Looking back on how he got started in the business world, Reginald Fava, CEO of Chemimart, explains that he began his career by importing and distributing before going into opening pharmacies and perfumeries, with his first outlet opening its doors in Republic Street, Valletta in the early 1960s.
“I always had a business mind,” Mr Fava explains, “so before going to University, I looked at areas in which I could use my business acumen,” he says, remarking that pharmacy can also be seen as a business, primarily consisting of dealing professionally with customers.
Upon completing his postgraduate studies in pharmacy and bio-chemistry in the UK, Mr Fava came across an ad in the Financial Times calling for pharmacists for the Navy, and decided to join. “I applied for the job on condition that I would be stationed in Malta, where I had my then-girlfriend, who is now my wife. I was in the Navy for 11 years, and it was a fantastic experience,” he recalls, maintaining that during that time, he had already begun working on setting up his business.
“I started importing in partnership with a very well-known entrepreneur, Mr Joe Gasan – who I had met in my early days upon my return from the UK. It developed from there and I eventually went into pharmacies and retail,” he continues. And recently, by mutual agreement, Mr Fava took over the entire business.
With a career spanning just over 50 years, I can’t help but ask: how has the industry changed, since the 1960s?
“At that time, I pioneered what is called self-selection for the customer. There were no pharmacies, when I started in the early ‘60s, which you could go to and choose your requirements, so I set up the first outlet in Valletta. I was told at the time that it wouldn’t work, and a good friend even warned me I’d go bankrupt! I said we’ll see about that, and of course I didn’t,” he smiles.
Nowadays, he continues, the profession has become more demanding, while customers’ expectations are high. “Giving a pharmaceutical service to patients is not an easy task. Medicines are very diverse and varied, and you really need to know what you’re doing,” he explains, which certainly isn’t a problem for Mr Fava. Recalling his Navy days, he says, “I was consultant in pharmacy to all the consultants in the naval hospital, so they’d phone me and tell me about what problems their patients had, and ask what the latest medicines are – and that’s what I would recommend!”
Looking at the local business landscape in a broader sense, Mr Fava affirms that it has also changed drastically, mentioning the speed and ease of communication as one defining factor. “When I first started out, when a problem cropped up within the business, I’d send a solution to that problem and it’d take a week or two to get an answer. Today, upon trying to solve a problem, the reply is immediate, by email, so we’ve really moved from A to Z when it comes to processes,” he says.
Stressing on the importance of being dynamic in a highly competitive field, Mr Fava highlights being professional, adding with a smile, “today, if you don’t give a good service, you find that you’re immediately on Facebook, so you’ve got to be very careful! Unless you move with the times, you will fall by the wayside – regardless of your age. My motto is that unless you keep up with the standards that are expected from you, you should move out of it, because if you don’t leave voluntarily, you will be pushed out by force.”
Looking back on his years as President of the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry between 2002 and 2003, Mr Fava describes it as a great experience, despite being stressful. “Being president of the Chamber is a huge responsibility, and you must dedicate the time it deserves. Upon being elected, I remember saying to my colleagues, ‘As from today, my business is the Chamber’, and it was. We were negotiating Malta’s entry into the European Union, and I visited various European countries, often along with the President of the Republic at that time, Prof. Guido Demarco.”
And while Mr Fava has been a member of the Chamber since the early 70s, he remains on the council today. “I’m probably the only President Emeritus who is still on council to this very day, and I enjoy it. The Chamber is part of my life, and I’ve enjoyed servicing the Chamber for all these years – it’s something I’m very proud of. I also represent the Malta Chamber on the Swiss-Maltese Chamber of Commerce,” he adds, apart from serving on various other boards and committees for which he’s either appointed by the Chamber or Government. “While it takes up a lot of my time, I don’t consider it to be a strain, because I enjoy it,” Mr Fava maintains.
And the latest feather in his cap came last December, when he was made member of the National Order of Merit of Malta by the President – a badge he wears with great pride. “It’s something I’m very proud of, and it means a lot. It’s recognition from my country that I’ve contributed to the business community and my profession,” he says, letting me in on his unexpected reaction upon being told of his nomination. “When I was informed, I was attending a meeting at the University, where I sit on the council. I got a call from the Secretary of the Cabinet to make the pronouncement that I was nominated, and I said, ‘You’re joking! I’m at a meeting, don’t waste my time’,” he laughs. “He said that it was a normal reaction, but that he wasn’t joking!”
Meanwhile, another proud moment relates to his company: Chemimart Group has now welcomed its third generation via Mr Fava’s grandchildren. “My son and daughter are two pillars of my business today, and the grandchildren are also on their way. It’s a great satisfaction to see them join, and not just join, but also love what they’re doing. I always say that you have to love your work, because otherwise it will be a strain – and we have enough strains out there,” he laughs.
Moving forward, Mr Fava’s plans for the group involve further expansion, as he says, “in business, you either expand or withdraw. We’ve just opened another outlet in Valletta, which will be another jewel in our little crown. We also have plans to open more outlets elsewhere, and other projects which are top secret for now!”
Speaking of Valletta, I ask for his thoughts on the capital’s role as European Capital of Culture this year, and this definitely brings a twinkle to Mr Fava’s eye. “I must say that Valletta is slowly returning to what it was in my student days,” he says, recalling his time at the old university on St Paul’s Street. “Upon finishing our lectures at about 4pm, we’d walk to Republic Street and meet girls, or discuss various problems or lecture topics over a coffee. At that time, you could hardly pass through Republic Street without hitting someone, it was so densely populated,” he smiles, lamenting the city’s decline in later years.
“Before 2013, in the afternoon, Valletta was a cemetery. Today, it is bubbling once again with restaurants, coffee shops and nightlife – you’ve got everything. It’s beautiful to go to Valletta in the evening and just walk around and enjoy the history. There’s been a great effort to bring Valletta back to life, and it’s been done. I can vouch for it, because I’ve seen it moving from 100 to 0 and back again. There’s so much to see and learn in Valletta – it is a jewel for Malta and for Europe, and this is why we have the title of European Capital of Culture.”
Finally, moving on to his outlook for the coming year, Mr Fava asserts, “if the country is doing well, the rest follows. Businesses are doing well. This year is going to be a good year, and so is 2019, but we have to be careful as we don’t want to overdo it.” He goes on to issuing a word of warning concerning an issue that he considers a worry: rising rent prices. “Many people are buying to rent and in my opinion, this won’t last, so we may easily find that we’ve over-stretched ourselves, and this is certainly something we don’t want to do. We have to be prepared for a rainy day, and the rainy day will come along!”
This interview originally appeared in The Commercial Courier
Count Stephen Sant Fournier declared in Court today the 30th of October 2018 in its sitting presided by Maj. Dr. Stafrace Zammit in its criminal jurisdiction that all his allegations imputed against Mr. Reginald Fava were being withdrawn. Count Stephen Sant Fournier further declared to have known Mr. Fava as a person of integrity. He was ordered by the Court to produce this declaration on the same social media where he imputed his allegations.