Whether it is guiding a family business through restructuring, taking a startup to market or setting a company up internationally, Antoine Portelli is all about boosting businesses’ bottom line.

Antoine Portelli describes himself as “a man who sorts things out”. As Managing Director of Stratis Consulting, which he founded five years ago, Antoine is dedicated to helping clients address the challenges impacting their businesses. “My goal is to increase a company’s profitability through the implementation of various tools and processes,” he shares. “I pride myself on seamlessly integrating into a client’s team, working collaboratively from CEO-level downwards, to bring about a process of change across the organisation to increase its profitability.”

None of this is new to Antoine. After accumulating eight years of experience in the IT sector, including roles with important international organisations, he was offered a position as a Deputy General Manager of Arkadia Group, eventually working his way up to Chief Operating Officer. By the time he left after 15 years, he was overseeing approximately 400 employees and managing a turnover of €50 million.

“When I joined, Arkadia primarily operated as a landlord and supermarket in Gozo,” Antoine recalls. “In my time there, we totally converted the business model into that of a fashion retailer, supermarket operator, caterer, and more. So, it was an incredible mix of new business development and managing the group’s growth. As a family-owned group, Arkadia imparted invaluable lessons on business ethics and values, and on the way such groups operate.”

When the time came for Antoine to strike out into his own business, he did so with a mission in mind. “I have encountered many consultants who simply deliver reports without having had first-hand experience of running a business. Our unique advantage is that my associates and I are all experienced at C-suite level. We bring in real, practical experience in managing businesses. We excel in our advisory capacities because we sit down with our clients, analyse the problem and sort it out, primarily on-site. We do not simply consult; we undertake the most challenging aspect – working closely with the client and their team to help them implement the necessary changes, spending 95 per cent of our time by the client’s side because what we’re doing is a process of change, and change doesn’t happen on its own.”

Today, with a wealth of skills, knowledge and experience backing the team’s work, and with a versatile toolbox of systems and processes at its disposal, Stratis Consulting has worked with a vast range of clients. These include startups looking to step up to the next level, family businesses that have accumulated deficiencies over the years that are now leading to a lack of profitability, and new and existing public departments and agencies in need of restructuring or new strategic and business plans to improve their operations.

“The most rewarding yet challenging aspect of my role is the transformation of people’s behaviour and mindset to enhance the organisation’s efficiency,” Antoine says. “I have extensive hands-on experience across various industries, but entering a new organisation and trying to persuade individuals that certain aspects require improvement poses its difficulties. The process involves mentoring, understanding and demonstrating different tools and methodologies, but beyond that, it’s imperative to grasp the intricacies of people dynamics, historical context and organisational politics. And, sometimes, tough decisions need to be taken, as avoiding them will hinder the progress of the entire enterprise.”

Throughout his tenure at Stratis, Antoine has dedicated himself to cultivating and nurturing robust client relationships, a commitment reflected in the steady growth of the client base. This expansion is largely driven by referrals from satisfied clients.

His contributions span a broad spectrum of tasks, ranging from enhancing profitability to navigating through the intricacies of mergers, acquisitions and internationalisation efforts. He also underscores the importance of personal connections formed along the way. “After a while, clients – often CEOs or business owners – reach out with various challenges, viewing me as a confidant. The complexities of the business world necessitate guidance through myriad issues, and my role extends beyond conventional consultancy.”

Looking ahead, Antoine anticipates a notable international expansion for Stratis. Currently, with established offices in Rome and Bratislava, the company works with both international and Maltese clients. As the trend of Maltese companies seeking opportunities to internationalise their products and services continues to rise, Antoine highlights the company’s successful track record in this domain. “We have assisted several clients across different sectors in establishing complete operations beyond our shores. We have provided them with comprehensive resources, including access to capital, skilled personnel and legal counsel. Even years later, we remain actively engaged in optimising these operations to continually enhance their return and profitability.”

Given Antoine’s IT background, it comes as no surprise that digitisation remains a critical tool in his work with Stratis. “Digitisation is a horizontal tool, which permeates all facets of an organisation,” he asserts, “and it plays a crucial role in capitalising on untapped opportunities and bringing operating costs down.”

A standout manifestation of Stratis’ digitisation efforts is a proprietary tool developed by the team that goes beyond mere KPI monitoring and functions as a digital controller capable of continuous business analysis, identifying issues, as well as suggesting remedial actions. “Since deploying the tool, it’s been a game-changer for the businesses we work with,” Antoine says. “And with recent advancements in AI, it can go much further. We’ve spent the last year training our AI model, and it can now predict issues based on KPIs, providing a level of 24/7 overview that would be humanly impossible for any individual to achieve.”

During the pandemic, Antoine recognised that many organisations focused on restructuring for profitability, while in the post-pandemic era, they shifted their emphasis towards restructuring for growth and actively seeking new business opportunities to further increase the bottom line. Looking ahead, Antoine foresees a notable uptick in mergers and acquisitions – driven by increasing operational costs – an area which he expects to become a prominent aspect of Stratis’ service offering.

“Maltese businesses within the same industry have to join forces in order to keep their operating costs down; otherwise, there will be many casualties,” he predicts. “We are well-positioned to deliver value on both the buyer and seller side because, fundamentally, our work revolves around enhancing value. Whether by increasing the value within an organisation or identifying untapped areas, our perspective as outsiders allows us to perceive aspects that others might overlook.”

Antoine envisions further involvement in startups for Stratis, a market segment that he holds close to his heart. “The majority of startups’ failures stem from a lack of experience in management, structuring company growth or commercialising a product or service. These are points of weakness in startups but they are services we are successfully delivering. Personally, I find this work highly gratifying.”

Despite the challenges, Antoine views 2024 as a year full of opportunities. “I anticipate a growing number of investors willing to invest in promising opportunities. Therefore, businesses must be sharp enough to present a compelling value proposition that aligns with their promises,” he advises. “Ultimately, my goal is to witness more profitable businesses adopting effective corporate management methods and enhancing shareholder value.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt and an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders

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