There aren’t many companies on the island that can say they have been in operation for an incredible 170 years – but Thomas Smith can.
At its helm, chairman and CEO Joe Gerada explains that the organisation’s journey has been pretty unique across this time span, and has ‘evolved, developed, survived and been close to death a number of times’.
“I can only be held responsible for the last 35 years of regeneration,” he tells me. “I took over a company with a great reputation, history, and international network. But it also had little business activity and was in financial dire straits with a team of 25 employees that I had to reduce to 14 within a few months.”
Clearly Mr Gerada made transformative changes that worked. Today Thomas Smith employs 85 highly-skilled people from a variety of countries around the world, who each bring something important to the table. “We have always been, and always will be, proud of our long history but we are not anchored to it,” he says. “We will keep renewing ourselves as necessary, and plan to stay ahead of the game.”
With that in mind, Mr Gerada recently announced the company’s new Board of Directors. It is made up of two non-executive family members – Hannah Smith and Cristina Gerada, as well as executive members Liana Cachia, Wayne Xuereb, Denis Galea, non-executive board member Elisa Krantz, and consultant to the board John Zarb.
“With three executives on the board, we have added a variety of skills to this top level of the company, with vital input that spans everything from human resource management, marketing, logistics to finance. The Board now brings a range of ages and years of experience to the table, which naturally provides different perspectives, and guarantees continuity."
In fact, the three new executive directors have over 60 years of combined experience at Thomas Smith, covering everything from administration and human resources, to technical shipping and insurance, sales and customer service, marketing, finance, and performance management. This move - and the clear strengthening of the board management team - will doubtlessly advance the company's future business focus on container shipping, logistics, and insurance. Beyond that, it will further accelerate the company's journey towards delivering a seamless experience to its customers, and demonstrate strong leadership and customer focus.
And while celebrating this key milestone, Mr Gerada stresses that Thomas Smith will continue to do what it does best. “We are very focused on what we do,” he says, “which is to focus on the transport and insurance business. Traditionally shipping and insurance, and more specifically marine insurance – which is both the insurance of vessels as well as cargo – were very closely related. They were actually some of the earliest risks covered by insurance. Eventually the insurance industry entered into the coverage of other risks.”
Given its long history and its maritime character, it is not surprising at all that Thomas Smith is involved in both. Its focus on these two sectors has doubtlessly contributed to the Group’s enviable status in the industries it chose to concentrate on.
Of course, it is also Thomas Smith's policy to put service first that has secured its reputation as a leader in its sector. “We are a service company above all else,” Mr Gerada says. “Strategy, innovation, leadership and risk-taking are important to us, but so is the execution of our service offering, our customer service, our follow up process, and so on.
“Our product is constantly delivered and developed by our staff and, while some have lasted and contributed over a long time, others may only have been with us for a short time. We are very proud and grateful to the people with outstanding, long careers at Thomas Smith, and who we will always consider as our staff members even after their retirement.”
And that dedicated team certainly reflects the values that Mr Gerada holds dear to the company – namely, reliability and honesty, diligence and enthusiasm, and imagination and courage. “I trust our reputation reflects exactly that,” he says.
It is a standing that has indubitably contributed to the company’s success, and to many of its key milestones over the years. “And there have been many important milestones, including every time we secured an agency, or even when we lost a contract. I believe it is the way you deal with success and losses that are significant to your future.”
For instance, when Maersk Line bought P&O Nedlloyd – which, at the time, was the most important company Thomas Smith represented, the company actually lost that contract. “Rather than dismantling our set-up, we carried on and strengthened it at a higher cost and with lower income,” Mr Gerada explains. “That, I would say, was a very important moment in our history, followed a few years later by another landmark, namely when we won back the Maersk Line representation; today it remains our most important representation.”
And among the many things that these highs and lows have taught him, Mr Gerada says it is to never take anything or anyone for granted – it all has to be earned, everyday. “Clients, principals, workforce, products, services, and ideas; everything has to be kept well-maintained and renewed all the time. There is no rest,” he stresses.
Now, the CEO says his priority for the company is ensuring it stays a relevant, leading service provider within the shipping and insurance sector by adapting to market needs, maintaining the reputation of a top-class employer, and staying profitable. “We will keep doing what we do at ever-improved levels of quality, ensuring customer loyalty and long-term partnerships,” he says, adding that the new Board will ensure these goals are met, while also effectively addressing the issue of succession planning.
“With 170 years behind us, this moment in time also represents a new milestone as we look to the years ahead. We can’t know now whether there will be another 170 years to go, but – thanks to our new set-up and team – we are ready to expand into the future… and are raring to go.”