2022 marked Yasmin de Giorgio’s first full year as CEO of Shireburn Software, which was established by her father, John de Giorgio, in 1983. Now, as she takes the business into its next phase, she brings her entrepreneurial experience to bear on the company’s continued growth, combining the team’s strengths with her own.
“Starting your own business is like the best MBA,” reveals serial entrepreneur Yasmin de Giorgio, who founded three successful businesses within five years before being made CEO of Shireburn Software in 2021.
“It’s very much a baptism of fire in different aspects,” she notes, pointing out that to succeed you have to develop skills that are crucial, including people management and motivation, as well as thinking strategically and making the right decisions. “In my case, all my businesses were bootstrapped, so I had limited resources and really needed to allocate them properly. In this way I learnt how to control costs and to be strategic about where to focus my energy.”
2022 marked Yasmin’s first full year as CEO of Shireburn Software, which was established by her father, John de Giorgio, in 1983. Delving into the company’s history, she explains, “my father actually started out in computer training, before being given the opportunity to develop software very early on by a client who is still a client today – that is what got him into software development.”
Since then, she attributes the company’s success to John’s mentality and belief that “when you design software, you can either design it for one person or for many. You could build 100 different software for 100 different clients, or you could build one that fits the needs of at least 90 per cent of them. That’s really been the foundation of the company’s success.”
Describing her father as an early innovator in this respect, the young CEO goes on to say that, nowadays, many software companies are moving to a product-led approach. However, in Shireburn’s case, longstanding business relationships with clients in the local context have meant that the company as a whole has a lot more brand recognition than some of its individual products. Today, Yasmin’s focus is to balance this equity with bringing the company into a new era of software development.
“An interesting fact about Shireburn is that it’s been through three major technological shifts, from MS-DOS, to Windows, and into the Cloud; a feat that few software companies have managed to achieve. With the Indigo Suite, we’ve moved into the Cloud era, and we are now redeveloping some of our other products onto the Cloud,” she maintains.
In fact, for Yasmin, this defines one of her biggest challenges, which doubles up as one of the most rewarding aspects of her role within the company. “There are so many opportunities in different areas that we could invest in, but obviously we can’t invest in all of them – we have to choose! So, the way I’ll be able to judge my performance over the next couple of years will really be through the investment decisions that we are taking now.”
Since embarking on her journey as CEO in 2021, Yasmin has begun making her mark with an internal restructuring, which saw the senior management team’s roles change significantly. “Change management within an organisation when you come in as a new CEO – especially since it is my father’s business – definitely puts the pressure on to manage it properly. If you get things wrong early on, there’s quite a lot at stake,” she explains, describing its success as her first major milestone within the business, of which she is very proud.
The second milestone has been the launch of Insights, a product which Yasmin says had been on the company’s wish list for some time. “In software, when it comes to building a feature that you believe will add value but which your clients aren’t asking for yet, it can be hard to prioritise the time to execute it – but we took the risk, and I’m really happy that we managed to prioritise enough development time to get it done,” she shares.
Describing the aspects she enjoys most about her role, Yasmin points to problem-solving discussions with a team of people she trusts and admires. “Someone once told me that the problem in business is not having problems, but having the same problems. When you have interesting problems, it’s exciting! In our business, we are constantly faced with different issues to tackle and decisions to make and, for me, having always run my own companies, being able to sit with people who have a lot more experience than me in certain aspects; I learn so much, and always get inspired by listening to their perspectives.”
The most challenging part, meanwhile, is time management. Upon her appointment at Shireburn, Yasmin was adamant that Sanya Eco Spa – one of her best-known projects – would remain a pillar of her life. Today, the balance between the two certainly gives the CEO a lot to contend with and she admits that running two companies puts a limit on her time. “I can’t be in two places at once – there’s so much I want to do and I don’t always have the time to do it.”
The only reason she is able to manage is because of the capable teams behind each business, she says.
“Shireburn has a stable senior leadership team that is very experienced and driven, and I can honestly say that it can run the company without me. Of course I give my strategic input, but the quality of the team really is high.
“On the Sanya side, it’s a younger business so it’s a bit more dependent on me, but I’m thankful that it reached maturity at around the same time as I was taking on the CEO role at Shireburn – I wouldn’t have managed before that,” Yasmin states, noting that her role at Sanya today is non-operational, so she doesn’t get involved in the day-to-day running of the business. “I am very passionate about wellness, so I still see clients, teach and host workshops. It’s more of a teaching and knowledge sharing role today.”
Turning her attention to the future of Shireburn, the CEO reveals that one of the biggest projects the team is working on is redeveloping the accounting system, Shireburn Business Suite (SBS), which she describes as a core product, not only internally but on the local market too.
“Redeveloping software now – especially for web, with reference to robust business software that needs to deal with millions of transactions – in a web environment is much more costly than it was back when we were developing on Windows. With the higher investment comes greater risk,” Yasmin maintains, describing it as one of her biggest yardsticks when taking over the CEO role.
“Many of our clients rely on this software for their businesses. So, over the next few years, this will shape how the company is going to look, how quickly we scale up the software, and how much the team is going to grow. With regard to the Indigo Suite, we are also investing heavily in HR features, and beefing up our products overall; it’s going to be very interesting in the coming years to see what we can deliver.”
Certainly, developing such products marks a major opportunity for the business going forward, which Yasmin is well aware of. “Choosing the right ideas is what will really determine our success,” she affirms, highlighting the inherent challenges.
“With product development, you want to bring your product to the market as early as possible, so you can gather feedback from your clients and improve on it. To do that, you have to release products with certain features, while other features have to wait,” the CEO explains, adding, “the bigger the system, the more of these choices you have to make, but having people with such vast experience helps make these decisions a little easier, and also helps me to sleep better at night!”
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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