A lucky few know early on what they want to do in life, but few act upon their ambitions at the tender age of five. That is the age at which Marisa Xuereb, The Malta Chamber’s new president, started showing her entrepreneurial spirit.
“I was not born into a family business, but I was never short of ideas on how to generate value. The first one that I recall was at age five,” Xuereb says. “I wanted to organise a lottery at school to raise some funds and thought that the 8-year-olds (who were the oldest in our corridor) would have the most pocket money, so I went to their classroom to announce this lottery. I was dismissed by their teacher as a little girl with a very fertile imagination.” This early rejection did not dampen Xuereb’s enthusiasm for commerce and, although her family expected her to follow in their footsteps and choose sciences, she chose to pursue business studies. “I kept a side interest in IT, but it was economics that ultimately got me captivated,” she continues. “I completed a Master’s degree in Economics with a dissertation on game theory, which kind of closed the loop with that original lottery idea.”
Xuereb’s drive was evident from a young age. At the age of 16, she put her studies into practice when she joined the JAYE company Twist & Turn. “I joined the team within a couple of weeks of starting Sixth Form at St Aloysius College,” she recalls. “JAYE was regarded as something that you should only pursue if you were able to do it without slacking from your studies, which were given priority at the school. Within days, we were completely absorbed by it, and went on to win the National Finals. The relentless pace set the stage for everything that followed, making me want to work somewhere where challenges were the order of the day. This experience was great preparation for the fast-paced manufacturing environment I now feel so at home in.”
Apart from a penchant for challenges, JAYE provided Xuereb with skills that would give her a head start in her career. “It was one of the most impactful experiences of my formative years,” she explains. “It gave me the opportunity to approach customers, suppliers, banks and service providers with the stature of a company. So when I found myself doing the same for the company I worked for a couple of years later, it was much less daunting.”
It was, in fact, only two years later that Xuereb joined the company where she would eventually become Managing Director. “I started working there while still a first-year University student,” she says. “My first job was to develop a small payroll programme, which I did to keep my programming skills honed. Soon after, I was entrusted with the finances and, by age 25, I was running the company, and was appointed Managing Director a few years later.” While rising through the ranks, Xuereb also lectured at the University of Malta and did research work. “I wanted to strike a balance between being an economist and running a manufacturing business.”
Xuereb feels that exposing youth to real world issues while protecting them from big risks is an important part of preparing them for a successful career. “Starting a business is inherently risky, and those risks are amplified when you lack experience,” she explains. “Initiatives like JAYE provide students with a head start in terms of experience and allows them to learn the key lessons in a guided environment. It also helps them explore cooperation and competition in a very intense way and develop interpersonal skills. These are the qualities we find most lacking in new recruits and in people who have not been adequately exposed to dynamic environments.
“Nowadays, students are too concerned about the amount of money their job will make them instead of focusing on gaining experience that will serve them in the long run,” adds Xuereb. “Who you know might provide you with easy access to opportunities, but ultimately, what you can make of them depends greatly on what you know and on your ability to get people to work together.”
For more information about JAYE, visit www.jayemalta.org.