“With hard work, dedication and some foresight, one can achieve his dreams,” asserts Alexander George Zammit, as Sandro’s official name goes. Coined by his late father George P. Zammit, this family motto has become the cornerstone of Sandro’s life and work, following a childhood that gave him a front-row seat to the power of hard work and seizing opportunity.
“My father founded Zamco in 1975, when I was just five years old. He was always full of ideas and dreams, working long hours with three hugely different active businesses on the go. We all became involved at a young age; some of my earliest memories were of shop talk at the dinner table, where we religiously gathered daily as a family.”
Sandro’s first real-work experience was also catalysed by his father. “When I was 14, my dad asked me to help in the factory because it was understaffed due to the village feast. I remember not batting an eyelid and saying ‘sure’. It seemed to mean a lot to him as he said, ‘today, to me, you have become a man.’ I carry that memory with me to this day.”
Alongside his schooling, Sandro’s work in the family business kept developing. “I had earned so much experience in manufacturing that I needed to be involved in the set-up of the machinery and offices when we moved to the new factory in San Gwann. But that led to me failing my accounting exam – much to the dismay of my teacher. Nevertheless, six years later I was made responsible for the company accounts, when my passion for Excel flourished while I decoded the web of interlinked spreadsheets it was based on. To this day, I still personally prepare full management accounts up to audit stage.”
Aged just 20, Sandro found himself leading a 20-strong team at the factory when his father took the first of his three retirements. Later, his father came out of retirement to set up a new venture, manufacturing and supplying lace paper doyleys internationally, while Sandro’s technically skilled brother Simon diversified into the packaging machinery business that would become AG Packaging Systems.
Meanwhile, Sandro took on modern production lines for film, foil, baking paper, toilet rolls and kitchen towels in the manufacturing plant. “My father returned to the business in 2002 and set his sights on a showroom in Qormi that would raise our Group’s profile exponentially. I remember the then-BOV Executive Chairman Tonio Depasquale looking directly at me and saying, ‘now you have everything you need, do not let anything prevent you from doing whatever you dream of’. There are very few people whose statements have stayed with me throughout my career, but this was one of them.”
The new set-up saw the four businesses previously run by each of the Zammit siblings now pooling their skills. While sharing a common office for the first time, they explored new ventures in sourcing, supplying and installing food service equipment, culminating in two major contracts supplying a new complex with multiple kitchens, as well as another state-of-the-art kitchen for a premium hotel. “It was a baptism of fire as all the installations coincided in the same month, but, as always, our great team made it work,” Sandro recollects.
A chance call from one of these customers in 2013 asking him to source two industrial barbeques then paved Sandro’s path towards Bull. “I came across Bull Outdoor Products online. Their grills looked sturdy, powerful and hard-wearing, with very encouraging specs and warranties.” Sandro contacted the US supplier and arranged for three massively heavy Bull Grill Carts to be shipped to Malta by air freight, two for the customer and one spare.
“Two weeks after delivery the customer called and my heart skipped a beat – but he went on to compliment us on our product, advising that they were thrilled with its performance, and reporting they had grilled for 1,500 guests with perfect timing and food finish,” he shares. “We decided to set up the spare Grill Cart in our showroom in Qormi and the feedback received from customers was amazing. Interest became enquiries and enquiries became sales, but mostly for private home users.”
After air freighting Bull Grills from the US for 18 months, Sandro pitched the idea that they might supply Bull products beyond Malta. “I knew that if Malta had such a keen interest in this product, it was likely to be reflected across Europe, so I engaged in discussions with the California-based Bull operation about a representation agreement that would enable us to supply customers outside of Malta.”
Following a visit by Sandro and Simon to Bull Outdoor Products in California in late 2014, Bull Inc owner Mark Nureddine and his VP Frank Mello, agreed that they would indeed lead the Bull brand and manufacture outdoor kitchens in Europe. By June 2015, the Malta factory was rolling out the first Bull European-made Bull Outdoor Kitchens – a quick success that Sandro credits to his siblings and his hard-working team.
“I had called our warehouse manager after that US meeting and jokingly said that we were going to need the warehousing area we used to use for the doyleys. I returned the Monday following and was completely gobsmacked to find the entire warehouse of 300sqm cleared of everything to enable this to happen!”
“But that is the mountain of support and encouragement I receive from my team, who are my second family. They are the driving force behind the many achievements of the company. I very much believe in teamwork and will always get my hands (and clothes!) dirty working beside them, particularly when it comes to meeting a deadline. I’m not their boss; I’m their teammate.”
And it was this unparalleled work ethic of the Bull Europe team that bolstered it as the company rode the tsunami of new demand created by the COVID-19 pandemic. “Since people were staying at home, suddenly there was a surge of customers seeking Bull products and outdoor kitchens for their properties,” Sandro explains.
“Once the first cases were announced in Malta, I offered everyone the option of taking time off to shield or care for family members, without any loss of earnings or benefits, but no-one accepted since the workload had increased so much. Instead, we ‘isolated together’ as a team and made it work. And because of that, we never missed a beat.”
While the pandemic presented new opportunities for Bull Europe, it also offered Sandro fresh perspectives. “This year has given us more confidence and the courage to hold large amounts of stock in Malta. Personally, it has also reaffirmed that gathering as a family is priceless. It’s so satisfying to know that we provide a means of bringing families together, which will be of even greater importance to so many in the future.”
And the future certainly looks bright for Bull Europe Ltd, with Sandro at the helm. “We are becoming more self-sufficient, investing heavily in IT to further improve the customer experience, and exploring new products such as water features, fire pits and fire tables. We are also building a grilling school that will provide professional masterclasses for local enthusiasts, to share the fun of outdoor living even further.”
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.
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