Whichever major sector in Malta he has worked within, be it in the catering arena, fashion market, real estate industry, or in the investments community, one thing is clear: Michael Bonello was always destined to excel in the world of business.
“Since my family was, historically, a major player within the catering industry, owning some well-known restaurants in Malta, it was always my plan to follow in their footsteps and enter the catering world,” Michael recalls. “Whilst following a food and beverages course at the Institute of Tourism Studies, however, I decided to end things after my second year; it simply wasn’t for me.”
Instead, a twist of fate led him towards a very different career path. “My mother decided to sell our family home in Sliema due to various construction works taking place on either side of her property. Since she was not in a position to deal with the technicalities that this brought with it herself, I found myself working with the property developers on her behalf. I had no experience in the real estate sector, however, after several negotiations, I was asked by the real estate agent who secured the deal, to seriously consider working in the industry.”
Fast-forward 20 years, and Michael now operates seven RE/MAX Alliance offices, with an eighth expected to open in early 2019, as well as two restaurants and two boutique hotels, among other businesses. In addition, Michael, together with his partners, recently sold their retail fashion business, making room in his busy working schedule to focus on his newly setup enterprise, MB Investments Ltd.
To enable him to work effectively throughout his career and in so many diverse industries in Malta, Michael explains that he has one primary secret to success: he is a people person. “The way I work is the same as I’ve always worked since the very beginning – I have an open-door policy with my team, resulting in a strong chain of communication. I have always considered my team to be my extended family.”
His belief in the strength of his team is also reflected in his approach to life as a CEO. “The CEO sets the culture of the company. I’m happiest when I see a happy and united team working together towards a target. My motto is ‘Together we’re better’, and I want my partners to have a piece of the pie. I don’t believe in growing alone,” he stresses. “I love investing in people and creating new opportunities. It’s very satisfying to be able to offer opportunities to people that have not been able to recognise the potential in themselves, and later watch as they achieve above and beyond what they’d ever imagined.”
It is this attitude towards continued investment in people, as well as in potential development ventures, that signals a promising future for MB Investments Ltd, and the country. “When I started, there were three local business ‘gurus’ that everyone looked up to – now, thankfully, two of them form part of my team!” laughs Michael. “It’s about getting the good people, and ensuring they have a high quality of life. I’ve always believed that if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys. It is highly-qualified and highly-motivated people who represent the future of the Maltese islands.”
For the coming five years at least, Michael’s high hopes for Malta also extend to his predictions for the local development and real estate industries. “The island is enjoying the strength of supply and demand in the local and international markets, so I foresee another few good years of business in the development arena,” he explains. “There is also an ongoing conversation regarding high-rise buildings and land reclamation, which I believe are the way forward for such a small island, but these must be tackled wisely and gradually.”
Finally, Michael’s characteristically-positive and optimistic outlook looks set to remain, not only through the day-to-day challenges that come with each role’s territory, but also as he considers his twilight years. “No matter the industry, there are going to be everyday challenges – it’s like riding a rollercoaster! But by remaining upbeat, having an open mind and working alongside a good and positive team of people, anything is possible,” Michael smiles.
“My work is my life, I genuinely care about it, so I will never truly stop working. That said, in 10 years’ time I will start planning my exit strategy and thinking about my successor to the CEO role to follow in my footsteps and continue expanding what I have built. I’m looking forward to that age when I can enjoy more time with my family and harvest the fruits of my labour.”
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.