Pierre Pellegrini Petit is a CEO driven by his family’s legacy and the desire to keep growing it well beyond the third generation. Pierre started his career with a stint in the timeshare business after completing sixth form, before committing to the family business – a decision he has never looked back on. “I believe we have a history to be proud of,” he says, detailing how his grandfather, Eduardo Pellegrini Petit, started out in the insurance sector in 1921, insuring supplies as they were shipped to Malta from overseas. “His biggest opportunity arose when one of his clients, a local importer, couldn’t afford to pay for their goods. He took them on instead and sold them within a week. That was the start of the family importation business.”
In 1945 Eduardo passed away, and his second-born son, Joe Pellegrini Petit, took over the helm of Attard & Co. Things developed quickly from there. Joe built a name for himself in the importation of artist materials, photography-related products and graphics in the 1960s, before opening photo labs in the 1970s. It was at that point that Pierre’s cousin, Edward Martin, joined the business and helped take the photographic business to the next level.
Then, the next major milestone came in 1986, when Pierre and another cousin, Hugh Arrigo, joined the company, and thus began their own journeys within the organisation. “I enjoyed the role and stuck with it for around two years,” Pierre recalls. “Then, in 1991, Edward – who was Managing Director by then – decided we needed to diversify the company portfolio as he could already predict that the photography business alone wouldn’t be enough to sustain growth long-term.”
At the time, Hugh decided to take on overseas development, including moving into scientific and medical lines, while Pierre opted to develop the food department, which was limited to the importation of Fiorucci products at the time. “In the past there were strict restrictions on the market and we were only allowed to import food items twice a year – at Christmas and Easter,” Pierre explains. “Thankfully, that changed and it turned out that our focus on this new development was perfectly-timed, and we managed to secure four or five new brands in the first year alone.”
This set the tone for the company’s fast-paced development in this area between 1991 and 2000, at which point the foodstuffs sector had grown enough to warrant becoming an entity in its own right – and Attard & Co Foodstuffs was born, later becoming Attard & Co Food Ltd. Pierre was appointed Managing Director that same year, around the same time that the company moved to its new Marsa business centre and launched its wine division.
“It was a major baptism of fire,” Pierre says. “Partly because everything happened at once, but also because we hit a rough patch. We had underbudgeted the office refurbishment and found ourselves in financial difficulty. Everything stopped in its tracks and Edward, Hugh and I had to put all of our focus into getting things back on track. It took a few months, but we managed it, and I learnt some very important lessons in the process.”
From there, Pierre has never wavered in his determination and the company is stronger than ever, with its turnover growing by around €1 million each year since 2000 and now reaching €18 million. Meanwhile, the team is 100-strong, while the company’s mammoth stores host over 3,000sqm of space for their sizeable portfolio of dry, fresh and frozen products. Then, last year, the Group added International Merchants Ltd to its portfolio, further diversifying its range with more wine and household brands. “Theirs were products that perfectly complemented our own medium-to-high end range, so the synergy was right, and we were proud to acquire them,” he says.
As CEO of a company of this magnitude, Pierre stresses that market knowledge is at the centre of many of his decisions, and he knows almost every single one of their more-than-3,000 products. “One day I am dealing with wine and the next it’s hair products. I love that diversity and it certainly keeps me on my toes,” he smiles. “In fact, I know I work best under pressure; stress doesn’t really affect me. I suppose time management and proper prioritising are my biggest day-today challenges, but I handle that by giving every aspect as much quality time as I can. Looking back, I believe there was a period when I wasn’t spending as much time as I needed to with the team and tackling that is one of my major focuses at the moment.”
But despite that challenge, Pierre believes exciting times are up ahead for the food sector and there are new developments on the horizon including the opening of their Gozo offices. “And by January 2019 we will also have our new warehouse up and running. It will be one of the largest and most state-of-the-art warehouses on the island, with the capacity to hold 500 pallets of frozen products,” he says, reflecting his natural intuition to be at the forefront of market trends and always trying to be one step ahead in the game.
And it seems there will be no stopping him beyond that landmark too. “In the next five years I see myself as still loving my work, and managing an even more talented team than I do today – hopefully with a few more acquisitions under our belt. Company growth excites me. We have witnessed continuous growth for the past 18 years, and this year we look set to hit our largest growth milestone yet, with €20 million in turnover. In five years’ time I hope that growth will have jumped a further 30 per cent. If there is opportunity out there, I look forward to exploring it.”
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.