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Strategy and a bit of rock

Ixaris Systems’ chief executive Alex Mifsud likened the company’s first 10 years to a game of Snakes and Ladders – a challenging mix of pitfalls and opportunities.

Ixaris Systems’ chief executive Alex Mifsud likened the company’s first 10 years to a game of Snakes and Ladders – a challenging mix of pitfalls and opportunities.

Knowledge-sharing focused on strategy when more than 350 people gathered at Monte Kristo Estates a few days ago for the fourth annual Business Leaders Malta conference.

The networking conference attracts chief executives and top managers from a cross section of the local business community. Business Leaders Malta is a joint venture between team-building firm Jugs Malta, recruiter Konnekt, and training company Mdina Partnership.

Held in the estates’ arena, decked out in camouflage netting, the conference was themed Moves to Checkmate and was inspired by the strategic thinking associated with the military and chess.

Ixaris Systems (Malta) chief executive Alex Mifsud took participants through the first 10 years of the London-headquartered company which pioneered prepaid virtual cards and related applications. He likened strategy to a game of Snakes and Ladders.

Now turning over an annual €10 million, Ixaris boasts a profitable core business which helps finance innovation. Perseverance led the team to overcome challenges and build on learning experiences and several times it turned its fortunes around, first to launch Entropay, its virtual card system for consumers, and later to build on it. At least twice, investors asked for their money back, and Ixaris had to change tack several times.

“Ixaris’ strategy is still ongoing and we have no idea where it will take us,” Dr Mifsud admitted. “We have learned that you make your own luck, never to give up, and to pick the right people for the strategy.”

Retired RAF Group Captain Robert Grattan gave some insight into how military strategy is designed. Dr Grattan, who first ‘visited’ Malta in the 1950s in a Wellington aircraft, emphasised how vision is a future desired state but often too little time is dedicated to defining the aim.

“Strategy is holistic, whether it is related to the military or to a corporation,” he stressed. “Review the situation, examine the facts, consider enemy courses of action, your course of action and the best course of action. Most importantly, plan. Consider the role of middle management. Strategy should not only be about the front line.”

Microsoft’s Takuya Hirano, general manager for the multi-country region within central and eastern Europe, explained how the IT giant put people first in its strategy. This is a pivotal year for Microsoft as it endeavours to release the most products ever in one fiscal year.

Half-Japanese and half-American, Mr Hirano recalled how the Micro­soft building in Japan shook in the devastating earthquake of 2011.

Over 400 staff and 400 customers were in the premises at the time and the phone lines were down. After ensuring people’s safety, Microsoft teams helped their customers to ensure business continuity through the cloud-based Office suite, and a collaboration with Toyota helped them to share GPS information with a terrified community.

Mr Hirano, who is succeeding to live a paperless life, outlined how Microsoft was focusing on a strategy to increasingly enable people around the world.

“Microsoft is evolving into a device and service company,” he said. “We are succeeding to deliver a unified experience in an environment where cloud technology will become mainstream. Data, user interfaces, social networking and device mobility are Microsoft priorities because they are our customers’ priorities. It is about people – em­powering everyone, everywhere.”

Six business leaders took their seat on stage to talk about strategic thinking and strategic planning in a panel discussion. Simonds Farsons Cisk group chief executive Norman Aquilina, MSV Life chief executive David Curmi, De La Rue head of operations Marc Jordan, Fimbank president Margrith Lutsch Emenegger, Alf. Mizzi and Sons chief executive Alec Mizzi, and Melita chief operations officer Ludolf Rasterhoff talked about their organisations’ strategic turning points and reaching strategic objectives.

Later, Konnekt managing director Josef Said presented the first-ever 10 BLM Awards. Based on a scientific study focusing on seven areas of human resources management, the initiative, which was launched last September, saw the participation of 26 diverse companies.

Smart Technologies won awards for communication and team cohesiveness, corporate culture, em­ployee well-being, and leadership effectiveness. Nectar won the performance driven award, Cardinal Health scooped the award for training and development, and Microsoft for reward and recognition. The overall winners were Nectar (20 to 99 employees), Cardinal Health (100 to 299), and Actavis (300-plus).

Jugs Malta managing director Gianni Zammit led the customary team-building exercise to close the conference. Boomwhackers – colour-coded plastic tubes representing six notes – were distributed to participants. Musicians from prominent local bands joined him on stage to play Deep Purple’s Smoke on the Water as participants joined in for the famous riff using the Boomwhackers. The result was probably the loudest Business Leaders Malta conference finale to date.

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