Writing this first address just a few days of having been elected your new President, lest having had quite a number of pole positions in my career, does not seem to get any easier to articulate for me. Never did I think I would come to this most prestigious post within the Institute ranks. I always believed that members and Council responsibly elect the person who, in their considered opinion, is fit for purpose. I contested silently, only encouraged to put my name forward by some persons within the echelons of the Institute for whom I have great respect. I do not consider myself to be a specialist in technical issues. But some consider me as that intersection between a technician and a tactician. I hope I can leverage my qualities to take the Institute further.
In this first address, I feel I must acknowledge my predecessors’ dedication that brought the Institute to its present heights and I feel it opportune to thank them all for the legacy they have created and preserved. The Institute is a reflection of the long solid service of some heavyweights in the profession. I salute some personalities I have worked with during my term since being elected to Council in 2007, with names such as Frederick Mifsud Bonnici, Tonio Zarb, Mario Galea, Bernard Scicluna, who, amongst many others before them, have dedicated endless hours and years to the Institute. They have now moved on in life. At our prestigious offices at Swatar, in the grand round Council Room, there are 50 years of history enshrined in the portrait pictures of all the past presidents, with Maria Micallef’s (last President) in the making. Every picture has a part of this history to tell. On behalf of my colleagues and myself, I publicly express our gratitude to all these great Presidents for their immense contribution. I promise that together with my fellow Officers and Council members, I will do my best to sail steady, lest splicing in my own style of leadership. I believe I owe this to the members who in turn expect this of me.
It has been eight years ago, at the 2007 Annual General Meeting, that I volunteered my name for the first time to Council. My intention then was to contribute back some of my time and qualities to the Institute as a gesture for what the profession had given me. It was a decision that I had pondered and considered well. It was a time when I had decided to start a new journey in my career as a professional director towards leadership positions in the corporate and commercial ambience. It was a time when I looked back at twenty-seven years in the profession, the first ten forged with the then Deloitte Haskins and Sells locally and at the Rome and Turin offices under the mentorship of the late Martin Bonello-Cole. To me Martin remains a fond memory of a tenacious person who sought perfection in whatever he did. I am thankful that my path crossed his. He greatly influenced my formation.
Moving forward, 2007 was the year I parted with MGI Malta after seventeen years in partnership and many notches of achievements and satisfactions as an SMP. Mid-nineties brought in a wave of technology shifts. Looking back I think that perhaps I was always a bit of a disruptive thinker. I remember introducing to the local marketplace the first state-of-the-art financial statement production software for that era, and subsequently, a paperless audit software. Then I promoted a time-and-billing practice management software. I remember the excitement of fellow practitioners as we explored and embraced the new paradigms of practice management. These were, especially for SMPs, game-changers and I understand that many are still using these applications till this very day. 2007 was the year when I decided to capitalise and leverage all that the profession had given me, in a quest towards mastery in the art of business leadership. I once read some research in Forbes that the more common path to becoming a good Fortune 500 CEO is a strong financial acumen, coupled with serving as a non-executive director on public company boards as a form of professional development in governance, strategy and risk. Not that I was aiming at the Fortune 500, but in 2007, I had decided to venture into this new professional development path. Several directorships later, the more significant ones in two listed companies, RS2 and Grand Harbour Marina, and two regulated entities, APS Bank and Atlas Insurance, I find myself at the helm (as Chairman and CEO) of Express Trailers, a significant player in logistics, one of Government’s topical focus areas today. Express Trailers is a family business that traces its inception, (coincidentally like our Institute), to 50 years ago. Today in the third generation, with robust governance structures, a healthy growing top line of €28m and ranking with the top ten UK logistics companies by profit-per-employee, (one of my favourite KPIs), this is one Maltese family legacy that is built to last.
Well, after introducing myself and sharing with you these memoires, I come to the realities of the present. ‘Supporting Accountants, Promoting the Profession and Serving the Public Interest’. This is the Institute’s tagline. This is what we need to stay intensely focused on. However, today is another sad day for the profession globally. The Toshiba Corporation accounting scandal has just hit the wires. ‘The accounting irregularities were ‘skilfully’ hidden from outside observers, according to the investigation’. [Bloomberg Business reporting on Toshiba’s $1.2 Billion accounting scandal 21-07-2015.] The company named two lawyers and two certified public accountants to the committee investigating the scandal. One would ponder how this could be happening again, after all the efforts, post-Enron, that the global profession together with regulators afforded so as to re-establish public confidence. Admittedly, lest unjustifiably, as long as we remain humans, sporadically and in times of well-being, greed festers dangerously out of our inherent genetic make-up. It is for this reason I believe that we have to remain obsessively steadfast in our behaviour as professionals.
Our Institute has so far been instrumental in educating and upholding the highest degree of ethics and rectitude amongst its members generally. I believe that we are extremely well-positioned and entrenched with strong values. What matters though is that we all use the qualities imparted by our professional training and standards to actively and consciously assist investment, economic development and fight against corruption and malpractice. However, society is ever changing with a perfect storm of economics and technology driving it forcefully. There is still an uncomfortable rumble in the seemingly over Greek economic melt-down. We must not be led to believe we are in any way immune to such a crisis. Professional accountants have a vital role to play not only in the commercial success of entities, but also perhaps in raising financial literacy within the populace at grassroots and in households, in personal financial management and retirement planning. The brand equity of the Institute should remain squarely based on the highest ethical behaviour and proficiency behind all information that we provide for stakeholders to take decisions on. This is what matters. This is ‘serving the public interest’.
This brings me to nudge you to follow the Institute’s contribution towards various facets of ongoing technical development. The Institute works incessantly to keep you at the cutting edge of what is happening. Works in progress of certain relevance include the Accounting Directive addressing the administrative burden of small companies, the Directive on Statutory Audits and the Regulation on Statutory Audits of Public Interest Entities, the much debated Legal Bill, enhancing the relevance of the Audit Report, Public Sector Accounting to address concerns brought by the sovereign debt crisis, the future of Tax reporting, and the Family Business Act, amongst others. We shall also be focusing on technology to reach you quicker with quality material and tools to assist you in delivering value. We shall also dedicate some serious effort to understanding you better, to reaching out to more stakeholders that matter to you, and to strengthening in a professional manner the brand equity of the Institute.
I look forward enthusiastically to working with the Officers, Council and Mark Abela our new CEO, for the Malta Institute of Accountants, your Institute.