“The construction industry was never love at first sight for me,” reveals Christabelle Camilleri, CEO at V&C Group, recalling how her journey into the working world started on a very different route.
In her early 20s, with a Master’s in accountancy under her belt, Christabelle was working at PricewaterhouseCoopers when she was offered a job with a global airline company, shuttling between Qatar and Australia. “I was only 23 years old, staring at a very attractive yearly package on the table. The family’s construction business was not on my radar at the time,” she recalls.
In fact, Christabelle admits to joining the family business “almost without knowing it” recalling how, at a dinner with a prospective investment partner, despite the latter being very convincing, there was something that did not quite cut it for Christabelle.
“At that very moment, the penny dropped, and I realised that I was meant to be an entrepreneur,” she smiles, initially joining the Group as Finance Manager, feverishly learning the ropes as she went along. “Today, I’m the CEO of a diverse group of companies operating in construction, real estate, education, hospitality, manufacturing and medical, amongst other industries in the pipeline.”
At the helm of the business, Christabelle identifies a major landmark for the group as their decision to diversify, prudently yet determinedly, in a number of sectors. “It was not easy to convince the Board to step outside the group’s commercial comfort zone. Thankfully, the gamble worked out. The move changed our managerial and operational ethos, and happily we haven’t looked back since,” the CEO maintains.
On a personal level, she considers her biggest landmark so far to be successfully launching franchisable childcare brand Lil’ Ville™, as well as co-founding and launching pharmacy and online store Health & Co®. as a brand in Malta, which just won Pharmacy of the Year at the Malta Healthcare Awards 2022 after being in operation for just one year.
Looking back on the history of the business, Christabelle explains that before she joined, the core business was construction, with a limited number of peripherals around it. “To be sure, this work is still one of the group’s key business nodes, but we have since diversified widely. The formation of V&C Group was really a natural evolution, with a Board, management team and a 150-strong workforce growing it from strength to strength,” she says.
“One word is at the heart and soul of the V&C Group: we are passionate about doing things better, because we want to make our country, and our planet, a better place,” the CEO continues, making reference to the group’s tagline, ‘Making things better’.
In fact, commenting on how the business landscape has changed since starting out, Christabelle asserts that technology has exponentially increased the rate of change in the industry, and in all the sectors in which the group operates. “This change inherently drives constant managerial and operational rethinking,” she explains, making reference to the COVID-19 pandemic having added yet another new meaning to this process of change, as well as its pace. “I tend to think that the post-pandemic era is going to be a positive ground zero of sorts. We are re-imagining how we do business, consume, communicate, reason and manage. I predict that there will be as many new opportunities as new pitfalls. The future will belong to those who grab the former and avoid the latter.”
Turning her attention to the present, the CEO continues, “we aim to be leaders in every sector we’re in. But not just. We strive to be leaders with a sense of purpose, with vision, and with conviction that we are doing things right and better. I passionately believe that from such a point of departure, our responses to challenges basically write themselves. In our ventures in education and construction we are already more or less there. We are doing our utmost to ensure that the same happens in all our companies. Beyond this, the future beckons. I am looking forward to working on my investments made from Shark Tank Malta, as well as expanding our existing brands overseas.”
Sharing her thoughts on leadership, Christabelle is a firm believer in leading by example, showing rather than just talking about how things ought to be done. She also has an open door policy for everyone in the firm. “It’s the best way to feel connected to our outfit and therefore to remain loyal to it,” she reveals.
“Going a bit deeper, no public or private entity can flourish and reach its goals without robust structures and effective communication. In turn, both of these have only one lifeline – trust, the bedrock, the be all and end all, of human association and leadership,” the CEO continues, noting that trust requires transparency, openness and mutual empathy.
She goes on to quote author and social scientist Bo Bennett, who said, ‘success is not what you have, but who you are’ – “without knowing, this dictum inspired our group from its inception. We grew and became market leaders in various sectors because we pursued success. Financial reward was the consequence of that success, not its motivator. I make sure every day that it will remain so,” she maintains.
Looking ahead toward the future of the group, Christabelle reveals, “all our plans for this year and subsequent ones are punctuated by three words – research, research and more research. We don’t just sit and think about a new initiative or opportunity, but we dissect it to its core and details. We try to learn from the mistakes of others as well as avoid re-inventing the wheel.”
“I’m a big fan of Mark Cuban of Shark Tank fame,” she continues, asserting that “the combination of his ability to listen to what’s blowing in the business wind, to risk, to be disciplined and to think outside the box is exceptionally inspiring. Incidentally, it was great fun for me to be nominated as a shark in the first Maltese edition of Shark Tank.”
Concluding with a final word of advice for aspiring leaders, she shares, “never stop dreaming and never lift your feet off the ground.”
The interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders 2022 project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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