TradeMalta has launched a series of one-to-one discussions titled International Insights as a follow up to the previous series of webinars on international business.
Organised with the support of HSBC Bank Malta p.l.c., and hosted by Joe Schembri, chief officer at TradeMalta and lecturer at the University of Malta, International Insights features one-to-one interviews with experienced business professionals who achieved international success.
The first to be interviewed is Anthony Diacono, Medserv plc chairman.
Medserv provides integrated shore base logistics to the offshore oil and gas industry and engineering and supply chain management for Oil Country Tubular Goods to support the offshore and onshore oil and gas industry. The company was set up in 1974 and now operates in Malta, Libya, Cyprus, Egypt, Oman, Iraq, Suriname and the United Arab Emirates. The company is also listed on the Malta Stock Exchange and has won various industry awards.
But what makes Medserv one of Malta’s international high-flyers?
“Operating in these regions and identifying and securing projects and business in these competitive markets requires skill and agility,” Diacono says. “When I purchased the company together with my business partner, Medserv was only present in Malta. Moreover, we relied on one country and one large client. That was not a comfortable position to be in – and so we decided to expand and go regional.”
Diacono explains how the company strived to improve its product and make itself known in the market. What gave the company its big break was the project for the gas pipeline from North Africa to Europe.
“Based on the experience and knowledge gained on that project, we started expanding – while ensuring that we were developing the right suite of services and building relationships. This led to opportunities – and as we gained credibility, we started receiving invitations to participate in tenders.
“This was not an easy process – and it took years, not months. And once you start achieving growth, you cannot stop – you have to keep studying and observing where the market is going.”
For Medserv, an important milestone was the first step to invest outside of Malta.
“The Eastern Mediterranean was becoming a very important region for business and we set our eyes on Cyprus. This was a different kettle of fish for us. We were investing in a European country – and one with no record of successful fossil fuel discoveries. Moreover, there was a lot of resistance to us coming into that market – we were seen as a threat. But eventually, we managed to secure 90 per cent of the business in Cyprus. And from there, we could spread to other areas – as our resilience was seen as an advantage.”
Diacono explains how Medserv operates in what is essentially a small sector.
“Nowadays, we are considered to be in the top three of our sector, globally – and that is quite an achievement,” he says. “We are on the global vendor list of the biggest players in our sector.
“From Cyprus, we decided to invest in easy oil countries. We sought to invest in the Middle East where extracting oil is very competitive. Six years ago, we bought a group of companies – which for us was a major investment of €45 million. This group offered complementary services to ours and knew the Middle East. So we also bought the expertise – and the relationships that this group of companies had with the major oil producers.
“We continued to grow – and after Cyprus we spread to Egypt and were invited to the Caribbean and Suriname. I can now see us moving into Guyana and Trinidad.”
For Diacono, there are a number of key elements in internationalisation.
“Internally, you have to create a culture where people feel part of the organisation. The more you grow, the more difficult this becomes – however, you have to build systems to ensure people have the same ethos.
”Two years ago, Medserv engaged in an operation to find an investor that would enable the company to grow to the next level – while starting the process of succession planning.
“We had an investor lined up to take over the whole group. Then COVID-19 happened – and that was a force majeure that stopped everything. We tried to risk manage as much as possible. We carried on. This has blown over now but our main aim is to still go to the next level. We approached another investor and a new company will come in as partners – with new equity. These investors are from the Sub-Saharan region – and this has been our target market for our foreseeable future. This will be our next stage and will be presented in the next AGM.
“We also placed Karl Bartolo, our previous CFO, as our new CEO – while I remained chairman. This had an immediate effect and we now have new energy to continue growing.”
Taking the first step towards internationalisation
TradeMalta offers a wide range of services tailored to the needs of Malta-based companies planning to take that first step towards internationalisation, making the leap easier, more efficient, and ultimately more effective. This includes specialised training programmes in international business development and marketing, industry data, and insights on specific markets and sectors. Market research is imperative for companies who seek to internationalise their operation as it provides insight into market gaps, trends and customer needs, thus enabling businesses to make a well-informed decision before starting on their export journey.
TradeMalta also offers support to established exporters who reach out to the organisation for a different set of services such as enabling introductions through the Maltese diplomatic network and facilitating B2B contacts with enterprises in international markets.
For more information visit www.trademalta.org.
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