AX Group leads multiple, diverse sectors in Malta, with landmark initiatives across construction, development, healthcare, real estate, hospitality, and renewable energy. Having recently celebrated the launch of the AX ODYCY Hotel, as well as the luxury AX Hotels Valletta properties and the Verdala Terraces, CEO Michael Warrington remains steadfast in his mission to steer AX Group towards sustainable growth.

Hailing from a family of bankers, Michael Warrington’s career seemed set to stay within banking and finance. Yet, as CEO of business diversification leader AX Group, today Michael looks back on a varied, four-decade career that has been as diverse as the group itself.

“Banking was always in my blood,” he reveals, “and I will always find finance interesting, yet my career took me to places where I learnt more about business – and business excited me. I love how it takes hold of an idea and drives it into reality. I’m very much a ‘doer’ – I move beyond the thinking phase – so it was a natural transition from the world of finance to that of business.”

Michael’s time in Malta’s banking arena saw him garner substantial business experience. Aside from contributing to the formation of two subsidiary banks under Bank of Valletta, he helped establish FCM Bank Ltd and restructure Novum Bank Ltd, where he served as CEO between 2013 and 2016. His business aplomb led him to Air Malta, where his tenure as CFO helped the national airline achieve unprecedented profitability. Meanwhile, Michael’s financial experience also equips him to stay ahead in the business market as he is a director on the boards of private and public listed companies such as Cablenet Communications Systems plc, Nissan International Insurance Ltd and Valletta Cruise Port plc. He is also a Fellow of the Malta Institute of Accountants and an Associate Member of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Bankers.

Michael’s “natural transition” to AX Group came when he answered the group’s call for financial advice – a collaboration that would lead to him serving as its CFO from February 2000. In 2016, Michael was appointed as the CEO of the AX Group by its Chairman and Founder, Angelo Xuereb, after whom the group is named.

“Working with Mr Xuereb is exciting and inspirational. He is a doer, like me, so we work together very effectively,” Michael shares. “Where he possesses the vision and entrepreneurial flair that have made the group one of the island’s most successful and diversified organisations, my numbers-oriented mindset helps bring his ideas to fruition.”

Michael compares his role as CEO to that of an orchestra’s conductor. “I ensure that all the instruments are in tune and the orchestra plays together, from the same sheet of music. Sometimes the drums or trumpets may get too loud, so I help them find their way back into our holistic harmony,” he explains. “The role of a CEO is very similar. A CEO oversees the overall direction of the business and coordinates all its different functions, while ensuring the team is happy and thriving, both individually and as a collaborative unit.”

Transparency is essential as a leader, Michael adds, so that everyone in the team understands the organisation’s goals, while working towards their own career aspirations. “I love meeting and motivating people. Some of my proudest moments have been when I’ve inspired someone to grow in their career. Likewise, the success of the management team motivates me,” he smiles.

Although notably never wearing a watch, Michael is renowned for his time management and work ethos. “I’m always energetic when it comes to my passions. I love to get things done,” he says. “I realised very early in life that you must work smart before you work hard. Plan properly, then put your full commitment, passion and resources into achieving something. Celebrate quickly and start planning towards your next goal. Life is a journey, and you must make the most of it with all your energy and curiosity.”

Michael’s total commitment to life extends into his approach to finding a work-life balance in today’s dynamic, fast-paced and increasingly tech-driven business landscape. An advocate for embracing downtime to recharge both mind and body – his own hobbies include carpentry, walking and farming olive trees – Michael encourages a similar mindset in his team. “One of the challenges for today’s CEOs is to manage the expectations of the modern professionals we lead,” he states. “We must provide the motivation, tools and resources they need to succeed, as well as the space to enjoy a healthy work-life balance that both maximises their career potential and prevents burnout. Technology has made things more accessible and affordable, yet it has also made us used to wanting and having almost instantly. As a result, attention spans are shorter, expectations are higher, and contentment is much harder to attain and retain. A CEO must be mindful of this.”

While moderating the impact of technology in today’s working world, it also holds Michael’s focus for AX Group over the coming year. “I see the opportunities arising from AI,” he affirms. “Technology is an enabler and game-changer. I’m excited to see what it can do to help us interact better with our customers and facilitate certain processes. This isn’t about AI taking anyone’s job; it’s about enhancing the team’s resources to help them build their career and fulfil their potential. Our people have always been, and will always be, the power behind the group’s achievements.”

Indeed, AX Group’s team remains one of its key pillars of success, alongside its exceptional property portfolio and robust finances. These pillars have propelled the group from its beginnings in construction towards rapid diversification in other key business sectors such as hospitality and real estate.

Among its major milestones, Michael names the AX Hotels brand which includes AX The Palace in Sliema, as well as the group’s successful launch of Malta’s first retirement village at Hilltop Gardens. More recent achievements pioneer the luxury boutique hospitality space in the island’s capital, with AX Hotels Valletta properties such as AX The Saint John and Rosselli AX Privilege. Likewise, the group has unveiled The Verdala Terraces, an exclusive collection of 87 luxury residences in Rabat, following a major investment.

“We also recently completed the first stage of AX Group’s latest development, AX ODYCY Hotel,” Michael shares. “Formerly Seashells Resort at Suncrest, AX ODYCY is now one of the largest hotels on the island. Here, we’ve created a five-star property with a four-star classification. It has been especially rewarding to see our happy guests and the increased investment the project has inspired in Qawra.”

And while 2024 brings the second phase of the AX ODYCY project, Michael is already looking towards the group’s next milestone: its key role as one of the founding companies of the Malta ESG Alliance.

“At a national and international level, people are deeply concerned about the built environment,” he asserts. “Legislation is on the way, and we, as a group, want to lead and influence that discussion, so that the industry can become safer, cleaner and more environmentally friendly, with a steady shift towards quality. Businesses must work with, not against, the environment, at every stage of every process. Malta is lucky to have an incredible built heritage, which our forefathers constructed. Now, construction must be about restoring and protecting our heritage while building our future.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2024 – 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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