With a love of all things mechanical and electrical, Andrei Grech has built up his business, AG Group, from a one-man operation to a 100-strong workforce. From electric installations and maintenance to hot water systems and fumigation, the company has expanded its expertise to land some of the biggest clients in Malta. Andrei explains how planning is integral to the success of a scaling business.
“I started AG Group at a young age,” Andrei Grech explains. “I was hands-on then and I’m the same now. It’s a big part of my role; change is constant and it’s important I understand the intricacies of the day-to- day work to adapt and develop the company to the needs of our market.”
Andrei is a big believer in never getting too comfortable in one position. A large part of AG Group’s success can be attributed to his proactive and forward-thinking approach, as well as an eagerness to learn about and embrace new opportunities and trends. “I don’t like the comfort zone,” he admits. “If there’s change, you need to adapt – whether it be a change in your team, a change in the market or a change like COVID-19. To stay productive, you need to evolve.”
When he’s not working, the CEO is a keen student. “I’m not the kind of person who can watch movies. In fact, I like to study in my spare time. I study markets, I study people, I learn about successful businesses, and I read the stories of the people behind them.” And while some may see this as taking on another part-time job, Andrei insists the opposite is the case. “Honestly, I love to do it,” he laughs. “It’s not stressful. I love to learn.”
Being very involved in the day-to-day running of the business, the CEO details a typical day at AG Group. “I always wake up early, sometimes even at 4.30am. After breakfast and coffee, I train at the gym before heading to work. Once there, I monitor the day-to- day business that needs to get done. This can involve spot checks and offering my consultation to resolve any issues. I have a team of managers who work well on their own, but it’s always good to have oversight so I can offer a different point of view when we’re problem-solving.”
The rest of the CEO’s day involves checking in on each department, meetings with clients and his team, and taking advantage of networking opportunities. “My day is always hectic,” he explains. When the time allows, though, Andrei does take time to relax. “In the summer I love the beach and to sunbathe. I could fall asleep in the sun!” When the world allows, he also likes to sightsee in new places. “Malta’s location lends itself to European travel and I find it really relaxes me,” he shares.
Growing a company from the ground up is no mean feat and, for Andrei, the key to this success is simple. “Planning, planning, planning,” he stresses. “It’s critical to stick to a plan. When you achieve what you set out to do, it’s rewarding and propels you forward. It’s not always plain sailing and sometimes you fall short of targets, but you need them in place to succeed.”
Andrei explains that a lot of planning meetings take place at AG Group, with every team member being set regular, tangible targets. “Hourly targets, daily targets, monthly targets… we have them all,” he says. “It’s so important to stay on the ball. I always say to my staff: ‘when you’re tired, take your vacation days. If you’re stressed, please arrange your time off.’ From morning to evening there’s a strategy and a plan, and it’s vital the staff get the rest they need – but also that we know where the team fits into our goals.”
AG Group’s success has happened gradually over the company’s 16 years, but at the centre of the business is a passion for the work. “I love it,” the CEO says. “It’s not ‘going to work’ for me. It’s not a punishment. In order to solve problems daily, you need to love what you do – and I do. If it makes you happy, you make it happen.”
For a company that has daily targets, it’s perhaps no surprise that the team regularly has cause to celebrate their achievements, including its recent wins at the 2021 Malta Real Estate, Development and Architecture Awards. “We feel privileged to have been voted the best mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and maintenance company in Malta!” Andrei says.
But for Andrei there are no ‘big landmark wins’ in business: every day is significant. “Each day is a milestone,” he smiles. “It’s important not to get drunk with landmarks and targets reached.”
2021 was another successful year for AG Group. Having been awarded the mechanical and electrical (M&E) contract for The Imperial (the former Sliema hotel-turned-nursing home), the company had its 100-person team working on the building’s electrics, plumbing and drain system. “100 is a large number of workers on an M&E project,” Andrei shares. “Not only in Malta, but globally.”
Andrei explains that, while big clients kept coming in, the aim for 2021 was to remain constant. “There was definitely a sense of panic in the first one-to-three months of the pandemic,” he acknowledges. “It was hectic, and people were afraid. Thankfully we adapted quickly, but I can’t underestimate it. It wasn’t an easy time, but it was manageable.”
For the CEO, the secret to succeeding as a company through difficult times is to work consistently and stick to tried-and-tested processes. “There was no difference in the way we worked in 2021. Of course, we felt the impact of the pandemic, especially as our clients in the hospitality and catering sectors struggled, but we were firm about staying consistent.”
It certainly paid off, too. “2021 was the best year of my 16 years running AG Group,” Andrei announces. “While we stuck to processes we knew, COVID-19 also gave us the opportunity to move into new areas of work. With cleanliness being so crucial, we started offering fumigation and sanitisation services. This is credit to our agility as a company; we were dynamic enough to pivot and capitalise on a thriving market.”
Looking ahead to what the rest of 2022 has in store, Andrei shares that his first port of call is to consolidate. Explaining his plan, he says, “it’s a step-by-step process. First, we must consolidate and restructure. A recession is coming and we need to prepare for it. Let it come; we have to remain strong. Then we can take on bigger projects.”
Longer term, AG Group will continue to grow. “Of course, I’d love to say ‘we’re working on a six-star hotel with 500 rooms that will cost €30 million’,” Andrei admits, “But, right now, it’s much more important to be realistic, consistent and adaptable. That’s our 2022 strategy.”
Steering the ship through difficult waters has become second nature to Andrei. When asked what it takes to be a successful leader, his answer is simple: “hard work, hard work, hard work.”
So, what does it take to be a self-made CEO in a sector as cut- throat as his? According to Andrei, you need to “wake up early, work hard and stay on the ball. It’s also so important to have a level of humanity about you as a leader, which is something that can easily be overlooked. You need to know the people you’re leading, be approachable and have an eye on all aspects of the business.”
Andrei has a firm belief that good things come to those who plan and have a grounded understanding of the necessity of getting stuck in. “Nothing comes from nothing,” he concludes. “But if you work hard, have a clear direction and a team of dynamic, hard- working people, you can do great things.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
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