When asked to name the landmark moment in his career that has, thus far, spanned more than 30 years, Karl Azzopardi pauses, ponders, then offers a characteristically contagious smile. “It would be unfaithful to all the other opportunities I have experienced to name just one,” he says.
“I like to think of life as I think of my work: as a continuous learning curve. I’m always on the lookout for challenges, as every challenge brings with it a valuable chance to learn, to grow and to improve. My life has been a chain reaction of continuous improvement.”
Such an emphasis on learning and personal evolution is perhaps understandable for someone who had originally planned on pursuing the sciences as a career, before chance and simple logistics colluded to inspire a change in direction. “As a student I was into the sciences, so I initially intended to become a pharmacist. But the year I applied, they didn’t have enough students to fill the course, so I opted instead for a bridge job in the administration section of the Central Bank of Malta.”
This temporary sidestep into the banking sector, however, quickly became more permanent. “An opportunity arose there and I was introduced to a project manager, who gave me a segue into the construction industry and into project management services,” he explains.
Karl’s transition into the industry was elevated by a determination to learn his craft. He has earned diplomas in project management, logistics and procurement, for instance, as well as in operations management from Cambridge International College. He also holds a certificate in construction management from the University of Malta and an MBA that specialised in project management and business administration from the University of Wales.
Meanwhile, these extensive qualifications have complemented a wealth of experience garnered from multiple roles across three decades in the project management sphere. Karl’s impressive CV lists stints as the Head of Operations and Management at the Valletta Cruise Port, as the Director for Science Popularisation at the Malta Council for Science and Technology (MCST), and then as the Senior Projects Manager on a range of prominent projects across the Maltese islands.
“Over the years I have relished the opportunities to meet so many different people, discover so many different projects, impact so many different industries – to add real value to the world,” Karl continues, remembering his time pioneering the National Interactive Science Project following the launch of the Esplora Science Centre, as well as his substantial contribution towards the Valletta Waterfront project.
“All my collective career experiences – and each one I truly cherish for the lessons learned along the way – have given me the tools I use daily in my role today as CEO. They have taught me to be organised, pragmatic and how to assess risk,” he says.
“But most of all I have learned that, no matter the industry, one must understand the product to understand the organisation. We are here for a specific product. You can’t instil a new culture or process, or tailor solutions, without understanding the product first.”
This people- and product-oriented mindset is also evident in Karl’s approach to leadership. “It’s the people who make the organisation; the people who make the team spirit,” he affirms.
“As a CEO, my job is about striking a balance between reaching company targets and managing risk, while also maintaining good communication with the team who, after all, are the ones who make it all happen. That means generating respect, being both pragmatic and practical at the same time, encouraging positivity and sharing the rewards.”
Karl’s lifelong quest for continuous improvement is applied here too. “Teamwork is the lifeblood of our organisation – success is a result of that all-important chain reaction of teamwork, learning, perseverance and constant improvement – so if there’s success, it’s shared by all. They are my second family, the office our second home,” he confides.
Buoyed by Karl’s positive outlook and signature ‘smile for everyone’, the INDIS Malta team has celebrated many company milestones since he joined the organisation as CEO in 2016. “We are a forward-facing organisation, so have embarked on a number of projects that will ensure the infrastructure is in place to future-proof industry in Malta,” he explains.
“Future proofing is central to our strategy over the coming years, through the regeneration of industrial spaces that recognise the ever-changing processes within the manufacturing industry. Likewise, we must stay sensitive and sensible to the needs of the environment. Green infrastructure is firmly in our focus, ensuring that we make the most of vertical space and avoid deviating out of development zones.”
While making the most of the extremely limited space available on the island, Karl is also tasked with leading an organisation that is the industry landlord for an increasingly diverse range of sectors. “Apart from manufacturing, there is continued growth in Malta in the knowledgebased and ICT sectors. We also expect a surge to regenerate the aviation sector following the pandemic,” he continues.
“Then, of course, there are the financial services, crafts, pharmaceutical and logistics sectors, as well as evolving small- and medium-sized enterprises – Malta is one big hive of activity!”
This industrial ‘hive of activity’ in Malta – as in every country in the world – nevertheless hit a sudden roadblock with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020. “As a landlord, we had to quickly address risk assessment and contingency plans in terms of each company’s liquidity, while becoming more flexible regarding rental payments,” Karl recalls. “Of course, we also had our own company liquidity to consider, so had to strike a balance between Governmental policy and our own buffers.”
While the team adapted to the radically changing business landscape, the pandemic meanwhile offered INDIS Malta the opportunity to take a step back and optimise. “We used to plan long-term, but now the short-term is becoming more important,” Karl adds. “We now think differently. The slowdown has given us a chance to reinvest, rejuvenate and reinvent.”
And this reinvention was realised on no uncertain terms, with a total rebranding of Malta Industrial Parks Ltd into INDIS Malta Ltd in November 2020, in unison with the launch of a major infrastructural investment programme for Malta’s industrial sites exceeding €470 million.
“The programme for industrial infrastructure is the largest of its kind to ever take place in Malta,” Karl elaborates. “It was included in Malta’s Budget 2021 as a key part of supporting the country’s economic growth following the pandemic. With a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency, the programme is set to expand the Malta Life Sciences Park, regenerate the former Luqa dump and upgrade the Kordin Business Incubation Centre, alongside many other projects that will benefit the community.”
And as Karl and the team implement the first year of the programme in 2021, they will also be continuing their important work under the INDIS banner, such as the ongoing renovation of Ta’ Qali Crafts Village. “Our philosophy remains to support, so we are doing everything we can to promote local artisans by creating a family-oriented hub for their crafts,” he concludes. “We are hugely proud of this project and look forward to launching it in late 2021 – it’s another chance for us to add value to Malta.”
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.
With an extensive background in entrepreneurship and tech, Gareth Genner combined his passions to launch start-up company, Trust Stamp.
Reuben has been running the business, set up by his father in 1984, for almost 20 years.
Agenzija Żghażagh provides young people with the time and space to make friends, learn new things and develop their talents.
The CEO of EBO, an artificial intelligence firm established to connect businesses with their customers through AI-based conversation automation, shares ...