Michael Mifsud’s first interest was architecture, despite going on to train as an engineer. He then occupied leadership roles within several multinational corporates based in Malta and overseas. Today, as CEO of Multigas, he explains why investment in the implementation of the latest safety and environmental systems for handling and storing industrial and medical gases was of paramount importance to the firm.

Michael Mifsud’s intended career was in architecture, yet technical curiosity and a passion for design led him to qualify with an Honour’s degree in electrical engineering and a Master’s in business administration.

Fresh out of university, he joined Trelleborg, a global engineering group focused on polymer technology and providing specialty sealing solutions. Shedding light on his experience, he shares that “the automotive market is an excellent breeding ground for technical people. It keeps you on your toes as you navigate a market with its own rules and behaviour. High quality standards are taken for granted and product performance must be guaranteed.”

He then joined Carlos Gavazzi, a manufacturer of electronic control components for the building and industrial automation markets, when the international group was expanding. At that time, the Maltese operation was given end-to-end responsibility for product concept, manufacture, marketing and training.

Recalling his time there, Michael reflects: “the exciting part was building innovative technical facilities and a laboratory to certify the noise levels of components. I was able to travel for research, develop new products and compete against big names around the world.”

As his career progressed, Michael found specialisation intriguing but became keen for an opportunity to put more ideas into action.

He points out that, as an individual, he is rarely content with the status quo. “I am a change driver. I am unhappy with the status quo and am never 100 per cent satisfied with what I achieve,” he asserts.

This determination led to his appointment as Multigas CEO in 2009, a position which offered an opportunity to join a technology-led company that was the first to manufacture oxygen and nitrogen in Malta.

His tenure has been distinguished by the introduction of technology and innovation. The company now offers ‘remote gas management’ to various industry sectors and has a management team prepared for the unexpected – an attribute put to effective use as the pandemic impacted both the supply and demand sides of Multigas’ business.

To ensure a continuous supply of medical O2, new storage facilities were set up on both islands in collaboration with Mater Dei Hospital, Gozo General Hospital, and the local health authorities. As a result, the robustness of the hospital supply chain was significantly improved. Michael explains that the logistics of getting products to Gozo was particularly challenging, as scheduled vessels could not carry liquid oxygen. The Multigas team was able to develop an unorthodox delivery method which has now become the standard supply line.

When lockdowns decimated Malta’s hospitality industry, demand for gases used in brewing and soft drink manufacture, as well as cellar gases for the hospitality industry, plummeted. During the lull, Michael initiated an upgrade to Multigas’ cylinder testing facilities, making it easier and faster for customers to return their carbon dioxide cylinders to service, once demand recovered. Michael recalls that when COVID-19 hit, his team were in the middle of the most significant project they had taken on in the last 10 years. Irrespective of the challenges presented, “we found ways and means to plough on and see it through to completion, in true never-say-die spirit. The project galvanised our teams in the face of adversity.” During this time, Michael says that the biggest change to take hold of the organisation was increased flexibility on all levels. “The important thing was getting the job done – ‘the how’ was something we figured out as we went along,” he attests.

He is adamant that what differentiates Multigas from its competitors is staying nimble, with fast communication channels and fewer organisational layers. This enables his team to predict the market and stay ahead of the curve. Most importantly, Michael says, “it is a network of close relationships, doing business with like-minded companies and jealously guarding the values of business ethics and fairness.” Indeed, he describes his leadership style as collaborative, believing that this approach is indispensable if the team is to achieve results.

He contends that “a single person cannot claim results alone. Most times, the best outcome happens after discussing contrasting ideas.” Further underscoring the importance of remaining nimble, the CEO admits that he likes “to cross-fertilise ideas to get maximum results.

“To lead, one needs to be ready to change direction but remain focused on the intended destination,” he adds. Michael sits on the European Industrial Gases Association (EIGA) Board, giving him access to international best practices in safety, technical innovation and business trends. He says his position on the panel ensures that “Multigas stays as close to world-class as possible.”

He also represents the manufacturing industry sector within the Malta Employers Association, which he says is, at times, misunderstood. “It is not just an employers’ lobby; first and foremost it helps employers stay within the legal frameworks. It provides guidelines that help raise the standards of both employers and employees around the country,” Michael explains.

Turning to the highlights of his career, the Multigas CEO references “the opportunity to experience first-hand what is happening outside of Malta, giving [him] a deeper perspective.” He affirms that “it is a privilege to witness success stories and to gain insight of what and why things worked for international companies, and why others didn’t.

“Every role has given me the possibility to work and grow. We remain students every day of our lives, savouring the excitement of learning something new every day,” Michael notes.

On the opportunities that abound in 2023, as well as the C-level executive’s outlook for the coming year, Michael points out that Multigas recently built a new multi-million euro cryogenic air separation plant to produce liquid nitrogen and oxygen. These products are vital to the myriad organisations that are present locally.

As a result of the increase in production capacity, he explains that Multigas is now in a position to offer services outside Malta.

However, Multigas also needs very specialised skills. The Malta Chamber of Scientists has expressed concern about the downturn in the number of students graduating in technology and engineering. Michael shares this concern, particularly in the context that the challenge for any organisation is expansion, adding that leaders need to “ensure that the organisation has a sound skills transfer system so that it retains its heritage.”

Since Malta joined the EU, the movement of people has become inevitable. Michael advocates that “we must adjust to the behaviour of a mobile labour force. We need to look at those who want to join our workforce holistically. Where are they coming from, and how are they adjusting socially? We must consider long-term integration aspects. Our population has exploded by 25 per cent in recent years. Immigration is going to have a considerable impact on the island. We need to spend time planning for a new reality.”

On a more personal note, Michael adds that his wife, Liliana, hails from a background in pharmaceuticals, but switched to the hospitality sector, with a focus on hotels and tourism. Speaking of their relationship, he says: “I would not be where I am today without her presence. We have a mutually supportive relationship.”

They have three daughters; the elder two, Saz and Suzi, are independent full-time designers and their youngest, Sophie is studying medicine.

Michael shares his belief that an important aspect of a successful career is to find a healthy balance between business and family life: “I find it therapeutic to share with my wife elements of each other’s working day and I like to be involved in the life and projects of our children. Outside of work, I have my passions, such as recently taking up flying. I now look forward to sharing this new thrill with my family and friends.”

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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