David Curmi didn’t anticipate that he would join the family company his father had been building since 1978. Originally he had other plans, having paid his way through university in the UK and started working in London.
“If there was one thing I didn’t want to do, it was return to Malta too soon and join the company,” David says. “On the contrary, I wanted to find myself, and be able to fund my own lifestyle and education. Independence was important to me and I felt the need to break away from the family nest for a while. However, I think there was an element of expectation that I would join the business and, in the end, I did… and no, the climb up to CEO wasn’t a cushy one.”
So, after travelling and spending a few months hitch-hiking through Africa, David started his career at Curmi & Partners 23 years ago to help his father, and he has since become one of its most passionate advocates.
“I was a Portfolio Manager back then, advising people on their investments,” he explains. “Then, over the next seven-to-10 years, my father started to phase me into my role as CEO; there was no exact date when the transition took place as it was very gradual. He was very good at identifying the need for longevity and for us to have a succession plan in place, and he enabled me to put my stamp on things.”
And the company has certainly evolved since David took the helm, helping it to grow from an organisation with 100 per cent retail clients, to one with a healthy mix of retail, corporate and institutional customers. “I believe this development was important for our long-term success and robustness,” he says. “Together we are driven by securing the best talent in the industry, so as to guarantee our clients get the best service on the island.”
Asked about how he has grown into his role, David says that, to him, a CEO should be the person looking at the lay of the land and coordinating all the different elements that determine whether the company can reach its next target. “I still consider us to be a small company,” he says. “I spent my first 10-to-15 years here being very involved with the day-to-day operations. Then, as we grew, I needed to extract myself from that so that I could take a step back and create the vision needed to steer the ship on its best-possible course. Letting go of the details has been a challenge for me as I like to be involved at all levels, but I believe it was an important move to make.”
As a CEO who is also a member of the family running the business, David says he has to make time to differentiate between the two. “If I want this company to go beyond being a family company, then I need to ensure we have the right people rising through the ranks to take over long-term, which is what I am focused on right now,” he explains. “That said, I have tried to retain the fantastic family DNA that the business was built on in the first place – especially in terms of what is best for our clients – but I believe we now have the right mix in place to lead the entity into the future.”
In fact, David says he is most driven by seeing people develop within the organisation, and by being able to attract young, talented individuals who are more capable than he is to deliver the future to their clients. On the flip side, he feels the biggest challenges come from stringent industry regulation, as the investment world is constantly bombarded by new restrictions. “Some of that is very justified, while the rest isn’t,” he explains. “But we try to deal with it in a positive way and to turn it into an advantage. There are endless opportunities out there in the world, so it’s a question of selecting the ones that best fit the team and which align with where we want the company to go. We are fortunate, in fact, to have a plethora of opportunities open to us at any one time, largely thanks to our excellent talent and the fact we can compete with anyone out there.
Nevertheless, we always remain aware of our capacity and limitations, as well as our opportunities, because we don’t waver when it comes to the level of quality we want to provide.” David quips that his current focus is to ‘working myself out of a job’. “I don’t want to be in this role for life; that wouldn’t be good for us or our clients,” he says. “I am currently putting captains in place across all parts of the business, as this compartmentalisation of the company will help us to create a successful exit plan for me. From there, it will be natural for me to step out of my role and for one of the captains to step into it.”
And looking towards that future, David says he sees Curmi & Partners as a leader in the specialised wealth management field. “In five years’ time, I think we will be even more niche than we are now, as we’re not planning to be all things to all people. We are going to be very specialised – a boutique operation that provides the very best service to very particular customers.
“As for me? Well, I will be well on the way to executing the plan outlined above and planning my exit! I look forward to spending more time with my family and my wife Jelena, and to doing even more things I love.”
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.