Kenneth De Martino is a man with a lot to be proud of. Today, over 1,500 people work for the company that he grew from nothing, and he can look back on a career that spans four decades and has taken him to some truly unique places.
“When I was 20 I landed my first job – at Gasan Group,” Kenneth shares, “before starting my career as a Sales Manager for Thomas Cook Financial Services (TCFS). I was based in Malta with responsibilities for Libya and, eventually, North Africa. This meant that I got to travel extensively and spend most of my time visiting banks and financial institutions to promote and manage travellers’ cheques.”
Kenneth cites Thomas Cook as a great company to have worked for. During his time there, he was trained and guided into a regional management role with responsibilities across sales and marketing, as well as office management and human resources, and was given the opportunity to set up new offices and really gauge how to build a business from the ground up.
“After eight years of globetrotting, mostly around Africa, I was asked to set TCFS up in Malta. It was the right time, as exchange control regulations were becoming more relaxed back then, which led to opportunities for the private sector.” Kenneth soon had a network of eight foreign exchange branches, with 48 members of staff to keep him busy. “To be honest, owning my own business wasn’t always on the cards,” he reminisces. “I come from a family of medical doctors and, as a young boy, I was encouraged to take up medicine. But I quickly realised that wasn’t what I wanted to do, and that entrepreneurship would underline my future.”
In 1998 Kenneth plucked up the courage to approach his bosses at Thomas Cook in the UK to open discussions on whether he could take over the Thomas Cook Travel brand in Malta, under a use-of-name agreement for five years. “Since then I have never looked back,” he smiles. “I have dedicated my life to growing the business and setting up a diversified group of companies. Throughout, my approach has been very hands-on, and focused on providing exceptional service from exceptional people. It is an approach that I learnt from my own boss at Thomas Cook, who believed in me and always gave so much importance to the ‘people’ side of the business.”
Today, Kenneth has certainly achieved his goal of having a varied group of companies, with operations in a plethora of sectors. Travel is still very much at the centre of the Group’s operations under the FCM Travel brand, while business in the aviation sector operates as Aviaserve (which was previously Globe Ground). Then there is the security sector, operated under the G4S brand, and parking under CT Park.
“Beyond that we also have investments in other companies, mainly Databyte, Accord Insurance Brokers, Avia Leaders and Top 3 Properties. We also had a local warden business that formed part of the Group for 18 years and which was managed by KDM, but that was recently handed over to Government as enforcement is deemed to be the responsibility of the state,” Kenneth explains.
Looking back, he says that running the warden business was one of the biggest challenges of his career. “I was ‘branded’ an evil person, ready and willing to dish out contraventions for financial gain, which was never the case,” he says. “The model I used was what I call ‘body leasing’, and it was always the local authorities that controlled the enforcement, with us in the private sector simply supplying the equipment and people. That was never well-communicated to the public at large and I believe I paid the price for the negative publicity.”
But with that well in his past, Kenneth says the Group today prides itself on the ability to recognise, adapt and tap into new business opportunities. He explains that the hallmark of KDM is recognising emerging industry trends, targeting investment in profitable business segments, and achieving sustainable growth in the local market, as well as internationally.
“We are flexible and efficient, and we help aspiring middle-sized businesses to achieve their potential for success,” Kenneth continues. “That is my mission as Chairman now that I am not as hands-on as I used to be, and I have a fantastic management team running all the different companies. My time is dedicated to supporting the up-and-coming aspects of our Group, while also seeking further industry diversification and new challenges for us to explore.”
Kenneth has also put corporate governance at the centre of his Group’s operations, signalling it as a strong aspect of KDM’s success, and a critical link between integrity and performance. “Our ethos is to do the right things in the right way to deliver value to our clients,” he says.
That also aligns with another very important ethos for Kenneth – corporate social responsibility. “Both personally and as a company I support a number of initiatives that are very important to me,” he says, “like the Duke of Edinburgh International Award. I am Chairman of the Award and support it financially, while also managing the Board of Trustees. I have always worked close to young people and this award certainly gives youngsters the life skills they need to become good, independent citizens of the future, which is so important.”
And thus, it seems certain that Kenneth will achieve one of his other main aims in life: to be remembered for believing in people, and creating opportunities for them. “I am honoured to have had this success,” he says, “and I wanted to share it with as many people as possible.
“As I look to the future of the company, there is one ultimate aim I have in mind, and that is to turn KDM into a plc… when that is achieved I will gladly retire! Pleasingly, we’re on the mark to make that happen within the next three-to-four years, which is very exciting. Then it will be time to put my feet up, travel more, socialise more, and really enjoy life.”
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.