A fascination with the dynamics of international trade, coupled with an aptitude for the mechanics of business management, forged the foundations of Anton Buttigieg’s career early on.
“I have always enjoyed following how markets operate around the world, so learning more about economics and business management seemed a natural choice,” he shares. Following his graduation from the University of Malta in 2000 with an Honours Degree in Economics, Anton refined his skills with a Master’s Degree, achieved a little further afield.
“In 2004, I gained my Master’s Degree in International Economics and Marketing, specialising in industry analysis, from SDA Bocconi School of Management, Milan – a business school renowned for empowering people to transform themselves and so drive the future of organisations and communities the world over.”
Having had such a front-row seat throughout his studies to the substantial impact individuals and businesses can have on global commerce – and, by extension, upon society in general – Anton began pioneering his own similar transformation back in Malta. Initially working as an Economist at the Central Bank of Malta, his colourful career has also included stints as a Management Consultant with market research and training firm MISCO, as Business Development and Administration Manager at Panta Marketing and Services Ltd, and as Operations Director with Business Leaders Malta.
Then, in 2015, mere months after TradeMalta was established, Anton was offered the position of CEO at the budding organisation designed to offer a springboard for Maltese businesses to launch into foreign markets.
“When I became CEO at TradeMalta, I had the privilege of finding a team that was already operational, with some team members having migrated over from the previous entity of Malta Enterprise and the Chamber of Commerce,” Anton explains. “But I saw this as a start-up opportunity, in that the TradeMalta brand had yet to be expanded and promoted. However, at that time one of my main priorities had to also be ensuring a smooth transition for every individual and business that was already receiving support, so that they would be cleanly and fully embraced by the new TradeMalta brand.”
Anton also quickly set about moving the organisation from being paper-based to becoming almost entirely paperless, opting instead to engage further into the digital world that he believes better serves the needs of TradeMalta clients. “Going digital has enabled us to be better facilitators between Malta-based companies and others internationally. I like to think of TradeMalta as a matchmaker between local businesses and those across the globe – we build the bridges through extensive networking that they can then choose to cross towards internationalisation.”
In fact, one of Anton’s favourite aspects of his role as CEO at TradeMalta is that it affords myriad opportunities to connect with people both in Malta and worldwide. “I love meeting people, hearing their stories and helping them to improve,” he shares.
“Even more so, there is great satisfaction when we have facilitated an exchange between a successful local company and someone overseas who can help them achieve the results they want. Our ability to do that has inspired people to recommend our services and has kept them coming back to us for our assistance repeatedly over the past six years. I am outrageously proud of our team here, which works so hard and with such dedication to make such incredible successes happen.”
And Anton’s approach to leadership is made far simpler by heading up such a great team, he says. “I am one of the lucky leaders. Someone who leads needs to be surrounded by good people, as I certainly am. But the role of a leader is to provide that team with a clear vision of what they need to achieve, along with the right tools to allow them to perform at their best and plenty of leeway to let them finish a task or solve a problem their own way. My job is to share with them where we need to go and then move out of their way so that they can get there. People tend to be happier working in a live-and-let-live environment such as this. The success of this approach is shown in the team’s motivation to give their best and in the work they produce as a result – if there’s a will, there’s a way!”
This busy team of dedicated professionals provides a wide portfolio of services that enable local businesses to explore opportunities outside of their comfort zone and establish partnerships in non-traditional markets. Through the team’s efforts, TradeMalta is also responsible for strengthening the island’s reputation from a commerce perspective across Europe and beyond.
“Europe will always be our largest trading market,” shares Anton. “However, often overlooked is the fact that there is a huge continent to the south of Malta as well, with a market of some 1.3 billion people there. We are moving fast in pursuing the huge opportunities available throughout Africa, but so is most of the rest of Europe, so Malta may have a strategic and logistical advantage in the coming years, regardless of our small size. Just because we are a small country, doesn’t mean we can’t do business with larger countries, or that they are not willing to do business with us.”
And Anton predicts Malta’s own strong economic outlook will also continue to make the island a key player on the world’s business stage in the future. “There are many factors that have allowed Malta’s economy to thrive thus far. We built our economy from scratch after
we became independent, so we have the human resources willing to adapt, train, upgrade their skills and grow. Likewise, Malta offers a diverse range of expertise in varying sectors, with a largely English-speaking workforce, an attractive climate and an easy lifestyle – all of which attracts many foreign investors.”
Yet, like that of every other country and industry in the world, Malta’s economy took a hit with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. “There was an inevitable slowdown in our economy, as we are a part of a larger global economy that was also feeling the effects of the pandemic. The whole world was in recession and Malta is not immune to that,” Anton continues. “Nevertheless, the use of technology has opened many doors, particularly in terms of research and in people being more receptive to requests to connect. Plus, there are exciting times ahead particularly in the ICT sector, I believe, thanks to the new tech start-up opportunities being spotted and seized by young entrepreneurs everywhere.”
And that may not be the only positive outcome of the pandemic, as TradeMalta embraces the ‘new normal’ in 2021. “We had to adapt quickly to the new realities brought about by the pandemic in our own processes – and so did everybody else. On an international level, progress was made at an unprecedented pace. The pandemic pressed fast-forward for international trade and TradeMalta will continue to work and innovate to keep Malta punching above its economic weight, both locally and internationally,” concludes Anton.
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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