Founded 25 years ago, Francis J Vassallo & Associates has evolved into an international group of companies that holds true to its core values as a close-knit family business. Following the successful transition of leadership from her father, Adriana Camilleri Vassallo now drives the Group forward as CEO to create a positive influence and leave an enduring impact.
For Adriana Camilleri Vassallo, all arrows in life have always pointed towards the trajectory she follows today. Indeed, a childhood spent living in various countries across the world has equipped her for a truly international career – and yet, that is not all that lay ahead. As the daughter of Francis J Vassallo, co-Founder and Chairman of Francis J Vassallo & Associates Ltd (FJVA) and former Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, Adriana’s past also prepared her to follow in her father’s footsteps.
“I had the great opportunity to live in various countries, including the US, the UK, Spain and Switzerland, due to my father’s banking career with Chase Manhattan Bank,” she recalls. “I quickly learnt how to adapt to different cultures. After university, I relocated to Malta and started working for a ‘Big Four’ company. When my father’s tenure as Governor of the Central Bank of Malta came to an end, he asked me whether I wanted to join him in setting up a company. We launched our family business in 1998 and the rest, as they say, is history!”
This year, as FJVA celebrates its 25th anniversay, the global landscape, the company and even Adriana’s role within it have all evolved since the first day of operation. However, FJVA’s mission statement remains unchanged. Set up as a Company Service Provider (CSP) and following a ‘private banking approach’, FJVA still runs as a close-knit family business, despite expanding its range of services to become an independent, international group of companies employing over 80 professionals. In fact, every partner and team member is family by nature – and by way of FJVA’s company culture, so are its clients.
“All our partners and staff share our values,” says Adriana. “In fact, our mission statement is built on four pillars: efficiency, ethics, relationship management, and mutual growth and success. I am proud that, in our 25 years of operation, we have never had to revisit our mission statement.”
Although appointed as CEO only in 2019 – mere months before COVID-19 hit – Adriana had been Acting CEO for some time as part of the leadership transition from father to daughter. With her father still available as an unofficial consultant, Adriana now paves her own path as CEO, pioneering her leadership style while sticking to the core values that are the beating heart of FJVA.
“One of the challenges during the transition was maintaining that family environment, which is fundamental to FJVA’s growth,” she shares. “For me it is not just about the title. At FJVA we advocate about leading by example and setting the tone from the top. We live by our mission statement which is not just words on a plaque.” She continues that the most important aspect of her role is defining the company’s underlying purpose, and prioritising it over profit. In fact, her personal mission statement is now what drives the company’s purpose: “Positive influence, positive impact. Always.”
This objective is not only integral to Adriana’s ethos, but it also directs her leadership approach. “As CEO, my role is a balance of working on the company and in the company. I spend a lot of my time driving our culture and ensuring our team understands our ‘why’,” she explains. To this end, the company holds an annual CEO Unplugged event in which annual achievements are recognised and future plans are communicated.
In fact, Adriana believes in empowering the team to lean into company culture and become solutions-oriented. “I enjoy motivating and listening to staff, building relationships within the team and empowering our employees to develop their careers and come up with their own solutions.”
The company employs experts across various disciplines, offering a high-quality, bespoke range of solutions-based services to multinationals, family offices and private clients worldwide – all while applying that hands-on, familybusiness approach that has become FJVA’s signature.
“Trust is key in the financial services industry; people need to know that they can count on you ‒ be they clients or staff. This is even more relevant in times of uncertainty,” asserts Adriana. “People want to reach out to companies that they can count on, which is why we aim to build a close relationship with every client so that they feel comfortable and confident in our ability to guide them.”
Adriana adds that while Malta has now successfully exited the Financial Action Task Force’s (FATF) grey list, its effects will impact the sector for years to come. “Financial services are entirely based on trust and reputation. While it’s great news that Malta is no longer on the grey list, this doesn’t mean that our reputation as a jurisdiction has been restored. Reputation takes decades to form and a second to lose, and the recovery of Malta’s reputation likewise cannot happen overnight. It will be a long process.”
While FJVA has lost some clients due to Malta’s troubles as a jurisdiction, Adriana explains that the company helped others weather the storm on the strength of FJVA’s strong ethical reputation. “The industry has become ever more compliance-driven since the greylisting, so we must help our clients navigate the resulting complexities,” she says. “Although robust compliance is a necessity to protect Malta’s future reputation, I don’t support the current lack of practicality. This also creates added costs, which makes the island less competitive against other jurisdictions.”
Nevertheless, Malta’s greylisting and the pandemic have brought both challenges and opportunities for growth at FJVA. “We have become more agile, realising that efficiency is key, especially in this new hybrid working environment. In keeping with our core values, we made sure that everyone at FJVA kept their position with no salary reductions throughout the pandemic.”
Adriana also feels that the future of the financial services sector includes a global move against the use of tax structures and that Malta’s business landscape should likewise shift its focus. “Business has evolved, and Malta has so much more to offer than attractive tax incentives,” she says. “Tax should only be an ancillary advantage and not the main reason to choose Malta as a jurisdiction of choice. We must instead attract the right business by rebuilding strong foundations of trust and ethics across financial services. I already see a move in that direction, with a greater focus on sustainability.”
The CEO concludes that 2023 will also consolidate FJVA’s recent achievements, including the successful transition of leadership. “We want to continue to grow internationally as a premium CSP of high repute, while also assisting local and international family businesses with their restructuring and succession considerations. As a family business ourselves, we have both the local knowledge and international experience to offer value to clients in Malta and beyond.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2023 – 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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