It’s not every day that two companies who are each a leader in their respective fields, join forces. And when it does happen, the result is bound to make an impact.
Such is the case here, with Prohealth – a leader in the pharmaceutical and dermo-cosmetic market in Malta and Libya – set to acquire TrioMed Ltd, a foremost local supplier of medical equipment representing international market leading brands that include Philips Healthcare, Hologic, Linet and others.
And as the companies gear up for the journey forward together, MaltaCEOs catches up with the leaders behind the acquisition on both sides to learn more.
First, there’s Peter Apap, CEO of Prohealth. A pharmacist by profession, Peter teamed up with fellow pharmacists John Jaccarini and Andrew Paris to set up Prohealth in 1995. “Having built the company from scratch together, we’ve all done a bit of everything over the years, though more recently my focus has been on sales, marketing and business development,” he explains, by way of introduction.
Representing brands such as La Roche-Posay, Vichy, Ursapharm, Rowex, Galderma and Kin, Prohealth has gone from strength to strength since its outset. Over the past five years, it has also strengthened its presence in both the private and public medical devices market in Malta with the set-up of its Medical Devices Business Unit, helmed by Mark Bondin, Medical Devices Unit Manager, who brings his experience, both commercial and as an Operating Theatre Manager to bear on his role at Prohealth.
Meanwhile, TrioMed’s outgoing Managing Director Alex Vella is a technical person at heart, starting his career working for Philips Healthcare, installing and repairing their machines. Later moving to management, he went on to join forces with two of his colleagues, Ian Vella and Charles Cascun, to form TrioMed Ltd in 2005. “We started off as a service supplier of Philips products for Malta, Libya and Tunisia, and eventually also started commercial activities locally, first for Philips and then for other brands,” he explains.
Looking back on Prohealth’s journey leading up to this point, Peter recalls, “we were in our 20s when we started Prohealth, at a time when there were a lot of opportunities in Malta. Our growth, however, has really accelerated in recent years.” Expanding their focus beyond pharmaceuticals, which remains their core business, he says, the company also delved successfully into the fields of dermo-cosmetics and dental care, but ultimately, one of the most important decisions they took, according to the CEO, is growing beyond Malta’s shores. “We started looking at foreign markets, beginning with Libya in 2004. Today, despite the upheavals, we’re market leaders there with a good number of our brands, and we are also looking at other developing markets,” he says.
Another important development for Prohealth was moving to new premises, where the company has been housed on Mdina Road, Zebbug, since 2011. “This gave us more scope for growth, and catalysed the company’s people development drive,” says the CEO, explaining that before the TrioMed acquisition, Prohealth was made up of 50 people in Malta, who do everything from distribution to marketing. “We now have a vision to keep growing the company, and the acquisition is very much a part of that,” he adds.
Speaking of setting up of the company’s medical devices unit, Peter explains that the focus here can range from antiseptic wipes and COVID-19 swabs to cochlear implants and medical equipment used during surgeries in operating theatres. “We were a bit limited in this area, and TrioMed was an opportunity for us, as it brought a number of complementary strengths and opportunities, with very few, if any, antagonistic ones,” he maintains, adding that the business of Triomed is very focused on diagnostic and imaging capital equipment like Ultrasounds, MRIs, Mammography systems and CTs, where the importance of servicing and technical support quality is vital.
“Triomed’s biggest strength is their reputation for customer service and technical excellence, which really made it stand out to us, coupled with some world-leading brands like Philips Healthcare and Hologic. We felt that their strengths matched our weaknesses, and that with our respective qualities, we could drive more growth and complement each other,” the CEO continues.
Nodding in agreement, Alex maintains that TrioMed started out as a customer support company, contracted by Philips to provide customer services for Libya, Malta and Tunisia. “We soon became distributors of Philips products in those countries, and our focus was always on giving a good service to our customers. We grew slowly, and added more brands, keeping to our focus on technical equipment,” he explains, noting that prior to the acquisition, TrioMed was a small company made up of seven people, all of whom have a technical background. “When we were approached by Prohealth, it made a lot of sense – we were at a point where we were thinking, ‘what’s next?’ and this came about at the right time.”
Reflecting on how the medical devices industry has developed over the years, Mark says there’s a lot of new medical technology coming into the market, as well as new therapeutic areas developing within the market internationally. “Locally, the number of players in the market is growing, with lots of small companies entering the market. What we are doing is focusing on new areas like interventional radiology and implants that can give more benefit to patients; we’re working a lot in audiology and cardiology too and working to introduce new procedures in Malta.”
From TrioMed’s perspective, Alex affirms that the market was previously limited to diagnostic imaging and medical equipment used during hospital stays, whereas now the focus is shifting more towards preventive care and minimally invasive procedures. “The vision of a company like Philips is to prevent people from going to hospital – the goal is now to start monitoring for any health issues from the day you are born, and well-before they become bigger problems,” he says, adding that another change insofar as the industry is concerned is the greater demands, due to virtually 24×7 health monitoring requirements . “Our equipment is often operating between 18 and 20 hours per day, hence the demand on the technical people has increased.”
Moving forward, Peter affirms that TrioMed is one of the cornerstones of Prohealth’s 2025 vision, and the first item on the agenda is the integration of the team. TrioMed will remain fully operational as a company, even now that the shareholding has been transferred to Prohealth. It will be led by Mark, with Alex leading business development, and his fellow founders developing the technical department further, for the first few years at least. “For us, there are two priorities: first, business continuity and stability, and then growth. The first is the more important and is what we’re focusing on. We need to take care of all existing clients and their equipment. In parallel, we will start expanding our installed base, entering new therapeutic areas and markets with the exciting solutions eHealth and Digital Technology offer high on our agenda,” Peter explains.
“Ultimately, we think that this combination will give us a lot of strength, together with access to new therapeutic areas, pulling on the history and the equity of the two companies working together. I think it is also going to give us a different perspective to the market, in turn helping to grow our mindset and develop our personnel by offering them new, exciting opportunities,” he adds.
Beyond the acquisition, the CEO says there’s a lot more on the agenda for Prohealth in the coming years, with the company focused on looking at new markets and maintaining its market position. “We’ve recently launched another skincare brand from L’Oréal Dermatological Beauty, Cerave, in Malta and Libya. We’re also looking at some other African markets for these brands; while growing our Pharmaceuticals business further in Malta, also giving the deserved importance to the public Pharma Tender market where we represent brands like Hikma, so there’s a lot going on,” Peter smiles, admitting that the primary challenge the company is likely to face is creating the infrastructure for this – be it physical space, IT and networking. “The hardest thing is probably HR – we believe that a company is only as good as its people. I feel we have a very strong, passionate team at every level; however, recruitment is always a challenge,” he says.
Linked to this, I ask Peter, Mark and Alex for their thoughts on what it takes to be a good business leader, and their replies centre on caring for their team. “You need to lead by example and walk the talk. It’s also important to be honest and transparent with your people. Lastly, you need to communicate freely, clearly and directly to the right people, at the right time, using the right medium,” says Peter; as Mark adds, “empathy is also an important quality for a leader; as well as clear and inclusive communication internally.” Finally, on Alex’s part, his top qualities are “to listen and always put yourself in the other person’s shoes.”
Finally, sharing their most important leadership lessons, Peter underlines the importance of credibility, describing it as “priceless”, while Mark affirms that “you have to be there for the team, not the other way around.” Nodding in agreement, Alex rounds it off with his own lesson: “the most important thing is to understand the needs of your employees and clients alike and support them in any way you can.”
This interview forms part of the 50 Business Leaders project. The new online serialisation on MaltaCEOs.mt will feature 50 distinguished business leaders, CEOs, and emerging business minds to create debate and encourage business leaders to share their journey with our readers.
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