INTERVIEW | Nazzareno Vassallo: 'No regrets, honestly'

When  he turned 19, he was entrusted with the management of the newly-established  Vassallo Builders Ltd, borne out of a partnership started by his father Pio. Today, Nazzareno Vassallo is Chairman of Vassallo Group of Companies that employs over 1,700 people. The company has expanded into a number of segments operating in various fields that include construction, healthcare, IT, hospitality, real estate and catering amongst others. He speaks to BusinessToday about the Group’s growth and diversity and his vision for the future of the family business


Vassallo Group goes back more than 70 years and, over the years, has diversified from Property and Construction to Furniture and Interiors, Elderly and Disability, Catering, Hospitality, Architecture and Education. But what remains your personal core passion? Why?

In truth I am attached to each of these sectors since as expected as chairman of the group my involvement is substantial, particularly in the initial stages. So in a few words I consider all of them as my “babies”. However if I had to be honest I would single out the care sector and property development as the ones closest to my heart.  The reason choosing the care sector – elderly care, disability and health – is quite obvious since through our contribution in this sector we can make a difference in the lives of the most vulnerable persons in our society. And this fact alone motivates me to work harder to grow our involvement in this sector. We also have a historical attachment to property development since it has been our driving force as from the early days.

If you could choose just one thing, what would you attribute Vassallo Group’s success to?

I would say – our diversity. This characteristic stood out recently when Covid-19 struck the world and our country. The fact that we do not depend entirely on one sector, particularly on those sectors impacted by the measures taken to stop the transmission of the virus such as the hospitality industry, helped us reduce the impact on our group and obviously save many jobs which would otherwise have been lost.

It has not all been plain sailing alone over the years. Looking back, what is one thing you would not do again, given the chance?

Honestly, we have no regrets because each experience we have gone through – the more successful and the less successful – has helped us grow, become wiser and take good decisions that led to positive results. Ironically, some of the less successful efforts introduced us to new areas which today are contributing to our success.

Again, if you were to choose just one thing, what would you say is Vassallo Group’s shining glory? Why?

Without sounding pedantic once again I have to mention the care sector. Seeing a nice smile on the face of the elderly residents and the other persons we take care of when I visit them on special occasions is the most valuable gift you can receive. Again making a difference, small or big in these individuals’ life is the main reason why we are in this sector. But again construction and property development have also brought so much satisfaction to our group particularly when huge projects such as the Danish Village, Malta International Airport Terminal and the Radisson Golden Sands Hotel were completed, the latter in record time. I expect the same level of satisfaction and pride the moment we will complete Campus Hub – a students’ complex within the University of Malta which is the largest single investment the group has ever made as well as the Vassallo Business Park in Burmarrad – two big projects we are currently working on.

Many argue that the construction lobby in Malta is too powerful, that its contribution to GDP and its ties to politicians make it a de facto unelected power broker. What is your position on these claims?

Undoubtedly the construction has been one of the main drivers of the Maltese economy for the last six or seven decades.  Nobody can argue about this. I attribute the existing perception there is that the construction lobby is too powerful to the importance the sector has to the Maltese economy.

How does the group try to offset the impact its projects have on the environment? Why is this important?

Throughout the years Vassallo Group took a number of what one can call green initiatives. Perhaps the most significant of these initiatives is the generation of around 1.3 Megawatt of energy through PV panels installed on the roofs of buildings belonging to the group which next year is expected to double. We have also taken a decision to gradually change all company cars to electric vehicles – a number of these cars are already on the road.

Moreover, on significant occasions we plant a number of trees in public places such as schools, gardens, group property etc. In our major projects such as the Campus Hub project at the University of Malta and the Vassallo Business Park in Burmarrad we are using environment-friendly and energy-saving technology to further enhance our contribution to the environment.

This includes the use of what is called “Bubble Deck” instead of beams allowing us to recycle some 140 tons of plastic avoiding 1.5 million tons of Carbon Dioxide from being released into the air.

Of the group’s current interests, what are you most excited about?

Venturing into new areas in health and social care tops the list of projects together with investing in one of the largest business parks in Malta the campus residence at the. As regards the care sector, moving forward our aim is to branch into specialised homes and services in the elderly, disability and mental health services. When we made the first steps in the elderly sector in 1993 we were years ahead of what eventually became a much crowded market. In the same way we feel we will be leaders in the provision of specialized services addressing particular conditions and contribution to making the life of so many inidividuals a better one. These areas include dementia, autism, ALS and degenerative diseases, mental health care etc.

You remain the face the public associates with Vassallo Group, but the younger generations are taking on more responsibilities within the group. How optimistic are you about the group’s future?

I am totally optimistic that all my children, who are now heavily involved in the business, will continue growing the business as I have been doing for the past 53 years.

Each one of them leads and focuses on a particular sector but together they also work in the interest of the group as a whole.

What will Vassallo Group look like 10 years down the line? Will property and development remain the core of the group’s focus?

Property development and management although important are not the only core of our business. Today the care segment of our business is the biggest contributor. My dream is for us to still be leaders in all the sectors we operate in namely the construction, care, property and hospitality as well as  establish ourselves in new areas such as student accommodation through Campus Hub,  provide a sustainable solution to the artisanal, commercial and trade industries  through the Vassallo Business Park as well as grow our involvement in education and training.

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