For Matthew J Mercieca, being an effective CEO depends upon being as multi-faceted, multi-skilled and multidimensional as the very team he leads at Matthew James Mercieca Design Architects (MJMDA). “A CEO needs to turn things around, to bring people together and to see projects through to their rightful completion,” begins Matthew.
“My role involves considering everything from our past lessons and present actions to our future plans. It means being a fair and authentic leader; inspiring peak performance in the best skilled people. And all this while cultivating a culture of excellence and ambition to always improve, even if just a little at a time. This is how we deliver dreams to our customers. And this is how I lead my team to deliver those dreams.”
As he motivates his team with this spirit of continuous improvement for the good of the collective, Matthew himself lives and breathes that ethos. “My next project can always be better,” he insists. “In my limited time as a human being here on earth, I would like to leave things better than I found them, for the benefit of all.”
Following his graduation, Matthew began working towards his plan to impact the world of architecture and design through a series of related roles. Then, in 2003, he unseated the building industry’s long-held and fragmented ecosystem with the launch of MJMDA.
“When I first joined the industry, it tended to skip straight to the application for a permit from the Planning Authority, without much consideration as to the design, functionality or the user experience of a building. Although I hadn’t intended at first to start my own business, I saw an opportunity to inspire real change in the sector by channelling a more humancentred approach.”
And in the 17 years since Matthew established MJMDA, the company’s efforts have borne fruit indeed. “Generally, through our innovation and our determination to remain user-focused, we have impacted and improved the industry. Many others have joined the bandwagon of this approach over the years and the industry has developed significantly as a result, which is hugely satisfying.”
To achieve this trailblazing usability, Matthew dedicated an early focus to MJMDA team’s structure: “we deliver customised architecture as a product. By seeking a deep understanding of their needs, we offer people all the components required to take their individual projects from the first design to the final finish. The full contingent of professionals required for a project’s every stage are united and integrated under one roof at MJMDA, with a dynamic awareness of the project and a shared goal of providing value and quality.”
The arrangement breaks the somewhat disjointed norms that Matthew had previously found in the architectural world. “In the past, a client would have had to coordinate with many different entities and professionals to complete a project, which was ridiculous – it was the equivalent of having to buy various car parts from different suppliers in order to build your own car,” he shares. “It’s a lot to ask of clients and quality is rarely the result in that scenario.”
Since working in unison to create projects that are of value to clients is key, the team at MJMDA are as energetic, vibrant and innovative as their unique nickname implies. “I call my team the Jammers, as we are at our best when we are jamming ideas to help transform our clients’ visions into reality,” says Matthew. “The momentum that we have as a team under the banner of MJMDA is something which we are all very proud of, including myself as their CEO!”
With these solid foundations of expertise and unity firmly underfoot, Matthew and the team at MJMDA were able to take the sudden challenges brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic in their stride, without losing too much of their signature momentum, he explains.
“We were exceeding our past performance during Q1 of 2020. Then, when Q2 arrived, so did COVID-19. I shifted my focus more onto the psychological health of everyone on the team when our advantage of all physically being in one place was taken away for a time. We then replicated it, as much as we could, online.”
Nevertheless, he and the team had an unexpectedly positive surprise when their overall results for the year turned out to be marginally better than the year before. “This, to me, was a validation that what we do as a team every day – in terms of our hard work and determination, alongside the business’s inherent sustainability – serves us well in times of crisis. I’m extremely proud of our team and impressed by their resilience and dedication in the face of great adversity,” smiles Matthew.
While the key focus for 2020 was keeping momentum on ongoing projects as well as maintaining the team’s personal well-being during the pandemic, in the pipeline for MJMDA into 2021 are more opportunities to magnify the emerging positives in the industry.
“I hope that the crisis will expose those architectural projects that are of less merit and quality to customers, so that we can reinforce a better cycle of quality in the industry, moving forward,” Matthew elaborates. “The industry has been very quantity-oriented in recent years and I expect it will soon move instead towards quality, with independent contractors increasingly capable of delivering high-end finishes.”
As the industry becomes more focused on operating to a higher standard, there must be more effective education for clients about the value this added quality represents for them, adds Matthew. “Better customer education begets better contractors, while better contractors enable better customer education. It is a self-fulfilling cycle that will ultimately improve the industry both in the short- and the longterm.”
And it’s not just MJMDA’s quality-fuelled approach that is having a ripple effect in the architectural sphere. “In our viewpoint, our human-centred approach is interlinked with one that is ecologically-centred. Both are a vital part of our role as human beings on this planet,” affirms Matthew. “At MJMDA, we are forerunners in terms of keeping environmental concerns at the core of our work, carefully considering the source of products and adding proponents such as insulation, roof gardens or green roofs, for example.”
As MJMDA enters its 18th year pioneering the architecture, construction and design industries, Matthew plans to keep evolving, improving and pursuing his dream of leaving the world in better shape than he found it.
“We are exploring the international market further at MJMDA. Meanwhile, I am completing my studies for my MBA, which has taught me a lot about myself, what I want and where we stand as a company,” he concludes. “There’s a lot going on as always, but through persistence, prioritisation and taking a step back to see the bigger picture, we can continue building the future.”
This interview is part of a serialisation of 50 interviews carried out with Malta’s top CEOs, featured in the bumper edition of MaltaCEOs 2021 publication, which was recently released. Despite the many challenges of 2020, this is the largest edition to date.
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