For the last 50 years, A G Investments Ltd, set up by Founders Amy and George Zammit and incpororating all the Zammit siblings from the onset, has delivered for the Group. Sandro Zammit has now embarked on taking this traditional family business to new heights, leading a young and energetic team of hand-picked pillars both from within and outside the family to secure the next decades of the business, while staying true to his comitment to change and development – both of which have served him and the group so well to date.
Sandro Zammit never doubted that he would one day join the family business. As the youngest of four siblings, it was the “unspoken reality of life” that he would step into the company established by his father. By 14, he was already a constant presence; by 20 he was leading a 20- man team at the company’s factory.
“Summer holidays didn’t exist because I was always in and around the factory or the shop,” he recalls. “I didn’t even attend my last three months of Sixth Form because we were setting up the new factory in San Ġwann. As a result, I failed my Accounts A level, which I remember my tutor was very angry about.”
Today, as Head of the Zamco Group of Companies, his role is naturally greatly expanded. But those early steps into the company as a teenager are still something he draws on. “It’s all stayed with me to today,” he says. “Working hands-on, being on the ground. If something goes wrong, the buck always stops with me. If there’s anything missing in any area of the business, I’ll step in wherever I need to.”
Sandro’s journey from then to now has been, as he describes it, “a very long and very interesting one”, and one defined by constant change and growth. “My main problem is that I get bored quickly; as soon as I find myself in a routine, I start going to sleep,” he says with a laugh. “So I’m always trying to develop new ideas, which keeps life interesting – and more complicated, of course.”
It’s no surprise, then, that with Sandro’s vision, the Zamco Group of Companies has continued the family legacy with the steady creation of new avenues of business. The company started life in 1975 selling and then manufacturing disposables, before branching out into packaging services in the 90s, sensing the demand for a higher level of packaging and presentation from the many cottage industries in the food sector that were at the time expanding rapidly. Before long, the company had moved on to selling packaging machinery to other companies, a shift it has successfully replicated multiple times since.
“Pretty much everything we touched for our own use ended up being something we could offer to someone else. And we were always innovative and qualityconscious in terms of both production and presentation,” Sandro explains. “We almost never say no to anything. That’s very tiring, but it’s also very rewarding. Have there been projects which have not been successful? Of course, but that doesn’t mean you don’t try.”
As Zamco continued to invest and see growth and development in its factory and Qormi showroom, the next major development came in 2005 when Zamco seized on an opportunity to enter the food service industry, providing technical services and equipment to the hotels and restaurants sector.
This side of the business continued to develop, until in 2013 a new and unexpected opportunity arose when the company received a request for the supply of commercial-grade barbecues, putting them in touch with American brand Bull. “It was a bit of a shot in the dark,” Sandro says. “Although they looked good, they were expensive, and we had no idea what the future held. We expected to sell one or two to the catering industry, but instead we found huge demand from domestic users.”
Eventually, Sandro met Bull’s owners in the USA, the parties hit it off, and Bull Europe was eventually born, growing into international distribution and expanding into a wider range of outdoor living and outdoor kitchens, which saw a further boost in demand during the pandemic. “Today it represents half our business, and Bull is now a household name in Malta, and is quickly spreading likewise in the EMEA region, which we are also responsible for,” he says.
For Sandro, what unites Zamco’s different ventures and makes them stand out to clients is its team of professionals. “I’ve said for years that product has become irrelevant,” he says. “It’s important to have a good product, but ultimately it’s all about the service you can offer before, during, and after the sale. I regularly remind my team how important it is to form relationships with our clients. We have to get to know them and their business, and to give them what they are looking for.
“This reflects my ethos that it’s important to be in touch with the people around you all the time, understanding them not only on a professional level but on a personal one too. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you always need to be forming relationships.”
These values served the company well through the disruptions of the last few years. After all, the food services sector did suffer during the pandemic and Sandro says the company used this time to focus on its own restructuring, and to ready itself to push on with new brands, new suppliers and new partnerships. Now he believes the sector is set to recover to previous levels and, perhaps, reach new heights.
“Many companies took the opportunity to refurbish and reinvest; that is paying dividends,” he says. “The country’s not stopping and the industry’s not stopping. I don’t see any hesitation in investment in the industry at large, both in the industrial and hospitality sectors.”
But Sandro is also aware that the future is likely to hold new challenges. One he highlights is the fact that disposables – once the cornerstone of the business, today accounting for a much smaller part, yet still synonymous with Zamco – are now a “dying market”, reflecting a decline driven by environmental considerations.
“Rather than trying to delay and delay, the challenge is to think outside the box and opt for reusable rather than disposable. This is something we’re actively looking at and thinking about, because at the end of the day, the choice has to be the customers’. The providers, suppliers and importers will move with that choice.”
On a broader level, Sandro’s outlook for the years ahead is dominated by a three-year plan that will see Zamco investing heavily in the entire group infrastructure, physically restructuring factories and technical areas, shifting technical services, and overhauling the group’s digital systems and online presence.
There’s also a rebranding exercise afoot, consolidating the group’s multiple businesses into two arms: Zamco Industries, for the manufacturing arm, and Zamco Excellence, for sales and trading. “No matter how we named our companies, people always knew us as Zamco, so we thought, if you can’t beat them, join them,” Sandro laughs.
“We chose Excellence because it’s the experience we want everyone to have, both in-house and out. If someone is unhappy doing their job, they’re not going to do it well. And the target is always to keep the customer happy right from the start: giving them solid advice, selling them the right product and then continuing the service as best we can.”
Beyond that is a restructuring plan to move the group from the family business structure that has got it this far, to a corporate governance structure Sandro believes is vital for it to thrive into the future. His three siblings, originally equal shareholders with Sandro and his father, have now eased back, but after some time at a crossroads and even talk of selling – a prospect Sandro admits made him emotional – an agreement for a handover was reached. Sandro is now sole shareholder, with the next generation assured in the shape of a young and eager team of professionals he likes to call ‘Pillars’.
“My role now is to prepare a structure that can work on its own, where shareholding and ownership has no bearing on company leadership,” he says. “That is what will take the company into the next 50 years. After that, well, it won’t be up to me.”
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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