Jeremy Cassar believes his primary role as CEO is to continue to steer Marsovin Winery – which has an impressive history spanning over a century – in the right direction. To do this, he relies on “a strong team of capable people who I can trust, and who, above all, hold the company at heart.”
Marsovin finds its roots in 1919, when Jeremy’s great-grandfather, Anthony Cassar, set up a wine merchant business which would develop into a strong enterprise. Since taking the reins, Jeremy’s main goal, he reveals, has been to make large strides in the quality of the wine they produce and ensure that the business continues to stand strong for years to come. “We’re already 101 years old, and I am now launching it into the second century with new ideas for the future,” he says.
Looking back on his achievements so far, Jeremy recalls joining forces with Master Group to set up CassarCamilleri in 2013 – a move which he says made the company stronger and helped establish it as a leading beverage supplier apart from a leading wine producer.
Other highlights include being responsible for a number of new wines which the winery has introduced over the last decade. “These include brands which are very important to us, and which we plan to build on for many years to come,” he says, affirming that the quality of the wine that Marsovin produces has also experienced a marked improvement over the years.
Looking at how the landscape has changed, Jeremy says that both standards and the way of doing business are different now to how things were done in his great grandfather’s time. “There were less operators in the market, and personal relationships with individuals were far more important – the way business was done was less formal. People helped each other a lot more. At the same time, it wasn’t an open market, so it was there for the Maltese to enjoy. Nowadays there’s a more corporate approach – apart from quality in the wine business having improved drastically,” he reveals.
Over four generations, Marsovin has continued to go from strength to strength. Jeremy believes that this comes down to the right decisions being made at important junctures in the company’s history. Among these, he points out a more industrious approach being adopted in the 1950s to take the winery beyond its small business roots, and the decision, in the 1990s, to go for a long-term quality vision by planting its own estates and employing a team of people that could produce quality wine.
Affirming that looking at the long-term is a must in the wine business, Jeremy says that this has always been the case with Marsovin, apart from aiming as high as they can when it comes to quality. “Part of the success of our image as a quality wine producer is that we’ve always looked to the long-term; bringing new ideas and trying to do the best we can with them,” he says.
Referring to 2020 as a “challenging yet fruitful year”, Jeremy says that it was a year in which wine sales were understandably down, yet the vineyard produced the same amount. “We had planned for a better year, which means that we had an excess capacity of wine,” he says, adding that certain events which were planned to promote different wines couldn’t happen. But while the company certainly took a hit financially, Jeremy and his team were adamant to keep all 148 employees on board despite the difficulties brought about by the pandemic.
Speaking of his role during this period, the CEO affirms that he couldn’t have done it without a responsible team around him. “It was more about reassuring people and speaking to more of them one-to-one,” he maintains. And while the majority of people working at the winery were able to carry on as normal, with the vast space affording a natural degree of social distancing, Jeremy says that, for others, a lot more time was spent working from home.
“I’ve always believed that people should spend some of their time working from home. I don’t think it’s beneficial to spend too much time stuck in an office,” he says, adding that in 2020, it was especially important for parents who had to juggle work with caring for their children. Describing it as a positive experience overall, he says that remote working will continue to be embraced by Marsovin, where appropriate. “I think this flexibility needs to carry on.”
On the business side of things, the winery saw a shift towards more home deliveries as a result of COVID-19 restrictions and was fortunate to have emphasised digitalisation at the outset. “Funnily enough, we were already working on our online shop and it was planned to be launched mid-March, so it was perfectly timed,” Jeremy reveals. The company also embraced innovation at CassarCamilleri, through which the team started producing hand sanitiser as a reaction to COVID 19.
Looking ahead, the CEO says that the focus now is how to develop into an even more online-friendly business, which will enable customers – not just the consumer, but also restaurants and bars – to order online. “Currently, these orders are done via a sales rep or over the phone, but there’s certainly an opportunity there,” he admits. In a broader sense, another opportunity which Jeremy feels has come out of the COVID-19 situation is a renewed appreciation and loyalty towards local products, which the CEO says should be built on and embraced.
“There’s been a certain nationalistic feel that emerged,” he says, asserting his belief in supporting Maltese products. “We should show more loyalty towards local items. People should not be so eager to praise anything that’s foreign when there are many Maltese products and services that are equally good,” he maintains, adding that the unprecedented situation with COVID-19 has started to instil this appreciation for the local product in people.
And while the pandemic has thrown long-term plans into disarray, Jeremy says that looking ahead, the indicators are that climate and health are going to be given more importance, which augurs well for Marsovin. “As a winery, we are on the green side of manufacturing,” the CEO explains, highlighting their practice of washing and recycling glass bottles, and investment in local farming, adding, “we support the environment by buying grapes from 250 farmers across Malta and Gozo.”
As for what’s in store in the years to come, Jeremy reveals plans to set up a small winery on one of Marsovin’s own estates, and to continue on his tireless quest for quality. “Our aim is to continue to increase people’s perception of Marsovin as a leading wine producer, and always make better wines. We’re happy with what we’re doing today, but what we’re doing tomorrow has to be better.”
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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