With the launch of iCentre, the first Apple premium reseller outlet in Malta, SG Solutions found that it had a highly successful point-of-reference brand with household recognition on its hands. However, the company has also been driving digital change in the local market for well over 50 years thanks to its long-standing relationships with heavyweight international tech giants such as Dell Technologies, Ricoh, Ingenico, VMware, Microsoft and countless others.
Every week CEO Antoine Galea Salomone takes the time to stop and chat with practically everyone working in SG Solutions’ headquarters in Birkirkara. His leadership style welcomes employees to open up with him and share any worries on their mind. On his part, Antoine is only too happy to help his people out and solve their problems in any way he can.
It’s perhaps not overly surprising that Antoine, who represents the third generation of the family-run VJ Salomone Group of Companies, has fostered a workplace culture built firmly on the principles of respect and empathy. Even 14 years after taking on the CEO role, he continues to feel the responsibility of being torchbearer for his grandfather and company founder Victor Salomone’s values.
“My late grandfather always stressed the importance of integrity, fairness and correctness in all we do, whether it is dealing with an employee, selling a product or service, or making a profit. As a business leader I strive to imbue these values across our organisation. I want to provide a work environment that feels like a second home for our employees,” Antoine explains.
For any member of the Salomones, a position in the family business has never been an automatic ticket to CEO privileges. Starting from the bottom of the ladder, a 20-year-old Antoine began his career promoting and selling Casio products. He steadily worked his way up the responsibility ladder and was eventually tasked by his father to transform and grow what was then VJ Salomone Equipment, a middling venture primarily focused on cash register products. While it took some convincing from his father, Antoine soon dove into the challenge and began shepherding the company’s gradual metamorphosis from equipment supplier to a leading technology provider with a broad portfolio of renowned brands, a transition that was firmly cemented with the opening of the first iCentre in Sliema.
Today, the company operates three iCentre outlets across Malta and has become the go-to destination for Apple products and services in the local market. Ten years ago, Antoine was also presented with an opportunity to expand the business in Hungary, where it now operates an additional four Apple Premium Reseller outlets in Budapest. For the CEO, this expansion overseas has been a golden opportunity to strengthen SG Solutions’ relationship with Apple and keep track of new and emerging trends on the international market. The overwhelming popularity of the iCentre brand has perhaps eclipsed the company’s many other accomplishments in driving forward significant digital change in Malta. Chief among these has been its contribution to creating a more cashless society, through its Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) systems.
“SG Solutions has been leading the digital payment transition for many years now and, today, we facilitate the installation and technical support of EPOS machines in over 10,000 retail outlets on the island,” Antoine explains. “The pandemic clearly accelerated the drive for more and more customers and retailers to switch to cashless transactions.”
In fact, the pandemic saw SG Solutions experience an extraordinary spike in sales, marking one of the busiest periods of business during the company’s 50-year history. Business aside, Antoine admits the pandemic was also an opportunity to be reminded of more important lessons in life.
Lots of business leaders today tend to be driven by money, money, money, and more, more, more. Yes, ensuring the future of your company is important but it’s also important to enjoy and appreciate life. I love business, I love meeting people and I love growing an idea into a fully-fledged venture. But it’s crucial to go about business in the right way and not to walk all over people or harm the environment for the sake of making a quick buck.”
The pandemic wasn’t all roses for the company and it did in fact present the start of an ongoing hurdle of supply chain delays and rising costs that continued to persist throughout 2022 as political tensions simmered across Europe. The past decade or so has also seen competition in the local tech space increase at a rapid pace.
“Competition is fierce, but I believe with our established relationships, both with our local clients and with our international partners, we have a high degree of credibility that lends us an edge. That said, we can’t simply coast on our reputation. We’re faced with an ongoing challenge to maintain our high standards and keep up with the fast and ever-changing tech landscape. The pace of technological change can sometimes be challenging since today’s optimum solutions may be obsolete by tomorrow, which is why it is important to constantly refresh and innovate one’s business.”
To this end, Antoine is looking towards AI, cybersecurity, and the Internet of Things (IoT) as trends which are gaining prominence and areas to pursue over the coming years. Due to the company’s diverse portfolio of products and services, the CEO also recognises the importance of investing in upskilling and accreditation so that his teams can better service clients.
“At the end of the day, the customer is my boss. That’s why I 100 per cent believe that it’s important for me to be present with them and to listen carefully to what they have to say. As well as being providers of tech, today our clients are looking towards us as trusted advisors. I want us to be there, not only to support them along their digital evolution, or complete transformation in some cases, but also to light up the path for innovation and help them succeed,” he adds.
With a legacy that spans 50 years, SG Solutions certainly has the foundations to ensure its own ongoing success. Looking back on the company’s incredible journey, from a cash register business to a well-respected operator in the local tech space, what qualities does Antoine believe have been the secret to its success?
“If I were to summarise it, I’d call it the PPP formula – People, Products and Professionalism. Our success revolves around a motivated and passionate workforce, great products and professionalism in all we do. To this end, we continue to invest in and build our team, and make sure they have the right environment and tools to work with. Forging excellent working relationships with customers and suppliers is a key success factor. Being able to innovate, adapt and reinvent oneself is also vital to succeed in our line of business,” Antoine concludes.
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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