MFSA – an organisation that has been around for a quarter of a century – my goal was to persuade the team members who have been here for years to align with my vision and to help me build a new culture of how things should be done together.”
However, Joseph’s philosophy towards the role of a CEO has remained the same, regardless of the sector. “A CEO is leader of the pack, and leadership is about building teams. You must engage with people with honesty and transparency, so they know your agenda and understand your plan. It’s about encouraging teamwork and embracing change, as well as making sure the team has the necessary resources to empower them to deliver on that strategy. I love being surrounded by people smarter than me, experts in the field – I am here to lead the organisation and to help them succeed. But I firmly believe transparency is key to building a robust, dynamic, supportive team.”
Combined with this open and empathic approach to teamwork, Joseph also highlights the necessity of careful planning. “In my younger days I was more brash, but with the benefit of experience I have learned that a down-to-earth approach, in which I think and plan strategically, is more beneficial in the long term,” he observes. “Without thinking things through and taking informed decisions, you run the risk of settling for short-term fixes instead of considering your long-term plans for success.”
Success is a key motivator in Joseph’s career thus far, constantly driving him to keep learning and improving. “I like the taste of success. Success gives me a kick. I love to see my strategy working; it gives me the courage and strength to do more,” he explains. “I constantly seek the feedback of my team and the industry, as I want to know if I ever need to change my approach. Being at the top is quite a lonely place, and people might fear you or only tell you what you want to hear – it’s only in an environment of authenticity and approachability that people will feel comfortable enough to tell you the truth.”
Gaining the respect of his team in this way has helped Joseph to meet head-on the many challenges and opportunities presented by his new role, as he plans for the bright future of the MFSA. “The sector has a lot of potential to grow, both in Malta and abroad. We are currently building our three-year plan in which we articulate our vision to make the MFSA one of the top five financial regulators in Europe.”
It’s a sizeable ambition, but one that Joseph characteristically pursues with openness and optimism. “My goal is to make sure that the MFSA is on a solid platform, so that the organisation can survive changes in leadership and be proactive moving forward, with an engine that fires on all cylinders. I hope to one day be remembered as the person who transformed the MFSA and, in so doing, helped to put Malta’s financial services sector firmly on the international map.”
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.