Sean Cassar is an interior and exterior spatial designer, best known as the Managing Director of Design Hub Studio, which he founded in 2014. In the nine years he has been at its helm, the studio has won seven awards, with Sean himself receiving Malta’s best young entrepreneur award just a year after setting up the company.
Sean Cassar is a busy man, but not too busy to add two new ventures to his portfolio in 2022. Design Hub Store, a shop selling finishing materials for residential and commercial spaces, complements his primary business perfectly. Then, there is the wellness centre Elevist, which seems like an unusual choice for the designer.
“I value my health, both physical and mental, and I’ve trained regularly and extensively to protect it,” he explains. “After years of using physiotherapy reformer as my exercise, I decided to open my own wellness centre. I had also noticed that my colleagues were spending a lot of time driving around or sitting at their desks with bad posture, so I started recommending physiotherapy once a month. Now, they can do that at Elevist, among other therapies.”
Sean had an unconventional childhood, which had a lasting impact on his lifestyle and how he now manages his businesses. His father, one of the owners of the winery Marsovin, died at a relatively young age after a decade of ill health. This, more than anything else, opened Sean’s eyes to the importance of self-care. “Elevist is a tribute to him,” Sean explains. “My philosophy is to enjoy life, but to also replenish and care for one’s body and mind at the same time.”
Although he believes in balance, Sean is also a staunch advocate of structure and self-discipline, qualities he acquired from the boarding school he attended as a teenager. After years of begging his parents to allow him to attend military school, Sean was sent to a Jesuitrun boarding school in the north of England when he was 12. “It was almost military in style, with a strong emphasis on rugby, prayer and hard work,” he remembers. “That school broke me and rebuilt me into the man I am today.” Two decades later, Sean’s days are still planned with military precision.
The CEO’s upbringing was also a masterclass in entrepreneurship and management. As a child, he often accompanied his father to work, playing and running around the Marsovin offices. “Even then, I learnt and understood the structures needed to run a company with multiple staff,” he remarks. “With big institutions, you need a CEO and hierarchical management, so I made a conscious decision to keep my companies small for now. I aspire to grow them slowly and organically with less risk of overstretching the companies or their staff.”
The realisation that he wanted to nurture an alternative managerial style was further confirmed when, having returned to Malta in his early 20s to help his ailing father, Sean joined a boutique design firm. “They worked with big budget clients, using luxury finishes with great attention to detail, which was the ideal fit for me,” he recalls. “After having been an employee, I became even more convinced of my future role as a leader for the teams I aspired to build.”
Today, Design Hub and Elevist employ a team of 25 and, although he spearheads projects and oversees marketing and procuring new clients, Sean considers himself to be on the same level as everyone else. In fact, it is his inclusive nature that led to the opening of Design Hub Store. “Part of the reason I opened the Store was to have my own library of materials that my clients could see in person,” he explains. “But I also dreamt of having a space where other interior designers and architects – perhaps younger professionals, who might not have their own offices yet – could walk in with their clients and have these materials at their disposal to use creatively. The space itself is designed with that in mind, so there are multiple desks they can use.”
If there is a challenge that Sean constantly battles with, it is his drive to exceed his clients’ expectations without spreading himself – or his team – too thin. “I’m only one person, and my team is intentionally small to suit the type of jobs we do. I aim to take on a few projects a year that are big and creative enough for us to really enjoy them, stick to our deadlines and hold our clients’ hands,” he explains. “I don’t want to lose sight of my values and attention to detail. If you have too much going on, quality standards slip towards mediocrity. Fortunately, my colleagues can jump in. Having managers who are incentivised is vital.”
While many businesses struggled during COVID-19, Design Hub Studio recorded its busiest period to date. As one of the leading office design and fit-out companies in Malta, demand for their services and materials was unaffected. Although the studio was never out of work, this period was nonetheless a very stressful one for Sean. “It was scary. At first, I wondered what the point of having more offices would be if everyone was working from home,” he admits. “I also worried that the influx of international companies to Malta would come to an abrupt end.”
Sean’s worries turned out to be unfounded, and new opportunities soon came his way. He evolved his designs in light of the pandemic, as larger companies were beginning to look ahead to when offices would need to be different to pre-pandemic times. “Remote working works to a certain extent, but not all the time. During the pandemic, some businesses still needed their employees to go into the office, and for companies with over 200 employees, the office needed to accommodate groups of workers coming in at different times of the week. Office spaces needed to be changed accordingly,” he explains. Sean and his team rose to the challenge by adapting their clients’ offices to their changing needs. Distance between workspaces became critical, as did separators between desks, as well as other elements that would protect every employee and make them feel comfortable and safe.
As he looks to the future, Sean hopes that his businesses will continue to grow. “My aim is for Design Hub Studio to take on all types of residential and commercial projects, execute them from beginning to end, and use the Store and all its materials to make that happen,” he concludes. “Of course, I will continue to promote physical and mental health through Elevist.”
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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