The old adage that ‘a change is as good as a rest’ rings true for Hallman Vella CEO Kevin Rapinett, who joined the company at the start of 2020. In that moment, he took the helm of one of Malta’s strongest manufacturing brands; an organisation established in 1954 and which has since crafted an unparalleled portfolio of local and international projects, specialising in bespoke surfaces.
As a relatively new member to this established team, Kevin’s immediate goal was to set and lead the long-term strategy of the Group for the benefit of its shareholders, employees, clients and wider stakeholders. He sees himself as a driver of positive change; setting the tone through his actions or inactions for the improvement and sustainability of the company going forward.
“I believe in building a corporate culture that’s very much based on sound ethical principles,” the CEO states. “People talk about reputation loosely, but the company’s reputation and standing are absolutely critical to me.” It’s an ethos that Kevin brings to the table from a long career with HSBC, a global organisation that he says taught him a lot.
There his career was split into three areas: Treasury and Stockbroking, Risk, and Corporate Banking. “Through the different stages of my career, I worked closely with Malta’s top corporate companies, and a key aspect of my work was to build long-lasting relationships based on mutual trust and understanding,” he continues. “It was very defining, and I loved my time with the bank.”
Kevin says he chose to change career and join Halmann Vella when the opportunity came knocking. “It felt like the right time to embrace a new challenge,” he confidently states. “And the transition has been very positive so far. There’s always more to learn, especially as this is a completely new sector for me, but the expertise, experience and professional background I have does lend itself very well.”
For Kevin, leading his team is not about self-gain and he firmly believes in the philosophy of being a ‘man for others’. “That’s the integral formation of an Aloysian,” he smiles, thinking back on his education at St Aloysius College. “I am very fulfilled by this approach and it underlines that my purpose is to better the communities I form part of.”
He relishes the fact that his role allows him to be involved in a variety of elements within the business, from decision making and business dealings to overseeing the company’s many projects at their different stages of development. “Decision-making isn’t easy, and I always consider the long-term benefits for the organisation and our people. That said, navigating the uncertainties of the current economic landscape does take significant time and energy,” he says.
He goes into detail about what he thinks differentiates the companies that will last the distance in the next few years. “It will come down to resilience and perseverance,” he believes – and Halmann Vella is on track to achieve both.
“COVID-19 created a crisis unlike anything we have anticipated or experienced,” the CEO continues. “It called for strong leadership, unwavering clarity and consistency, and excellent communication. It was critical that I could provide the necessary support and assurance to our people at the start of the pandemic and in recent months.That’s what strong leadership is all about. You have to be on top of what’s happening – sometimes with very short reaction time – and take decisive action when necessary.”
Keeping all stakeholders safe was, of course, Kevin’s primary objective, and many changes have been made to the operation and factory to focus on this. The company services many sectors of the economy, some of which were directly and immediately hard hit by the crisis. “While much of our business carried on throughout, we know there is a lag effect for most of the other sectors of the economy that will be impacted in the months to come. Agility will differentiate companies and determine how they emerge from this unprecedented crisis. Of course the uncertainty around how things evolve remains to be seen.”
To safeguard Halmann Vella at this time, the CEO says the team has developed a very robust business continuity plan, which, supported by a strong balance sheet, can withstand shocks and enable the company to navigate the crisis. “You have to have a structure that enables you to weather the storm. I am committed to these goals for the long-term overall sustainability of the company, and we are very much on track.”
He says there are opportunities to be gleaned from this too, including the future of ‘Industry 4.0’ – a term that is increasingly heard in manufacturing circles and which refers to automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies. “It’s an exciting topic with huge potential, with the ultimate goal of making businesses perform better and more efficiently. However, the focus right now is on ensuring manufacturers survive first; Industry 4.0 will hopefully come next.”
In the meantime, Kevin says the company is looking forward to a mixed workbook of projects in 2021, including retail, residential, corporate and even some flagship developments. These include the completion of the Trident project in Mriehel, the continuation of work on the Gozo Museum, and the commencement of work on the façade of St John’s Co Cathedral, among others.
The future of the island’s manufacturing sector is also here to stay, the CEO stresses. “It makes such a significant contribution to the country’s GDP and is one of the main and most stable sources of employment on the island. To thrive, it now needs to diversify, be more innovative, more environmentally sustainable, and adopt more advanced technologies. The challenge here, of course, is the capital investment needed, which is significant,” he explains.
“Human resources are also critical though, as we need more technically competent people. This is not about employing someone to press a button, but about employing more qualified, professional people so that the labour force will have the right competences and skill sets to make the best of any future opportunities. This will mean the island can also compete internationally more than ever before.”
For Kevin, the next 12 months of leading Halmann Vella are all about ensuring success for the long term. “The environment is continuously evolving, consumers are becoming more sophisticated, competition is increasing, and stakeholders’ needs are more diverse,” he says.
“As a company we are here to invest in meeting those needs, and will continue to expand our manufacturing plant, while rolling out exciting new products too. Within that context, my own goal is for us to end 2021 in a stronger position than we started and ensure Halmann Vella is on an even more solid footing to embrace its exciting future,” the CEO concludes.
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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