Age has never been a barrier for lawyer Federico Vasoli, who has re-written the rulebook regarding how and where a modern, international law firm should find success.
“I am not a typical CEO. I am not a top manager who has worked through the ranks of business schools and companies as a junior and then senior executive. No – I am a 38-year-old lawyer, a traveller and an entrepreneur,” says Federico. “I qualified in Italy and in Vietnam as a foreign lawyer, and I have just taken over most of the international operations of my family business, an Italian law firm, with which I still co-operate.”
In fact, Federico’s journey to becoming a partner in dMTV was anything but typical. “My eyes to the Asia-Pacific were opened while I was at high school in Milan and England,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to work within my family structure back then, so I chose China for my internship in 2002, rather than the more traditional locations of London or New York. I wanted a different, more exotic CV that would stand out in the eyes of international law firms’ recruiters.”
The timing of Federico’s internship happened to coincide perfectly with a rise in demand from clients that were expanding their businesses to China. Spotting an unmissable opportunity, Federico struck a deal with the family business that would radically alter the direction of his career. “I didn’t want to inherit a position in the firm solely because of my bloodline. Instead, I offered to help expand the family business in the Asia-Pacific region, from which I would take a share instead of from the existing business,” he explains. “This arrangement made everyone happy – the firm expanded into new territories, and I had the support of an established law firm which, at such a young age, I would not have found elsewhere.”
After completing his postgraduate studies, gaining work experience and passing the Bar exam in Milan, Federico rejoined the firm and set about expanding it as per their agreement. “In 2007 we opened our first branch in Vietnam – among the very few international law firms in that lovely and dynamic country. Then, in 2016 I moved to Malta after realising the potential the island had for our business. At the end of July 2018 I opened our Singaporean headquarters, and I have just formally set up in Malta. Today, the firm is a multi-faceted, innovative legal, tax and business advisory group that is directly active in fast-growing economies like Malta, and that’s where, technically, I can be called ‘CEO’.”
Regardless of that technicality, Federico’s approach to achieving success is ground-breaking for the traditional legal profession. “In law school they don’t teach you customer care or business development, or prepare you for the human and economic struggles you’ll go through,” he remarks. “I may appear as a sort of ‘establishment guy’ because of my manners, but I don’t like to follow trends and I believe in growth through calculated risk. Had I opened in London or Hong Kong, I would not have achieved the results we did in Vietnam and now, hopefully, in Malta. Had I become an associate at a major law firm, my life would not have been so varied and beautiful.”
Federico recognises that risk-taking and adaptability to the changing times have also been instrumental qualities in shaping his life choices. “The big economic crisis, which peaked in 2013 and still affects the Italian economy today, was a major wake-up call for me, and many people and companies had to give up old models and reinvent themselves,” he observes. “I realised that, on top of academic and personal soft skills, I should also pursue my passions, which are travelling, culture and my curiosity about humanity. By working very hard, especially through rough times, I have become stronger, more risk-prone, more innovative and hopefully wiser and thus, fingers crossed, capable of developing the international business of the firm.”
This strength of character, combined with a unique skillset, is what Federico hopes will help him navigate the challenges of his role and the industry. “We sell our intellect, so our reputation and proper organisation are vital, as well as constantly updating our skills and knowledge. The biggest challenge I personally face is that of growth – I am torn between sitting focused behind a desk and socialising for networking purposes. As we grow I will soon need to employ new people, which is both exciting and challenging.”
Even with these uncertainties, however, Federico still feels that his entrepreneurial lifestyle is the key to his success. “This role is my life: I am my profession every day, 24/7, but I am used to it and I like it! The model of a nine-to-five job, where a man can leave his worries and tasks behind at the office and enjoy the serene stability of a regular salary, is not for me. I like challenges, and only an entrepreneurial mindset allows me to climb the ladder. This kind of spirit, combined with a thirst for knowledge and for human interaction, hard work, passion and constant studying – as well as international exposure thanks to my family and school – are the keys to my success.”
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.