AX Group PLC – Ahead of the Curve
AX Group is an ambitious, multi-faceted development company whose vision is often ahead of its time.
“We’ve been major contributors to the Maltese islands in terms of fielding ideas for development and launching very successful projects,” explains Michael Warrington, CEO of AX Group. “We’ve been involved in various challenging projects such as the Valletta Cruise Port, bringing almost a million tourists to Malta in 2019.”
The company has a history of ambitious proposals, but they are always grounded in quality.
“Our focus as a group is on quality. We build developments that stand out, and more and more in terms of service, the feedback we get is that we stand a cut above many businesses on the island,” Warrington says.
AX Group is built on three pillars: its property assets, its very robust finances, and its talented people.
“The business culture is an inclusive one with active, participative, employees. We hear their ideas and their knowledge and there is a collaborative spirit among the team,” Warrington tells us. “We seek the people closest to the operation and understand their ideas, concerns and wishes and where it makes sense we incorporate those ideas. We’re cost-focused so we know how to operate in a very lean and efficient way. That obviously has good results for the bottom line.”
AX Group benchmarks its performance against its competition on the island through independent reviews and frequently comes out as the leader.
AX Group often brings ambitious ideas to the table, but sometimes it can be a challenge to persuade others to share its vision.
“We’re progressive in terms of our vision,” Warrington says. “We’re looking to carry out a major investment every five years. Our biggest challenge is often in obtaining planning permits for our properties and investments.
While at the time their ideas might receive scepticism, however, history tends to be on AX Group’s side.
“Sometimes we’ve been too ambitious in our designs but with the benefit of hindsight people come around to embracing our ideas,” Warrington says. “There have been many ideas we’ve fielded which haven’t been accepted, such as mass transportation, a golf course and club and quite recently a proposal for a sea tunnel linking two harbours with a ferry connection on the island. There are many other similar ideas where time and again we’ve been forward-looking but our society and government have taken a long to respond to those ideas.”
When AX Group is finally able to make its dreams a reality, something special happens.
“About 20 years ago we put forward a proposal for the development of a retirement village. Others had tried the concept before in Malta but failed. It took us 23 years to get permits, but within six months of completion of Hilltop Gardens Retirement village the 133 apartments were fully taken up due to the way we sold it and structured the commercial offer to residents,” Warrington recalls. “People liked what they saw, we made it very affordable for people and put in those elements people wanted. The outcome was a quantum improvement in the quality of life for people who took up residence in the village.”
That village has proven to be a lifeline during recent events.
“Our residents are people in their 70s and 80s. They lived a very active lifestyle even during COVID-19 when most facilities had locked down. We took measures to protect our residents,” Warrington tells us. “The combination of concept, quality of the development and the way we sold and operated it has been successful. This is just one example of how we approach things.”
The Talent Behind the Vision
As well as persuading people to join AX Group in its vision, the company also faces challenges in finding the people to join the company and make that vision a reality.
“In Malta the biggest challenge is finding people, finding employees,” Warrington admits. “There’s a significant labour shortage on the island and that has created challenges. We have a lot of foreign workers who come and started to work here, although the pandemic has meant unfortunately many decided to return to their home countries.”
Addressing that labour shortfall involves a combination of a competitive offering and homegrown talent building.
“We benchmark our compensation philosophy with our peers in the industry,” explains Warrington. “We set up our own recruitment agency to source people not just locally but from abroad, and we set up our own internal academy with all the training that is needed at every level of the organisation within the business to become effective and efficient at what we do. We set the objective of being an employer of choice as we set our targets very high.”
Warrington is clear that joining AX Group is the beginning of a journey, not the end.
“We give our own people opportunities and have a very good retention rate when it comes to employees,” he says. “That’s something we’re proud of because it shows people have joined and grown within the organisation and flourished with it with the job satisfaction and fulfilment they seek.”
Looking forward, Warrington is optimistic about AX Group’s future and believes the company has a strong foundation to build from.
“I think we will continue to build on our strengths, continue to focus on the sectors where our strengths lie,” he reflects. We have a number of projects which we will be starting soon. They are very big projects relative to our size.
We were successful in obtaining the planning permits for two major projects: the extension of the Suncrest Hotel, and the Verdala Terraces development. The latter will be another exceptional development by the AX Group, which will see the dilapidated Grand Hotel Verdala in Rabat being demolished and redeveloped into a luxurious residential complex and a five-star hotel.
We will be working on these over the next three years with 150 million euros of investment. We’re raising new capital and building on the pillars we have invested in so far.”
AX Group will not just be sticking to what it knows, however.
“We wish to grow not just by owning the properties but managing properties for third parties,” Warrington tells us. “We wish to expand outside of Malta. We’re actively looking for investment opportunities. Finally, we are realising our dream of investing in an ongoing project in solar energy, which here in Malta is quite abundant. We launched the largest Photovoltaic farm on the island last year. We intend to continue to grow and look at our footprint and reduce waste and our impact on the environment.”
AX Group subsidiaries have been listed on the Malta Stock Exchange for over 25 years. We believe in the local stock exchange as a means to finance new growth and investment.