With a background in architecture and civil engineering, INDIS Malta CEO Joseph Attard has hands-on experience when it comes to innovative industrial property solutions. Responsible for the administration and growth of government-owned industrial parks on the islands, Joseph explains that the key to INDIS Malta’s success is strong leadership and a keen focus on sustainability.

“Being a CEO means being the person who can make the difficult decisions,” says INDIS Malta’s Joseph Attard. It’s a mantra that has got him far in life, working his way up from engineering roles within INDIS Malta to now running the company.

“Three years ago, I worked here as an architect and civil engineer,” the CEO shares. “Before that, I worked with a foundation building schools, and in South Iraq, I worked on road construction and other civil engineering projects after the Iraq War ended.”

His extensive experience stands him in good stead for his role as CEO. “INDIS Malta is embarking on a €470 million project over eight years, mainly involving civil engineering projects. These range from the construction of factories for industry as well as garages for the lighter industries, to an airport runway extension. It’s not too unfamiliar for me!”

Unsurprisingly, given his technical background, Joseph’s approach is very hands-on. He starts his day by heading on site to see for himself how the construction phase is progressing. “It’s not necessary in my role, but I cannot start my day any other way,” he confides. “I believe that in order to be able to give direction, you have to know what’s happening on the ground and understand the difficulties employees encounter on a daily basis. I then go to the office to hold meetings with prospective tenants, and with the legal team for consultation on contracts and lease agreements.

“My role as CEO,” he continues, “is about finding the balance between the employees, the tenants [renting the industrial properties], and the interests of the company. One of the most rewarding aspects of the job is seeing the various departments work together to reach the final goal. There are challenges of course – such as onboarding technical people – but there’s satisfaction in steering a project in the right direction.”

INDIS Malta’s history dates back over 50 years, and with the largest areas for industrial use in Malta within its portfolio, Joseph is very conscious of the company’s environmental impact moving forward.

“We have a number of ethical policies and initiatives in place,” he divulges, “including our photovoltaic [solar panel] policy. The factories themselves are INDIS Malta’s property, and tenants are often reluctant to invest in environmentally friendly measures in a space they do not own. Now INDIS Malta is encouraging them to invest in photovoltaic installations by taking on the responsibility, so if the current tenant decides to withdraw from the tenancy agreement, INDIS will carry on with the commitment.”

This only scratches the surface of INDIS Malta’s green initiatives. The company is also building an eco- property in a micro-enterprise park with Grade A Energy Performance Certification, as well as investing €2.5 million into local councils affected by INDIS Malta industrial estates. “In areas such as Mellieha, we are helping the local council and voluntary organisations with the restoration of culturally important sites,” the CEO explains. “We need to find a balance; we don’t make huge profits, but part of our income must go to the local community.”

Reflecting on the past year, Joseph says that 2021 was a good year for INDIS Malta. “We currently have over 900 tenants in our properties and occupancy is at around 98 per cent,” he shares. This is in part due to the way in which the company managed its tenants during COVID-19.

“We stood with the companies renting our properties as much as possible when the pandemic hit. We knew that certain businesses were struggling, so we drew up debt repayment agreements with them. 2021 ended well and we didn’t experience any issues with repayments.”

Joseph describes 2021 as “the year that INDIS Malta was born” and speaks passionately about the first phase of one of its multi-million- euro projects: the extension of runway Lima at Malta International Airport. “It’s a sensitive project because it’s an archaeological area. We’re clearing the topsoil by hand and recently discovered the rock bed,” he details. In fact, the team at INDIS has made a fascinating discovery, which leads the CEO to share his view on the importance of respecting Malta’s cultural heritage.

“We’ve uncovered vineyard trenches. In the past, people used to cut these trenches in rock and clay, so the vine’s roots could grow in a material that remains humid all year round. We are now carefully excavating the area in close cooperation with the Superintendence of Cultural Heritage, which analyses samples of the ground.

“A 3D survey of these trenches will eventually be conducted and detailed in the archives of the Superintendence for future generations. We are in fact using geotextile, a material that does not bond to the rock, and will eventually fill in the runway with aggregate. This way, the runway is temporary. If future generations no longer need the runway, they will be able to restore the rock face to the state it is in now.”

2021 also brought with it a number of challenges, but he took it all in his stride. For one, going from an employee at INDIS Malta to its CEO involved a considerable shift. “Being CEO is no easy feat. Employees were used to their previous CEO of seven years and, now, they need to adapt to my system – that doesn’t happen overnight. I know many of them as colleagues; being their boss sometimes means having to say ‘no’, as you don’t get anywhere by saying ‘yes’ to everything. To manage well, you have to be a strong decision-maker.”

The CEO is optimistic about 2022 and says he will be taking some important life lessons learnt from COVID-19 into the months ahead.

“The pandemic showed us that something can appear out of the blue and change everything, both professionally and personally. I was always focused on work; I would start at six in the morning and work until seven or eight in the evening, including weekends. Since the onset of the pandemic, I no longer work on Sundays. I think it’s important to have a clear head in order to thrive in business.”

To unwind, in fact, he enjoys spending time in the countryside. “I live in Mellieha, surrounded by nature and the sea – I like to go for a walk with my excitable one-year-old German Shepherd! COVID-19 has been a game changer in this respect. I realised we’re here to live and work – not to work and live.”

Nonetheless, 2022 is an intensive year for INDIS Malta, and will see it focus, among other things, on aviation (an industry that’s recovering gradually) and family-run businesses. Joseph is adamant that small and traditional businesses need support, particularly now. “Small businesses are important for the economy and for the survival of local traditions,” he asserts. “By way of example, there are craftspeople who are skilled in creating parts for older machinery in the traditional way. We need these micro-enterprises to survive because large companies do not tend to be interested in this niche.

“INDIS Malta may not earn high rental income from such companies,” Joseph admits, “but these properties help our tourism industry, among others.” He has a clear vision for a more sustainable future, where tradition and culture can thrive alongside the growing industrial sector. “We need to regard micro-enterprises as an investment,” he concludes. “If traditional businesses are doing a good job in the property industry, it’s reflected in Malta’s economy.”

This article is part of the serialisation of 50 interviews featured in MaltaCEOs 2022 – an annual high-end publication bringing together some of the country’s most influential business leaders.

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