Family businesses tend to follow a rather predictable trajectory in their lifetimes. Surviving generational succession is a major challenge to overcome. However, matters of governance may become complex even before the founder decides to take a step back, as lack of proper structures may reveal.

Since 2018, Robert Ancilleri and his team at Embark, have been helping businesses get their house in order to withstand the challenges of time, future-proofing their operations, laying the groundwork for sustainable growth and potential succession down the line.

“It can be a rather challenging job, especially when it comes to convincing someone, who has been doing something in a certain way, that they ought to consider new methods,” says Mr Ancilleri, whose brainchild Embark specialises in helping smaller businesses manage risks and strengthen their operations, governance and reporting.

“Founders often become extremely personally attached to their businesses; and will likely dedicate unhealthily long hours to their running. In fact, the first thing I ask business owners when I meet them is ‘Do you want to keep on putting 16-hour days into the business?’ It may be a hard pill to swallow, as family businesses are often fashioned around the person who would have dreamed them and created them from nothing. Though this may work for a few decades, given the unrivalled dedication of the person in question, it certainly wouldn’t be sustainable in the long run,” Mr Ancilleri explains.

Embark Team

The Embark senior leadership team L to R: Martin Borg, Mary Grace Demicoli, Pierre Paul Gauci and Robert Ancilleri

It is at this point that Embark sets out to perform a gap analysis of the governance structures of the business, determining what is missing and how to build on the strengths the organisation possesses. Certain basic elements are fundamental to the sustainable running of a business, especially if it has ambitions to seek new financing from banks or if it has prospects for a future on the capital market.

“Sometimes we start from simple things such as having the correct mix of expertise on the board of non-executive directors, who would not be family members. Even having a proper business plan which does not live exclusively in the mind of the owner, is crucial for future planning.”

Naturally the more ambitious a business’s aspirations are, the more complex structures can grow, and Embark is well suited to provide the required support as it has the right experience.

“We go beyond the traditional bookkeeping services, offering a complete suite of boutique advisory services which encompasses all the needs of any company which wants to solidify its position in the market, and in the future.”

Embark is focused on being the partner that support CFOs in transforming their finance functions to become more efficient and productive in the light of increasing demands. Those organisations that manage to transform are likely to thrive as they strengthen their position in the market.

Bringing the expertise of a multi-disciplinary team of 12 professionals, with a broad spectrum of skills, Embark seeks to truly understand the specific needs of a business, no matter how large or small it may be, in helping the Company devise a detailed strategic plan. Experience has shown us that whilst the necessary structural changes start to be put in place, the full implementation of the strategic plan may take two or three years to complete.

“At this juncture, it is also crucial to implement several controls, which are specifically designed to mitigate any operational risks. Such structures are rarely present in companies that grow organically but are key for organisations that want a sustainable business model that is future proof. We are extremely proud and satisfied when we note how businesses we have assisted realise the significance of such changes. It is tough, but it is proven to be worth the while.”

Embark also serves a sizeable portfolio of entities in the financial services sector, namely banks, financial institutions and corporate service providers. It also serves small-to-medium sized family businesses and listed entities With a view to continue expanding its portfolio of services, Embark’s subsidiary company Compliance 360, forged an alliance with a Cypriot reg-tech company called eBOS Technologies Limited, to be best suited to support regulated entities in their compliance with the relevant regulations, including ESG and in digitalising the associated processes. 

Through its subsidiary and its strategic partnerships, Embark now offers a wide-range of services in the areas of Anti-Money Laundering and Combatting the Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT), Regulatory Compliance, and Risk Management.

“Though we have heard a great deal about ESG recently, we still have a long way to go. Locally we lack a proper understanding of how certain matters should be addressed, especially when it comes to governance. For example, we still have issues regarding a lack of separation of power between the owners, the board, and the executive. Such situations unfortunately can give rise to conflicts of interest that can result in poor decision making that will probably harm the business. Investment in the implementation of robust governance policies that shape the day-to-day running of the business, will truly go a long way," Mr Ancilleri continues.

Embark - Noel Mizzi

Noel Mizzi - non-executive director

To help Embark, assist more businesses get ready for the future, it has recently appointed Noel Mizzi, former KPMG partner, who brings with him a wealth of knowledge in the field. He joins Embark as non-executive Director to provide independent oversight, strategic guidance and governance to Embark. Noel is particularly focused on overseeing how Embark operates within the legal and regulatory framework in Malta and its compliance with laws, regulations and relevant ethical standards. In addition, he oversees and monitors risks faced by Embark including financial, operational, legal and reputational risks. In this respect he works with the operational team to implement effective risk management practices. “Mr Mizzi's experience aligns with Embark's strategy to not only preach about healthy corporate habits and world-class expertise, but also to implement such maxims within our own organisation.”

Embark’s steady upward trajectory promises more announcements in the coming months, as the rapidly growing company aims to strengthen its governance further, with more specialists joining the Board of Directors.

“Ultimately it all boils down to making our businesses work for us, in a way that we are not rendered slaves to them,” Mr Ancilleri remarks. “I often meet people who unintentionally put in grueling six or seven-day work schedules all for the sake of their business. A good balance is needed, and this is where the service propositions we offer can add value.”

Main Image:

Robert Ancilleri

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Written By

Edward Bonello

Edward Bonello is a content writer, PR consultant and generally chill fellow. When he’s not happily tapping away at his laptop, he enjoys collecting useless trivia, watching B-movies, and cooking the most decent carbonara this side of Trastevere.