The business of rubbish is big business. Never before has there been more waste in the world, or more questions about where it’s going to go and what we’re going to do with it. In Malta, some of those questions fall to Tonio Montebello, who took on the role of Wastserv CEO in 2014.
Via a career in the private sector that started when he was still at university, followed by time in Malta and Libya working for Medavia, Tonio first joined the public sector in 2007, at ETC. In fact, he says that he now marries what he learnt in the private sector with systems in the public sector – a blend that gives him an outside eye on the way things can be done and results can be achieved. “I am very results-oriented,” he tells me. “If I don’t see results on the ground, how will I value what I am doing?”
Tonio’s first experience of high-level management was back at ETC, where he was asked to head the Employability Division, answering directly to the CEO at the time. “Then, when the CEO resigned a year or so later, I worked with the other two heads of department to fill the gap, and the experience gave me interesting insight into what is expected from a role of that standard.”
And just a few months later, Tonio would find out properly for himself, when he was offered the role of Wasteserv CEO.” Tonio recalls: “I have to admit that I doubted myself at first. I wondered whether I could be of inspiration to the huge Wasteserv team and whether I could make a positive impact. But, in the end, I took the plunge and accepted the role. My first day was 8 January 2014 – my 40th birthday! – and I have been dedicated to the position ever since.”
Tonio describes his role as a ‘balance between the many, many stakeholders’. “A Government entity is not a private company with a board interested in profits or market share. There are so many facets to consider, but responsibility strikes at the heart of that,” he explains. Among the many stakeholders to think about, Tonio considers the 800 employees with very varying skills that work for the company – “from professionals down to people who don’t know how to read or write but who are absolutely vital to the successful running of Wasteserv,” he says.
On top of that, Tonio’s stakeholders also include the Board of Directors, who guide him according to Government policy, as well as the public – many of whom are very engaged with the way Wasteserv operates and what becomes of their rubbish. “In the age of social media it’s very important to consider how people will perceive you; where to weigh your decisions on what to do and how to do it.”
Tonio explains that Wasteserv’s results are exacerbated by the fact that Malta is a small country, with a booming population and densely-populated landscape. “We do not have all the land we would like to have,” he continues. “And we have very onerous recycling targets to hit, as well as a waste management structure that must work perfectly in order to acquire the investment it desperately needs. All of the systems involved in the industry must work together flawlessly for the country to function properly. And we need to catch up. We need to focus on reducing the amount of waste in Malta that ends up in a landfill. Yes, I believe this can be done but we need to change the mentality of a lot of people. Many members of the public still ask why they should bother separating their waste; they don’t think it is their problem."
But Tonio does feel confident that a lot has already been achieved, and that plenty more is to come. He cites his people as his greatest inspiration and his foremost asset. “My approach is definitely to invest in my people and to work with them across all levels,” he says. “Building people up is core to the work we do. I strive to give them the freedom to grow, learn and make mistakes because I see great value in all of that.”
And Tonio has made it his personal mission to inspire his team. “They are doing a tough job every day, in a hard and dangerous industry. I want to encourage them to not just do their job but to embrace it as part of their personal development, so that they can understand how positively they are contributing to society. Because even at the lowest levels of our organisation, they truly are working towards a better Malta by creating resources from waste. Waste is a resource, and the sooner everyone realises that – both within Wasteserv and beyond it – the quicker we will all be able to hit the targets we desperately need to.”
With that in mind, Tonio explains that there is much scheduled to be done within the waste sector over the next few months and years – including the opening of the incinerator, which will be up-and-running by 2023, as well as efforts to seriously boost recycling statistics. “As I look to the future, I have no doubt that Wasteserv will continue to be a major player on the island, and I plan to have it working as flawlessly as possible. I have made it my own personal goal to reduce the amount of waste we send to landfills every year and to take us closer to the EU’s recycling targets. Achieving that is definitely my own personal target for the next five years.”
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