AX Group is a household name in Malta, operating in key business sectors including construction, development, real estate, renewable energy, healthcare and hospitality. With business diversification at its core, the Group has driven many landmark projects – from hotels to the island’s first retirement village. Today, CEO Michael Warrington continues AX Group’s mission to pioneer innovative projects that will power Malta’s future with creativity, determination and integrity.
An essential for any CEO, says Michael Warrington, is time to think. “In life, you must work smart before you work hard,” he asserts. “If you are clever and focused in your approach, while following a carefully considered plan, you will achieve far more effective results.”
Indeed, as CEO of AX Group – the leading diversified corporation behind some of the milestone projects that define Malta today – Michael understands the need for careful planning more than most.
Focus is critical in all you do, just as much as resourcefulness, integrity and communication are fundamental to success,” he goes on. “As CEO, I am the group’s ‘thinker’. I oversee and coordinate its development, while motivating and collaborating with many people – who are all central to the business – to achieve its objectives. It involves a high degree of daily decision-making, so I must take that time to reflect and give every task my full attention.”
When it comes to effective decision-making, Michael’s financial background and extensive experience certainly help. Over the course of his varied career spanning more than 40 years, he has contributed to the formation of two subsidiary banks of Bank of Valletta and served as CFO of Air Malta, at a time when the airline achieved unprecedented profitability.
He was instrumental in establishing FCM Bank Ltd in 2011 and in restructuring Novum Bank Ltd between 2013 and 2016, which he led as CEO. A Certified Public Accountant, a Fellow of the Malta Institute of Accountants and an Associate Member of the UK’s Chartered Institute of Bankers, Michael also serves as a director on the boards of multiple local and international private and public listed companies, including GO plc, Citadel Insurance plc, Nissan International Insurance Ltd and Valletta Cruise Port plc.
Yet, it is his more-than 20-year association with AX Group that he counts as the landmark of his career. “The group first approached me for financial advice, which led to my accepting a role as CFO in February 2000,” Michael recalls. “I held that role until 2016, when the AX Group Chairman and Founder Angelo Xuereb appointed me CEO. As such, I’ve found that an understanding of the financial side is beneficial. To lead an organisation, you must understand the key drivers of the business, and most businesses measure their success by their financial results. To know the numbers and understand the implications of those numbers is an advantage when driving steady, year-on-year growth.”
And growth, at AX Group, is a keyword. Taking the initials of Founder Angelo Xuereb when he established it more than four decades ago, the company initially operated solely in the construction sector. However, rapid diversification followed, first into development and hospitality then, later, healthcare.
From the start, Michael explains, this was a family business with a progressive outlook. “Angelo recognised early on that, given Malta’s size, diversification was key. One of the group’s defining moments was around 30 years ago, when it launched a 450-room hotel – the Suncrest. At the time, many were sceptical that such a large property could ever enjoy full occupancy. Yet, Angelo, as a man ahead of his time, had the vision that there would be the need – and the rest is history.”
The group has continued to enjoy success ever since. While AX Group subsidiaries have been listed on the Malta Stock Exchange since 1997, in 2018 the company consolidated its various businesses under the AX brand, with net assets standing at €220 million in October of that year.
Today, along with seven hotels under the AX Hotels brand, the group manages Hilltop Gardens and Simblija Care Home – the first retirement village in Malta – as well as being a shareholder in Valletta Waterfront and the only Maltese shareholder in the Valletta Cruise Port. “From providing the elderly with a secure and comfortable place in which they can live independently, to upgrading the Sliema area with the AX Palace Hotel and St James Capua Hospital – Malta’s largest private health entity – we have always been involved in projects that build communities and contribute to the well-being of people in Malta,” Michael goes on.
And now, with the second generation of the Xuereb family actively involved in the business, it is mobilising its familyrun approach to stay on top of its many different and evershifting markets, as it transitions further. “Angelo has always believed in surrounding himself with the right people for the right job, regardless of whether they are family or not. AX has a well-governed and independent board of directors, and a management team, including myself, of predominantly nonfamily members. Joining them are family members who are as equally dedicated and adaptable, who build and maintain connections across a variety of professional associations. We share this rich knowledge base as a formal body twice a month, at a forum to collate the information needed to make key decisions and determine our strategy.”
These decisions also adhere to the group’s core values regarding quality, creativity, integrity and determination, which have been just as instrumental to its ongoing success as its expert team that lives by them. “We are proud to take on innovative, challenging and ambitious projects, keeping integrity at the core of everything we do,” Michael elaborates.
“In terms of development on the island, we focus purely on producing quality with attention to detail, constantly asking ourselves: ‘how will this work in the real world?’ We have never envisaged joining the mass production market. Instead, we ensure we work as respectfully and sensitively to the fabric of the building and the local heritage during restoration projects, or that we offer quality in new builds by using materials that minimise environmental impact and which optimise natural light. Addressing climate change must now be a priority across all industry. We aim to create projects that are not just aesthetically pleasing when newly constructing buildings, but which will remain so throughout their life; that don’t just serve the community today but will continue to do so for the Malta of years to come.”
Nevertheless, since 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought monumental challenges for the global tourism sector, which, while on the road to recovery, still faces new obstacles in the wake of other world events such as the war in Ukraine. “A strong management team helps us thrive and succeed through these challenging times, which reiterate the importance of agility and focus,” the CEO highlights. And these traits will hold AX Group in good stead throughout the busy year ahead, he shares: “2023 will be an important year for us. We hope that hospitality will return to 2019 levels, just as we open the newly revamped 600-room Suncrest Hotel and Lido, set to make Qawra a destination of choice in Malta.”
And another major project in the pipeline likewise promises to become a game-changer both for the group and the island, Michael reveals. “The final stages of the redevelopment of the former Grand Hotel Verdala in Rabat will continue this year too, creating a luxurious residential complex and five-star hotel that will open in 2024. With an optimistic outlook, we will continue to seize opportunities as they arise, with a vision to become a half-a-billion-euro business by 2025.”
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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