For Reuben Xuereb, life is not simply a plan to be executed. Indeed, he believes that making the most of life – and what you do along its journey – is more about fearlessly embracing every opportunity that presents itself.
“Life is a combination of everything that you do along the way,” he smiles. “Following my late father’s example, I have always worked extremely hard to succeed. That was the only way I knew. It is that mindset that has meant that I have never actually applied for a job. If I had not taken the chance on offers that I was not actively seeking at the time, I would have had an entirely different career.”
Reuben studied international banking, finance and accountancy, before starting his career with KPMG. Shortly after he was appointed CFO of First International Merchant Bank plc, he went on to lead the listing of the bank on the Malta Stock Exchange. Then, a few years later, an opportunity to head a real estate investment fund was offered to him – in the Middle East.
“Moving to the Middle East was another part of my career journey that I would never have planned,” Reuben shares. “Working the long hours at the bank put me in close contact with shareholders – and their recommendations became opportunities. When the offer came through, I was told I had to be in Kuwait the following week, so I travelled there on a one-way ticket and with the barest essentials of a plan.
“Living and working in the Middle East wasn’t the easiest but it gave me the opportunity to network and to grow. Although I was only there under two years, its benefits were equal to five or six years of work. It’s not about the months, years, or hours – it’s what you achieve in the time that you have. So, by the age of 28, you could say I had the skill and experience of a 40-year-old.”
Back in Malta, Reuben was appointed Executive Director of the Corinthia Group in 2005, joining a dedicated team of talented and passionate professionals recruited by Corinthia Group Chairman Alfred Pisani to assist in managing the development of Corinthia projects – a team that would later evolve to become QP (Quality Projects).
“Over the years, QP supported Corinthia in delivering and managing developments in Tripoli, St Petersburg, Budapest, Lisbon, Khartoum and Prague, for example,” he explains. “In 2014, we acquired a firm of architects and structural engineers to become our own independent entity, with a fully-fledged suite of design, engineering and management services all under one roof.”
QP, therefore, makes the most of Reuben’s passion for real estate development and for seeing projects through from start to finish, while utilising his extensive experience in guiding this multi-disciplined team. “I have always been in a position to lead people throughout my career, so I’ve learned to be a good listener and to give everyone a chance,” he says. “I like to look at myself as a father figure: nurturing and supporting my colleagues and clients while giving them direction and encouragement. I believe in setting clear goals and objectives and being firm but not tough. Unless you set goals, you have nothing to measure your progress against. Rewarding success is hugely important too – we are all human beings and love to be rewarded for our achievements.”
Reuben’s legendary mountain-moving drive and sense of responsibility towards his team is so strong, he has even sailed into a war zone to assist them. “Back in 2011, the civil unrest in Libya against the regime surged while our team was in Tripoli managing a project there. In a few months, we went from being able to get there via a direct 45-minute flight, to it becoming a far longer journey with two flight connections plus a 10-hour drive; then it became impossible to get there because of the conflict. I knew I needed to get there urgently to support my team, so, in August, I chartered a fishing vessel to sail out to Libya, obtaining papers from NATO to be able to enter the country once I arrived following the 32-hour journey. I was young enough not to even think of the risk. Looking back, it was highly risky – and yet, these days the word ‘problem’ still doesn’t exist in my vocabulary, only ‘challenge’. My body and mind simply go into solution-sourcing mode.”
This challenge-oriented facet of Reuben’s approach to leadership and business has been particularly useful as QP faced the challenges wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic throughout 2020.
“On the plan for 2020 was growing the company with new talent, but the pandemic completely disrupted the way we do things here. It created uncertainty, not just in the industry itself but in how we manage ourselves and our departments, so good leadership has become crucial in keeping the team focused and motivated,” shares Reuben.
“Incredibly, within just a few days we were set up to work remotely as if nothing had happened. The situation gave us a valuable opportunity to look inwards and to innovate, to educate the sector, to promote growth in a sustainable way, and to implement sustainability guidelines.”
Yet, as it unfolded, the situation surrounding COVID-19 strengthened Reuben’s resolve regarding the importance of preparedness and teamwork. “It is surprising how quickly the world can be disrupted and ground to a standstill; how easy it is to stall progress, development and the way we live. The boy scouts’ motto of ‘be prepared’ has stayed with me throughout my life – and I have seen how being prepared makes you ready to change, to act and to be creative.”
As QP continues to serve Malta’s still-buoyant real estate and development sector, Reuben’s planning foresight expands the company’s mission to include helping to educate the public, developers and the authorities about industry best practices. “In real estate and construction, the difference between mediocrity and excellence is sometimes down to the smallest details. At QP, we begin any design process by taking into consideration the building’s purpose, adopting a bespoke approach to each and every project so that our clients get exactly what they want, when and how they want it. Likewise, we believe Malta’s real estate industries should consider heritage, the environment, the people and their lifestyle when designing and constructing a building.”
And it’s this commitment to innovation and quality that is the continued focus of QP for 2021. “We want to be the authors of change. Our methods already set the standard thanks to our detailed dedication to the client relationship, while I’m still a firm believer in innovation and drive. This philosophy has elevated QP into becoming an industry leader – and the best is yet to come.”
This interview is part of a serialisation of 50 interviews carried out with Malta’s top CEOs, featured in the bumper edition of MaltaCEOs 2021 publication, which was recently released. Despite the many challenges of 2020, this is the largest edition to date.
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