Exceptionally talented people have always fascinated me – their thinking, their aspirations, the future they want to see and how they want to use their skills to shape that future. They are great assets, both for a company and for a country.
Recent conversations with young Maltese talent – some living on the Island, others abroad – highlighted some themes we should all be aware of.
Talented individuals are all around us. But their mindset, attitude and expectations diverge from those who see work as a means to a pay check: they want more. In Steve Jobs’ words – they want to put a dent in the universe. Whether tackling climate change, providing access to education or building ethical AI, their unifying trait is that they want to solve meaningful problems and add value. They are curious, hungry and determined. They are tenacious and willing to step out of their comfort zone. They have high standards for themselves and those around them.
Globally, they are in high demand. But competing for this talent is getting more challenging. If they don’t find a company that’s a good fit and they have the entrepreneurial gene, they can set up on their own. (N.B. The founders of WhatsApp applied for a role with Facebook but got turned down. They set up WhatsApp, which FB later acquired for the astounding sum of $19billion.)
These individuals thrive when they resonate with the people they interact with and the purpose of a company. Beyond words, they need to work with committed people that have the capabilities to deliver. They thrive around people who dare to see the world through a different lens but an achievable reality. They don’t like pipedreams that are unlikely ever to be realised, but they also don’t want to be stuck in old paradigms and status quo thinking. They want to be intellectually stimulated. They want people they can learn from and which will push them. They want to learn, grow and be better because, in their eyes, the better they are, the more they add value. They value people with integrity, and they, in turn, want to be trusted.
These individuals are critical in creating great companies and strong economies. In the past, high profile, global blue-chip companies won the lion’s share of this group of talent. Some ventured out on their own. They, in turn, became magnets for this breed of talent. With it came a new paradigm for what companies can and should do – from cultures and products to mindset and impact. In some cases, people who grew within these companies set up other ventures, propagating a new set of expectations and standards on what work means.
Access to these companies is no longer limited to city or country lines. Over the past year, we saw a shift with more people interacting over platforms like Zoom. Some lean towards continuing this working model post-COVID. Others can’t wait to ‘get back to normal’. This will impact competition for this breed of people. Local companies and politicians need to pay attention.
Scenario 1: Companies abroad are hiring these people and moving them out of Malta. These people no longer contribute to taxes; no longer contribute to society. And may never return.
Outcome – brain drain.
Scenario 2: Companies abroad are hiring these people and enabling them to work from home. Yes, they still live in Malta and contribute to taxes. Yes, they may contribute to initiatives such as mentoring others. But the real value created will be for a company and an economy overseas.
Outcome – lost opportunity.
Scenario 3: These people stay on the Island, working for local companies or, if they have the entrepreneurial gene, set up their own venture. They deliver financial and intellectual value while also contributing to taxes and society. In my mind, this is what we want to aim for. But this will only happen if we have high-calibre companies with forward-thinking leadership, with the courage to hire brilliant people and give them the freedom to operate (if they want to be employed).
Or, if they have the entrepreneurial gene:
In both cases, they will also need (we all do):
We need to compete with international companies and rebuild our economy for an emerging future. At the moment, we’re not. We’re not even trying. Yes, we’ve had our number of successes, but they are despite the system, not because of it. In rising out of the carnage caused by the pandemic, we have a once in a lifetime opportunity. If we are to capitalise on it, we need a mindset shift and appetite for growth. Are we ready?
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