Last year, former INDIS Malta CEO Karl Azzopardi was appointed CEO of the newly established building and construction authority (BCA) – an authority set up with the aim of reforming Malta’s construction sector. He’s got a tough task ahead but, while he recognises the complexities that come with the role, the CEO sees major opportunities on the horizon.

Differentiating his new role from that of a CEO in the private sector, Karl Azzopardi explains that the main variance lies in the aims of the entity. “An authority or entity that is working within the sphere of Government is not looking to make a profit, but rather to find what is good from a socio-economic standpoint,” he explains. “As CEO of the recently established Building and Construction Authority (BCA), I see myself as the catalyst for change in the construction industry.”

Describing Malta’s construction sector as a major player within the economic output of the country, Karl highlights the need for its reform. “Technologies have advanced. Yet, while we have seen some improvements locally, these do not tally with international standards. Our aim is to transform the sector to make it sustainable and more competitive. To do this, we need to embrace new technologies and improve the way we do things. This is a horizontal approach involving all of the sub- sectors within the industry.”

Acknowledging that these goals will involve a cultural shift that will undoubtedly take time, the CEO is positive about the BCA’s approach. “We have an action plan that looks at all sub-sectors of the industry as being on a level playing field. Once we are all speaking the same language, then we can upgrade.”

A look at the path that has led Karl to his current position reveals a wide-ranging career, although construction, he reveals, has been a passion of his from the start.

“As a student, I got a job within the administration office of the Central Bank of Malta,” the CEO shares.

“From there, I was tasked with assisting an executive to lead a project, which was my introduction to project management and construction.”

This led Karl to oversee projects with the Central Bank for seven years, before moving into the private sector where he managed property portfolios and offered project management services to architects, engineers and developers. It was in this role that Karl oversaw some large- scale projects, including works on the Valletta waterfront and cruise terminal, among many others.

“This exposed me to the full cycle of a project – managing it all the way through from inception and business development to implementation and post-construction facilities management,” Karl explains. He then joined an international project management company working in the MENA region, before landing his first big Government project.

“I was approached to lead and direct the Esplora project from a very early stage,” he recalls. He was later tasked with leading what was then known as Malta Industrial Parks, which he managed for six years, factoring in its rebrand to INDIS. Then, after being appointed a Board Member to the BCA last year, he led workshops on what should be done to transform the sector. “As a Board we were successful

in encouraging Government towards the enactment of the BCA as an authority with the aim of transforming the industry,” he smiles.

Karl, who now leads the vision he first put forward, shares his priorities as CEO. “Organisation, structure, vision, mission, and action plans are all key. They provide my expertise within the sector, and something I feel comfortable doing,” he maintains. “Starting an authority from scratch is exciting, and it’s an opportunity to get things done in the right way, immediately.”

Describing the strategy and action plan that will lead towards the sustainable transformation of the industry in the coming years, Karl draws on Malta’s Economic Vision 2021-2031, highlighting its emphasis on climate change, the circular economy and the COVID-19 recovery.

“I would place the building and construction sector at the forefront of that vision,” he says, explaining that the industry has led the way for the island’s accelerated economic growth in recent years. “The construction sector has proven to be resilient during COVID-19,” the CEO notes, “and it will continue to be a key player in our economy. However, things need to change. And our strategy is based on the upgrading of standards and education when it comes to skills gaps within the sector and, most importantly, climate change.”

Karl reveals that the BCA’s initial plan involves creating the island’s first national building codes, addressing the need to regenerate vocational subjects and focusing on embracing climate change initiatives. “We want to put the sector in the best-possible position to take opportunities, innovate, renovate and move ahead,” he says, outlining a 10-year strategy that begins with an immediate three-year action plan. The CEO believes that plan will drastically change the way the sector operates, from the professionals designing it and the developers investing in it, right through to the end user.

“We are changing the culture by introducing the notion of a building passport,” Karl reveals. “Whether it’s an old building due to be renovated or a new building being constructed, they will all require one. Building passports will focus on two key areas: the structural stability and life expectancy of the building, and its performance from an energy perspective. This is a big transformation that will push Malta to upgrade its building standards.”

When it comes to education, the CEO says, “we have a situation whereby the industry currently employs around 46,000 people directly and indirectly, but there’s a big skills gap.” Tackling this is no mean feat, but the Authority will be working towards promoting courses to address this, having identified approximately 130 skill sets required by today’s far more specialised industry.

On the subject of climate change, Karl explains, “we have a long-term renovation strategy that was approved in 2021, and we now need to plan the various initiatives that will lead towards our decarbonisation targets.” Concurrent to the Authority’s three-year plan, Karl continues, “we are building up capacity, investing in technology and adding resources. So, by 2024, we will reach our peak operation.”

Describing the impact of COVID-19 on the industry and how it stands to affect the BCA’s future projects, the CEO says that, while the sector has proven resilient, the pandemic did impact project timelines. “I believe that the impact of COVID-19 will continue to be felt in the coming months and years,” he admits. “We were used to a fast-track system, and there will now be a lag, although this is a good opportunity to prioritise and let less rounded projects fall by the wayside.

“Malta now has an opportunity to look at our carrying capacity against our stock, incentivise renovation rather than demolishing, and align ourselves with carbon neutrality and decarbonisation. It’s complex but we can do it,” he maintains.

Assessing the opportunities ahead, Karl draws on his project management experience, highlighting the importance of starting with the basics and looking at the standards and components involved in the industry today. “If you can look at the full cycle of a project, there are many opportunities to upscale and improve,” he says.

As for the challenges involved, the CEO considers the main one to be the culture shift required at different levels of the industry. “The dialogue among professionals involved in the industry is very positive. There is the appetite for change,” he says, describing the importance for all involved to accept responsibility for their part in the process. “There will be resistance to change because the way things are currently done is ingrained in our culture. But, once we attain results, we will be thankful for our perseverance and the work we are doing today.

“In fact, our aim for the end of 2022 is for the sector to have a good grasp of our position,” Karl shares. “We have started issuing snippets of the new legislation, so I see this year as the baseline that will kickstart the change. We want to ensure the industry’s focus is on basic minimum standards, as well as education and awareness, which we hope will set the scene for years to come.”

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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