Antonio Palumbo may be President of a 700-person strong organisation and ultimately responsible for its €150 million turnover but, to him, his most important role within the organisation is something a little different. “Today, I am mostly a counsellor and psychologist above all else,” he smiles.
“That’s the truth. After so many years in the job I realise this is the most important role I play because there are so many different characters within our organisation, and they all have to be considered in the company’s day-to-day running. I am as passionate about their well-being as I am about every other aspect of the business.”
That business is one that has been in his family since 1967 when his father, Salvatore, started a small carpentry and metalwork yard to support the local ship repair industry in Naples.
Antonio was involved early on and says he recalls the moment his father started the business. “I remember quite a few things from the era in general,” he recounts nostalgically. “Such as President John F. Kennedy visiting Naples, and the Giro d’Italia coming to the city for the first time. I also remember a lot about my father starting out and the satisfaction of watching him build something that was completely his own. I wanted to be a part of it.”
Antonio says he is very proud the business is still part of the family, and that his two sons, Giuseppe and Raffaele, have joined too. “I don’t get emotional about our growth and success anymore, although I still do get emotional thinking back to those early days and the hard work my father put in to get us started. Having a ‘family feel’ to the work we do is the most important thing.”
He admits it is hard to pick a landmark moment in his career because there are so many – “too many to list”. The President reflects on his decision to pitch to buy all six of Malta’s docks in 2010, and their subsequent acquisition in 2011 (through Palumbo Superyachts). He says it wasn’t a personal choice but fate.
“I had often heard people talk about Malta and was fascinated by the island and its shipyard,” he says. “But I’m not sure why! So, when I was in Rome and friends mentioned that the shipyard was going to be up for tender, I jumped at the chance but then found the tender had already closed. Some months later, as the tender had not been successful, we got our chance to bid and were successful. So, really, it was the Maltese shipyard that wanted us and not the other way around. It is as if it was waiting for us.”
Today, the Palumbo Group has an unbeatable logistic network layout of eight shipyards in the heart of the Mediterranean, one in the Atlantic Ocean, two new-build sites, 18 docks (including the second-largest in Europe) and the most internationally experienced craftsmen and engineers in the industry. The Maltese shipyard sits very much at the heart of that network, and now accommodates ships up to 300,000 tons in weight.
Of course, the Group’s journey has not been without its challenges and it is those challenges that, Antonio stresses, gave him the energy to forge ahead. “You have to accept the challenges and win. Business is always about measuring up to the competition and working to constantly improve, to remain the best in the industry, and to make sure we deliver no matter the deadlines. After all, taking a shipyard like Malta’s, in the state it was in, and turning it into a successful international industry player in just 10 years was no easy feat, especially in such a volatile market. But we did it.”
Antonio lays stress on the environment and how to safeguard it: “We are all morally responsible to make a commitment to take care of the planet, and it is a value that underpins our whole Group.”
He is proud that Palumbo retrofitted four Ro-Ro passenger ferries using a fuel cleaning system to meet new environmental shipping rules.
The Cospicua shipyard is also reaping the results of environmental investments it made nearly five years ago through the installation of photovoltaic panels. This is estimated to contribute to savings of up to 20 per cent on energy and will have drastically reduced carbon emissions.
Antonio believes the sector as a whole will have to change to protect the marine environment.
This is a serialisation of the publication Malta CEOs 2020. All interviews took place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.