While 2022 was throwing new and unexpected challenges at businesses, Jonathan De Giovanni was establishing his practice on the international stage as CEO of Promethean, following its acquisition by APQ Global. It was the latest landmark in his meteoric legal career, but having successfully navigated the obstacles behind him, Jonathan’s vision for the next few years promises nothing short of exponential growth.
As a young law student, Jonathan De Giovanni, like most of his peers, was fascinated by TV shows like Boston Legal and Ally McBeal, and dreamed of a career as a high-powered criminal lawyer. But, displaying a mindfulness of the market that continues to define his career today, he quickly realised his ambitions would be better served in another field.
So, courtroom plans were put aside, and Jonathan dove headfirst into years of specialised study in international tax law. And, while this expertise has propelled him through a highly successful career that shows no signs of abating, it wasn’t until his first job in a law firm that he discovered the trait that he believes sets him apart.
“I got my first management position after just a year or two, because this law firm realised something about me: my ability to sell,” he recalls. “That’s when I learned that my forte is going out there, building a client base and bringing in investment. Ever since then, huge clients have come aboard – from multinationals to high-net-worth individuals. I’ve seen a lot, and I’m still 37.”
Jonathan has, indeed, seen a lot. Leaving his first place of employment after five years, he joined what was back then a local audit firm with the specific mandate of internationalising its operations. Within two years, with clients flowing into the business, he was made Equity Partner. Then, in 2021, after nine years with the firm, he began a process whereby the company would be spun off and sold to a new international investor, APQ Global, rebranding as Promethean, with Jonathan taking up the role of CEO for Malta and Milan in a truly global set-up.
“I’m back to being out there gobbling up every opportunity possible,” he laughs. “I’m very opportunity-thirsty as a CEO. That’s important because you don’t get business sitting behind a desk.”
Getting this far has not been without its challenges. Jonathan describes a ‘surreal’ lifestyle of constant travel and a lack of downtime, with sleepless nights and long, unpredictable work days. But the ability to step into a new, international reality has made it all worthwhile. “It’s easy to think of Malta as the be-all and end-all. But, when you merge into an international system and are exposed to a certain calibre of people, you realise it’s just the tip of the iceberg,” he says. “The contacts you make, and even simply having coffee with someone who can give you a completely different insight into a problem you’re facing… well, you can’t put a price tag on that. It all comes down to my desire to learn, which is crucial to me. I know that, once you’ve lost that, you’ve killed your career.”
The work ethos that ties it all up for Jonathan is easily summarised: adding value. “First, at employee level, because your employees are your vehicle of execution, so you inevitably need to add value to the firm by adding value to each and every employee,” he explains. “Then at client level, because a client needs to feel like you’re adding value to the fee he’s paying, which I do by maintaining a very intimate professional connection with my clients. Adding value here means giving an edge to your client over what your competitor can offer, because competition is fierce in this field.”
Promethean, the vehicle through which Jonathan puts these values into practice, is at its core a corporate services provider offering a full range of legal services. But what sets it apart is what Jonathan terms ‘Promethean finesse’. “We’re offering a large law firm service in a boutique context, keeping the client at the centre of our focus and offering them myriad services to render their life easier. We’re combining the expertise of a legal practice with the approach of a concierge service for high-net-worth individuals.”
What this means is that while Promethean primarily operates in the financial services industry – including investment services, investment funds and Forex firms – it also targets a range of other service lines its clients may require, including global mobility services, as well as aircraft and yacht registration, leasing and finance. “We also service a number of gaming operators. We profess to be the firm of choice for the high-net-worth individual and his or her business, wanting a complete package,” Jonathan explains. “Whether they have global mobility issues or want to register an aircraft or yacht, we’re there providing those services.”
The vision by which Promethean thrives is clear. “It aims to consolidate itself in the Maltese market – because we offer a Maltese solution to international clients – both by organic growth and also by further mergers and acquisitions. The vision is to grow exponentially. We’re not here to waste time; we’re here to grow.”
2022, however, did not present the easiest set of circumstances for the company. Still finding its feet in its new international set-up, it had to contend with the triple challenges of the pandemic, the outbreak of war in Ukraine, and the fall-out of Malta’s addition to – and subsequent removal from – the FATF grey list. “Greylisting had an enormous impact on the industry, because authorities who perhaps used to take a textbook approach to certain aspects of the business suddenly started to overregulate,” Jonathan believes. “There were suddenly new norms, new ways of doing business, new questions to ask our clients, new things we hadn’t ever dreamed of.” And while he stresses the importance of regulation, he cautions against going too far in the opposite direction. “AML is vital, but it’s there to be observed, not to replace deal-making. Otherwise, we’ll end up stifling business and losing our competitive edge.”
He is less circumspect about the impact of the war. “Nothing good comes of war,” he says. “With our global mobility practice, when you sanction a particular international market, such as, in this case, the Russian one, you stalemate the market. You have to reinvent yourself, focus on different markets, but it takes time, effort, cost and strategy.”
Heading into 2023, then, Jonathan is keen to put this transitional phase to rest and help the company thrive in its new shoes. Promethean is investing further in its human resources and adding new skillsets to its team, with plans to offer new services in data protection and civil litigation, while also venturing into fields such as securitisation and impact consulting. As always, Jonathan’s eyes are also open to new opportunities in other areas of added value to the local economy, from biotech to AI and DLT.
Nevertheless, he warns that the world has become “unpredictable” and that, between the curveballs of the last year and the ever-increasing amount of regulation, the industry and smaller providers in particular could be facing a challenging road ahead. “2022 was a catalyst year, where we adapted to new systems that have helped us increase our performance, facilitate client acceptance and offer a much faster service,” he says. “There are significant obstacles ahead, and we’re aiming to use our technological expertise to overcome them. In 2023, technology is going to be the line of distinction, and Promethean has the right resources to invest in that technology.”
Jonathan is therefore firm in his belief that Promethean is well-placed to consolidate its brand and position itself as a leading pioneer in the upscale market. “We’re very thirsty for business,” he says. “We’re now in a situation where we want to grow the business exponentially in the next couple of years by identifying target sectors and capitalising on the resources of the group. So, we really are well-positioned to grow and to offer a service that is quite unparalleled in the local economy.”
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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