Describing his position as CEO of the Mercury Towers by Zaha Hadid Project as a hybrid role, CEO Marcel Bonnici distinguishes between two clear phases: the pre-opening launch – which he has been actively involved in for some three years – followed by the operational launch. The latter is just around the corner for the project, and marks the start of a new and exciting journey for the CEO and his team.
“During the initial period of the Mercury Towers project, my focus was on each aspect of the project – from the development of our purpose and direction, to defining a product that is unlike anything the country has seen, as well as setting the tone of things to come,” Marcel Bonnici explains, discussing his role so far and underlining how important it is that his team’s work does justice to starchitect Zaha Hadid’s final project prior to her passing – and, in so doing, securing Mercury Towers’ legacy.
“This has been a complex yet exciting challenge,” he says. “From supply chain management and procurement in a COVID-19 world to deep negotiation with local and international partners, as well as leading a multi-national team of world-class designers and technicians… well, the list goes on,” Marcel notes.
Apart from this, an ongoing process has been the drafting of a resilient management structure and securing the right talent. “We are setting up a team that will lead a seamless operation to set us on the road to success and deliver on our promise, which is to exceed expectations,” he describes, affirming that much thought and consideration has gone into developing a robust corporate brand strategy that will underpin all aspects of business. It will also guide its short, medium, and long-term strategy.
And with the opening within reach, the CEO says, “the Mercury Towers vision is now springing to life and the pieces of the puzzle are coming together – you really get a sense of the place as a living breathing entity. It is a wonderful thing, and we cannot wait to open our doors and share it with the public.”
Unsurprisingly, Marcel considers his position at Mercury Towers as a significant landmark in his career, describing it as “a privilege to watch history rising so closely.” Prior to this, 25 years as Head of Jobsplus Operations for Gozo left an indelible mark on the way he does business and has stood him in good stead when it comes to people management and human behaviour in the workplace. “It enables me to effectively maximise the output of our human resources and provide the skills of brokering employer/employee relations, as is crucial for a project of this scale. It’s something that can also be extended to the various stakeholders involved,” he explains.
Interestingly, earlier in his career Marcel also served as an Officer for the Armed Forces of Malta. This, as one would expect, provided a strong perspective on the importance of discipline.
“Without discipline, a team cannot be led and goals cannot be met. I emphasise the importance of discipline in every scenario, as it is critical to the thorough coordination and execution of tasks, and also reflects on an individual’s own determination to succeed. It is ultimately our people who will deliver a distinguishable image that sets us above other industry players,” he maintains.
Backed by his academic background in economics and strategic management, Marcel goes on to explain that his leadership style is built on three main pillars: “discipline, which carries undisputed importance and which should form the basis of any journey; respect, where manners, consideration and mindfulness are demonstrated openly; and teamwork, the importance of which I liken to the image of an orchestra, where irrespective of the instrument and its size, none is more important than the other as each impacts the final outcome.
“What one can achieve individually is limited, but what we can achieve with the commitment and input of our team is boundless,” he continues, adding that it is important that each member of the team feels valued, and that his or her strengths are developed and achievements recognised.
“I am here to foster an environment and culture that allow people to work together, for things to truly come together,” Marcel says, highlighting that the challenge therein is identifying skill sets and understanding characters, to build a team of people where the dynamic really works.
“This is among the most complex aspects of leadership and is a skill that is honed and developed through experience. You can recruit the most illustrious talent, which, in the context of a team, sadly doesn’t perform, and places the success of the operation at risk. My role is to find pieces to fit the puzzle, and to make the machine operate as it should. Only then can we stand to do great things.”
Marcel’s leadership style is defined through open, clear and consistent communication. “Without it, the three pillars of respect, discipline and teamwork which underpin my ethos will fail to be understood,” he maintains.
Turning his attention to the illustrious project itself, the CEO explains that Joseph Portelli’s pioneering vision for property in Malta and Gozo has reached an unprecedented level by engaging, for the first time ever, a top international architect to design a private project, giving Mercury Towers uniqueness and an international dimension.
“A great aspect of having Zaha Hadid Architects as our partners is their belief in always striving for perfection,” he says, describing this ethos of perfection as something he intends to emulate in his own team’s way of doing things.
“Our overarching goal is to always challenge the status quo, do things differently, deliver the highest calibre in all we do and, hopefully, ‘produce perfection’,” Marcel maintains, noting that this goes for both the intangible and the tangible, where a striking architectural statement is already being built.
“Apart from its obvious height, Mercury Towers by Zaha Hadid includes the iconic ‘Twist’, which is a feat of engineering covering three floors, and which also fully integrates a heritage site into an iconic structure while preserving the original build, almost in its entirety,” the CEO explains, referencing the immense financial implications that come with it, and the aim to raise the bar on the approach to quality and design. “We hope this will inspire positive change,” he says.
“In terms of the quality of our built environment, Paceville has long been an urban area desperate for regeneration. Now we are already witnessing the roll-on effect in the surrounding areas, where dirty, derelict buildings are being regenerated and low- grade establishments are being replaced with bistros and coffee shops suitable for the entire family,” Marcel says, affirming that this is no coincidence. “Thorough studies were carried out prior to commissioning the project, and similar scenarios have been witnessed with Zaha Hadid’s monuments serving as catalysts for positive change in other locations. An immense and most visible contribution is therefore the elevated aesthetics that will, in turn, be enjoyed by the local community.”
Once ready, the impressive structure will house a five-star luxury hotel – ME by Melia – two international signature restaurants, a further 20 F&B outlets, a state-of-the-art entertainment centre, a multi-sensory walk-through experience, and a retail mix comprising luxury, premium, medium, and entry level brands that will also offer residents a unique lifestyle offering. “Our aim was to attract new investment to Malta and provide the market with a completely new lifestyle experience. We have succeeded in creating a city-within-a- city, so to speak,” Marcel says.
Looking back on the journey so far, the CEO cannot help but mention the impact of the pandemic, which he says made this complex project even more challenging. “The partial-lockdown in 2020 forced us to take a step back and slow our pace, providing an opportunity for us to come together as a team and form a kind of ‘think tank’,” he notes. “COVID-19 played a part in the Mercury Towers destiny, and I can confidently say that the period helped develop ideas that are going to result in something even more special,” he smiles.
Turning his attention to the year ahead, the CEO reveals that 2022 will see the finalisation of many processes, including corporate, operational and brand SOPs, the establishment of the management team structure, and the launch of several elements of the service product. Therein, Marcel says, “finding the right people is a challenge, yet in each new recruit lies our biggest opportunity to do even greater things. This is why the challenge of on-boarding is so important: it establishes the Mercury Towers vision and ethos from the outset, and sets common goals that define a shared mindset in anticipation of our launch.”
This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.
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