Michael Bonello, Chief Executive Officer of MB Investments, looks back at his rollercoaster of a career, one that embodies confidence in riding out the bad with the good, always with tremendous results.
What do you want to be when you grow up? That is one of the most common questions adults ask children when they start school. For some of us, the world is our oyster and we have the pick of the lot. For others, there is a family business to step into, ready and waiting. But what happens when, after all the education and training, and a good few years into managing operations, everything comes to a grinding halt? This is Michael’s story.
“My father had his catering establishments, and that’s what the family was known for,” he says. “So, when I came of age, I started working there. I was my own boss and, at the age of 21, helped my dad manage the operations that employed over 100 people. It was good.”
But a fork in the road was approaching that would force Michael to swerve. “After a few years, my father sold his businesses,” Michael recalls. “I panicked. For all those years, I had had a clear direction, a clear education. Then, all of a sudden, everything changed and I had to start from scratch.”
That was his first ‘sink or swim’ challenge, and swim he did. “As I was trying to find my way, looking for the next thing I could do, my mother was selling our family home in Sliema. I took the project on, and started dealing with the developers on her behalf.” It was tough going at first. “All the contractors and service providers knew I was new, and it was difficult dealing with them. But it was a steep learning curve and I came out on top. The rest is history,” he smiles.
Today, he is a major player in the real estate industry, a franchise owner with 10 offices under his belt and a team of about 180 agents. Michael believes it is his team that should get the lion’s share of the credit for the growth. He considers his people a part of his extended family. “I want to treat the people around me well,” Michael asserts.
An even truer testament to this drive to see his people succeed is the existence of MB Investments itself. “As a company, MB Investments was born to breathe life into my real estate team,” he explains, “to develop property and provide added value.” The company has developed and so have the philosophies behind it.
It is at this point that the focus shifts from the one group of people he works with – his team – to another – his clients. Michael is increasingly aware of the challenges they are facing when it comes to getting on the property ladder.
“The best thing about my job is providing suitable homes for first-time buyers and the buy-to-let market, which I believe gives people more opportunities,” he notes. “Today, it’s a challenge to find appropriate homes, especially with the current budgets. This is why you never just work with the buyer during viewings and dealings; you work with the partner, the parents, the grandmother, the in-laws. The truth is that this is a family affair, with everyone chipping in to make that deposit young people need. We want to be right by these families.”
This ethos is not limited to building appropriate housing that will fit financial constraints, Michael goes on to clarify. As a member of several property boards and associations, he strives to ensure new products and schemes are launched giving people the possibility to own their own homes.
With this kind of responsibility on his shoulders, it is perfectly understandable that Michael finds it hard to switch off.
He acknowledges the market is struggling with all the changes taking place, thus incurring more costs and less profit. However, he still looks at the positive side of things, arguing this “is removing cowboys from the industry; people who have come into the business to make a quick buck. It was killing the market and that is going to change in the long run.”
Meanwhile, MB Investments adapts and distinguishes itself as a company that sets examples for others to follow. “Today, MB boasts several sites that are currently in development, all of them within the correct zones, all within regulation, all compliant,” Michael says. “This is how we are different. This is how we distinguish ourselves from our competition. The way I see it, it’s either the best or nothing. There are no half-measures. It’s either perfect or it’s out.”
This is a serialisation of the publication Malta CEOs 2020. All interviews took place prior to the COVID-19 outbreak.