11 DECEMBER 2002

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Diversifying with the times

With the ever-growing globalisation of business and Malta’s prospect of joining the world’s largest open market - the European Union - Guillaumier Group Chairman and CEO Anthony Guillaumier speaks to David Lindsay about the company’s roots and how it has realigned its business to meet the challenges of today’s rapidly changing business world

Businesses across Malta have been seeking the formula for restructuring their operations with a view to the challenges ahead. The Guillaumier Group, today headed by Anthony Guillaumier, provides a good example of just how this can be done.

After some 70 years of operation, the Group last year saw the implementation of its strategic plan to redimension its core business from its roots as a predominantly manufacturing group of companies to the group of commercial and technological business units with overseas orientations it is today.

Guillaumier was one of the pioneers of the Maltese manufacturing industry at the time of its founding back in the 1930s when it became involved in the manufacturing of mirrors and glass, products with which the family name had become synonymous.

At the time manufacturing was a good business to be in, current Guillaumier Group Chairman and CEO Anthony Guillaumier explains, and Anthony’s father, Saviour, was quick to expand and establish the company as a market leader in architectural aluminium contracts both in Malta and overseas.

He then expanded further and set up the first pre-stressed post-tensioned concrete factory in Malta and moved into the manufacturing of baby diapers, hospital and hygiene disposables and chemical/stone wash garment finishing.

Up until the late 1990s the Group had employed over 600 workers over seven industrial locations – comprising in excess of 30,000 square metres of production area and was widely regarded as one of the leading family businesses in Malta.

However, now with the changing face of the world’s, and Malta’s, business scenario the Guillaumier Group has realigned its operations to best capitalise on the future. As a result of this realignment, Guillaumier has let go of its manufacturing concerns and today the holding company is involved in some ten different companies of a very different nature.

Anthony Guillaumier explains, "What we have done is we have moved from our former manufacturing business to commercial set ups that have a high technological profile and export project possibilities.

"Now, unlike in former days, there isn’t really one single business identifiable with us as such. Today the business has become far more dynamic now that we are more primarily a commercial business, with an added servicing aspect, as opposed to a manufacturing concern and in line with this, we are constantly changing the profile of our business."

Of course, the Group always had certain parallels between the two business sectors, with medical equipment suppliers Technoline for example, which was set up some 25 years ago when Guillaumier was still very much entrenched in the manufacturing industry.

Guillaumier explains, "At a point in time we had engaged consultants to gauge how our businesses were developing and it transpired that certain businesses, unless you belong to a large overseas group that has set up in Malta to make use of local conditions, were facing a problematic future due to increasing costs, competition and a number of other elements. Now we sell goods to Libya, as an example, and we don’t even see them, apart from the paperwork."

But does Guillaumier see increased business opportunities arising with increased globalisation and Malta’s EU membership bid, I ask?

"That depends very much on the individual and the personality of who you are asking," Guillaumier explains. "I myself am a very positive person but quite frankly it’s hard to tell. I think some businesses, such as the smaller manufacturers, will probably face some difficult times unless they are lucky enough to find a strategic partner.

"However, I do think that other opportunities will be created and the business environment, in general, will improve. But you need to move quickly in this day and age of increasingly rapid communications, in which business decisions are taken and put into effect quickly. A decision that you make today might become obsolete by the next month.

"The Group’s set up today is much leaner and is more widely spread out. We no longer operate in one single area where if something goes wrong, like what happened with the tourism and leisure industry recently, you are in a lot of trouble.

"Our business today is the business of businesses and we are constantly looking into new opportunities. I myself look deeply at each potential business prospect and any idea that may arise because you never know where it could lead you. That is how the best ideas and ventures are formed.

"But to answer your question, I believe that new opportunities will be created as long as one is willing to look out for opportunities from the changing business world. Many of our successes have come about like that. You cannot wait and let opportunities come to you; you have to actively seek them out.

"I love creating new things and the challenge it presents. For example, I set up the Richmond Foundation after seeing an advert on a plane to London. From that advert we now have 20 full time employees there – helping people in the fields of mental health, support, housing and job opportunities. Through the Foundation we also run a programme with companies in Malta through which it is providing counselling to employees. These come to us incognito and the employer wouldn’t even know they had any work related problems. But these problems seriously affect the place of work and the efficiency of the company - most of the sick leave taken by employees is much of the time the result of stress, which manifests itself in a lot of ways both physically and mentally.

"Particularly in manufacturing, workers can begin to feel akin to robots – performing the same operations day after day.

"People need challenges and that’s what’s interesting about the dynamics that we are operating with now. Of course we have had some failures as well, you do make mistakes, but what I like is that we have a spread of different businesses in our portfolio.

"Every company under the Guillaumier umbrella runs independently, while here at the head office we study new projects and ideas and at the same time we ensure that information coming in from the different companies is monitored and administered.

"However, the different companies under the Group operate completely in there own right. That’s the secret of how these companies manage to flourish, by keeping them separate and, strictly speaking, our different companies have nothing to do with each other, save the Guillaumier element within them."

Today the Guillaumier Group is far more streamlined than it was in its former manufacturing-oriented days, when it once employed several hundred workers.

"At 120, today we employ far fewer than we did as a manufacturing-based Group of companies and, as such, the Group is much leaner than it was once in the past,” Guillaumier adds.

"I always keep an open door policy with employees because the most important thing in business is your relations with people. Business is all about the people involved, it’s not the machines – financing and capital are more easily found– but it’s the respect for the individual, his dignity and his rights and the way you treat him that truly count. That’s something I inherited from my father."

But a reflection on the Group’s past and present also reveals that Anthony inherited more than good working relations from his father – a sharp business acumen and the courage to continuously expand and reinvent the business have clearly been the hallmark of both generations.


Copyright © Network Publications Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07, Malta
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