‘db Group’s success built on embracing Maltese prudence’ - Silvio Debono

The db Group has appointed the children of founder and chairman Silvio Debono to four key officer posts

Silvio Debono steps aside, hands db group to children
Silvio Debono steps aside, hands db group to children

The success of the db Group is due to having always remained true to its roots, taking risks but embracing ‘Maltese prudence’, Group founder and chairman Silvio Debono told Business Today.

“As a Group we remained with both feet firmly planted on the ground. We know where we’re going because we never forget where we came from. That’s our hallmark,” he said. “So while we think big and take substantial business risks, we always do so with ingrained Maltese prudence.”

Debono was speaking to this newspaper following news of the appointment of his children to four key officer posts, a watershed in the family’s succession planning moment.

The Group’s new CEO, Robert Debono, will drive DB’s robust business and investment strategy to consolidate financial success on all fronts.

Lawyer David Debono, will be chief legal officer, overseeing all legal matters as well as HR; Alan Debono will be chief procurment and accounring officer, taking charge of financial and purchasing policy and execution; Victoria Debono is now Brands Manager, and will nurture and expand the group’s Maltese and global brand portfolio.

Silvio Debono remains chairman of the board. “My wife and I gave our children the freedom to choose their individual paths in life. They took different ones which, as luck would have it, are converging at this very moment. I am convinced that they will continue to expand and deepen our Group’s vision and prudently execute it.”

Debono said he will be overseeing the DB transformation, “ensuring our strong financial standing is sustained and to see that our excellent track record extends to the future.”

“I started this business from scratch. As a 14-year-old I used to collect discarded soft drink bottles from Għadira to redeem them for cents. Still a teenager, from being a barman I took the plunge and took over the bar where I worked,” he told Business Today. “Then I managed to scrape enough funds to run a tiny guest house and from there we never looked back. Today, we have around 4,500 people working with us.”

He said that with the Group’s structures and processes solidly in place, he decided to pass the baton to his children and their colleagues and staff.

“Having seen them perform so well and with so much passion in their different roles emboldened me to make the move,” he said.

If he could give one piece of advice to the new CEO, Debono said it is imperative to always stay close to one’s staff and listen, really listen, to what they have to say. Then decide.

“Also, you should always be prepared not only to forgive but also to forget,” he said.

Asked whether he regretting anything in his business life, Debono said he had always been inspired and driven by success.

“I love making a success of things as much as I love seeing other people doing the same, even competitors,” he said. “What I regret is that there’s a dark streak in certain people which leads them to denigrate and put down the success of others.”

Post-pandemic recovery

In March 2022, db’s revenue stood at €40 million, just €20 million less over the same period in 2020, with EBITDA at €24 million, down €3.5 million from 2020, and post-tax profits of €10.5m (2020: €12m), with €8 million in capital spending.

“This is an exciting and humbling challenge for my siblings and myself,” CEO Robert Debono said. “The Board is trusting us to sustain and enhance the success of a group of companies on which the livelihood of 4,500 families and individuals depends. It is also happening as the tourism industry and the economy are expected to get a post-pandemic reboot. The future looks bright and we are ready for it.”

The db Group’s post-pandemic recovery exceeded forecasts in March 2022, recovering to pre-pandemic levels when Malta had registered a record tourism year.

“The Group continued to invest even during the darkest pandemic months,” Debono said of the company’s new Starbucks outlets and restaurants LOA and Sonora, inagurated after March 2022.

The hotels and restaurants group has also completed an extensive rebranding and modernisation programme.

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