It is clear that Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry Director General, Kevin J Borg’s childhood in a family business influenced his career decisions. Having watched his maternal grandfather and father run a prominent hotel in the 1970s, he later supported his father operating a smaller-scale family business which engaged in importation, manufacturing and retail business. By the time he went to university, he had a pretty clear idea of how Malta’s major sectors operate, and knew he wanted to build his own career in the corporate sector too.
“A degree in economics seemed like the obvious choice,” Kevin smiles. “I graduated and, within a couple of years, was offered an opportunity here at the Chamber, as National Affairs Coordinator. It was 1997 and the organisation was much smaller back then, with just nine employees. I was in charge of policy, as well as liaison with our European counterparts, and media and communications. I loved it.”
It was certainly a baptism of fire for the budding business enthusiast. There had just been a change in Government elected with two distinct mandates. “The withdrawal of Malta’s EU membership application and the removal of VAT were diametrically opposed to the Chamber’s fundamental beliefs. Despite this, we remained adamant that we were in favour of both, especially as we had been campaigning for EU membership for decades. Joining the EU made absolute sense for a country of 400,000 that had the potential of working within a market of 400 million consumers back then. We knew our members were largely in favour too, so it became imperative that we cooperate with the then-administration to sway opinion as much as possible towards EU membership.”
The challenges faced by the Chamber at that formative stage in career clearly gave Kevin the experience to grow within the organisation. In fact, some time before he was due to retire, Kevin’s predecessor, the late Anthony Borg Cardona, started to prepare him for the role. “At the time I was given more responsibility as well as the position of Deputy Director General which motivated me to reciprocate the trust the Chamber was showing in me at a relatively tender age. When Anthony moved on, I was appointed Director General at the age of 33. That was over 12 years ago, and I have relished every challenge and opportunity ever since. The biggest of all these was the merger between the Chamber and the Federation of Industry that I supported and was heavily involved in. This eventually materialised in 2009 after several years of careful planning, discussion and negotiation.”
And Kevin explains that, while his role isn’t strictly that of a CEO, there are many similarities. “It’s my job to lead our team, and to guide them to implement and support the decisions made by the Chamber Board and Council,” he says. “I encourage two-way communication at every stage, and make sure we deliver professionally on what needs to get done.”
“Like within many organisations though, my approach isn’t dictatorial. We are a team; we discuss matters together, reason them out as a team, and find the best way forward. Obviously the deadlines need to be set and the decisions made in the best interest of the businesses we represent. I don’t think I know it all and I don’t expect the team to follow me blindly; on the contrary, I encourage them to bring ideas to the table and think creatively about how we can best serve our members. I resolutely believe in leadership by empowerment.”
In fact, staying ahead of the trends is absolutely vital for the Chamber, as is staying relevant to business needs. “This is at the core of our strategy. We are unlike many European Chambers because most of them enjoy compulsory membership. Ours follows the Anglo-Saxon model, and our origins date back to 1848 during British rule on the island. This means that we rely entirely on membership and income we receive for our services, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. This model guarantees that, like most businesses, we have to earn our place and to really add value to the members that choose to join us.”
And it is that thought of adding value that also drives Kevin personally – whether he is working on international trade delegations, formulating policy proposals, promoting the interests of members or organising conferences. “I love what I do and I see my future here. Over the past few years we have made the Chamber stronger and stronger, taking it to one higher level after another. It is no coincidence that we are inundated by requests from third parties to team up with us on various initiatives. We have gone down this path when it has paid us and we have implemented our own projects when it was better to take this option. We now have several projects running concurrently and on top of that we take pride in being an ISO 9001:2015 accredited organisation. There have been many building blocks and milestones along the way but I think that, today, we stand proudly as a principal leader in business – proud to be the representative organisation for businesses on the island. It is my privilege to be an intrinsic part of that.”
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.