The first in a series of four articles, first featured on MaltaCEOs.mt’s sister print publication MaltaCEOs 2024, we speak to four CEOs who have successfully navigated their companies through crises and, here, they share valuable insight into the strategies, mindsets and principles that empowered them to not only ride out the storm but emerge stronger.

When travel restrictions due to COVID-19 forced the airport to close indefinitely in 2020, Malta International Airport CEO Alan Borg had a crisis on his hands that demanded serious reconsideration of the airport’s resources to navigate the business through the challenges ahead.

“Back in March 2020, our company’s most substantial source of income was eliminated when a global ban on air travel came into effect. However, we recognised the importance that our human resources played in overcoming this crisis from the get-go, and so we focused our efforts on reducing business costs without resorting to redundancies and set strategies to ensure that we get through this turbulent time as a team.

“The most severe consequences of the pandemic were suffered by employees whose roles were dependent on flight movements and passenger traffic. Our focus therefore shifted to upskilling our team members, enabling them to safely handle pandemic-related tasks while avoiding outsourcing of certain services, including the fumigation of spaces within the airport campus which was handled by our fire-fighting team. Alleviating the company’s financial distress was of course another priority. It was for this reason that a decision was taken to instate tiered salary reductions across the company, with the CFO and myself taking the highest pay cut of 30 per cent, while our collective agreement staff shifted to a four-day week.

“Despite all this, we tried to keep going wherever we could, including with our strategic investments aimed at diversifying our revenue streams further, as we wanted to make sure we’d be able to rebound swiftly and handle the passenger traffic once we were given the green light to reopen. We also took the opportunity to upgrade our facilities, replacing apron and runway lights with LED alternatives and completing the construction of our €20 million multi-storey car park.

“The road to recovery certainly wasn’t easy as there was no rulebook to guide us through these unprecedented times. In our case, I believe that the hardest part was the constant stopping and starting, given the ever-changing restrictions being imposed on international air travel. I think it’s safe to say that this was the toughest experience of my career so far. With that said, our team was looking towards me and other members of the management team for guidance, and this spurred us to prepare a solid corporate response to the pandemic built on three main pillars: transparent communication, workplace safety and employee wellbeing. I think that the one measure which employees particularly appreciated was the two-way communication channel set up to allow employees to share their work-related concerns and management to provide updates on the company’s way forward. I think it not only helped to reassure employees of their future within the company but more importantly it made staff feel that they were in safe hands as their concerns were being heard and tackled.

“As an airport, we understand that we cannot fully protect ourselves against any similar happenings in the future. However, we remain committed to investing in our facilities and unlocking our potential for future growth. To this end, we have recently announced a five-year investment plan, which will see our company inject millions into the upgrading of our terminal and airfield, while also setting new sustainable standards for the future. Thanks to our dedicated team, we have maintained our position among the best airports in Europe throughout these difficult years and are now exceeding our own expectations in terms of passenger numbers. We are confident that the best times for our airport are yet to come.”

First published as part of a wider feature first carried on MaltaCEOs 2024 print publication, the sister brand to MaltaCEOs.mt.

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