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Finding Success in Succession with Family Values

By February 1, 2023November 8th, 2023No Comments

As Francis J. Vassallo & Associates approaches its 25th anniversary, Founder and Chairman Francis J. Vassallo and his daughter, CEO Adriana Camillieri Vassallo, share how their family business success story thrives upon a culture of relationships – not just among the close-knit team but with their clients too.

Speak to any member of the Francis J. Vassallo & Associates (FJVA) team – or indeed, stroll into the company’s offices in Qormi, Malta – and one thing becomes clear: the warm, family-like atmosphere at FJVA is the air the company breathes.

Family values run deep here. Set up as a company services provider in 1998 by Francis J. Vassallo and his daughter Adriana Camilleri Vassallo, FJVA has since expanded both its range of solution-based services and its team to more than 80 professionals proudly working under the FJVA banner, including Mr Vassallo’s daughter Adriana Camilleri Vassallo – now CEO – and son Steffan Vassallo, who works in the group’s Luxembourg office.

As the company marks its 25th anniversary in 2023, it continues to adapt to the change in leadership following the successful transition between father and daughter. Yet while the person at the helm may have changed, the values at the heart of FJVA are as solid as ever.

“Our four pillars are efficiency, ethics, relationship management, and mutual growth and success for both clients and staff – a mission statement I am proud that we have never had to revise in our soon-to-be 25 years of operation,” says Ms Camilleri Vassallo. “One of the challenges of our growth process was maintaining the family environment which is a fundamental part of the FJVA culture. Ours is a culture of relationships, with our clients and between everyone at FJVA. Our culture is aligned in every Partner, every team member, and in all we do.”

“I treat all our staff as if they were my children – and I never realised I had so many children!” adds Mr Vassallo with a laugh, sharing how the family spirit at FJVA extends into work events and personal celebrations. We say ‘grow with us’ and most of our Partners have done exactly that over the years. In fact, one of our Partners just celebrated 20 years with the company.

Mr Vassallo shares the words of wisdom that became his cornerstone for half a century: “Before leaving Malta to join Chase Manhattan Bank in Milan, my father gave me two pieces of advice. The first was to be nice to the people you meet on the way up, because you will meet them on the way down,” he goes on. “The second was that a man has two assets he can pass onto his children that no government can ever tax: integrity and knowledge. These are the values I have passed down to my children and everyone at FJVA. We instil a culture of ethics and invest heavily in staff training, not just to develop their careers, but also to ingrain these ideas into the company culture.”

The inclusive and innovative atmosphere even extended, prepandemic, into opening a childcare centre within the FJVA building – and ensured that, through the Covid-19 crisis, all team members kept their position with no reduction in their salary.

At FJVA, Mr Vassallo explains, ‘solution-based services’ means Partners keep in constant touch with clients, offering solutions as the need arises. It is an approach borne of his own decades of experience. Born in Mdina, Malta, he graduated in economics in 1970 and made the move to Milan to join the Chase Manhattan Bank (now called JP Morgan Chase following a merger in 2000). His career with Chase saw Mr Vassallo move often, to destinations including New York, the Dominican Republic, London, Spain, and Switzerland. Whilst at Chase, he was approached by the Prime Minister of Malta with the offer of an appointment as Governor of the Central Bank of Malta, to adapt Malta’s financial and banking system in preparation for EU accession.

“Although our leadership style is different and authentic to us as individuals, our values are the same and our mission statement lived by everyone.”

“Once my term of office had ended after four years, I decided to set up my own financial services company,” Mr Vassallo recalls. “At that time, Adriana was working with a Big Four company. We started as a small service provider with a private banking approach, organised as if it were a subsidiary of Chase, with an international way of doing business – and we grew thanks to our positive international reputation.”

Today, the FJVA Group is an independent group of companies run by the Vassallo family and other Partners as a close-knit family business, with experts across various disciplines who offer a high quality, bespoke range of services to multinationals, family offices, and private clients the world over. Plus, FJVA can offer clients one other service aspect drawn from personal experience: the art of transition from one generation to the next.

“Although I was officially appointed as FJVA CEO in 2019, I had been acting CEO for two years beforehand and geared towards the position throughout my career,” Ms Camilleri Vassallo explains. “However, the title itself is not important – it is about leading by example, creating equal opportunities, and prioritising purpose over profit. Positive influence, positive impact, always.”

She explains that, due to Mr Vassallo’s postings in different countries whilst at Chase, she and her siblings lived in multiple global destinations throughout their formative years. Today, this hands-on international experience affords the next generation CEO the same open-minded, culturally aware business sense of her father – yet her leadership style is very much her own, she admits. “I officially became CEO a few months before the pandemic hit. Thankfully, we had already embarked on a digital transformation project, investing heavily in this area.”

Although both admit that the journey towards succession was challenging at times, Mr Vassallo, now as Chairman of the Group, remains a self-professed workaholic, but also fills his time with charitable pursuits.

“Our transition process meant learning from each other and growing together,” Ms Camilleri Vassallo highlights. “Although our leadership style is different and authentic to us as individuals, our values are the same and our mission statement lived by everyone.”

Sharing that the future holds more internationalisation for FJVA, Mr Vassallo signs off with his hope for his legacy at the family firm. “Malta 25 years ago is not what it is today, and it will keep on changing. I would like my grandchildren to say that the firm has grown whilst retaining the same values it has had from inception.”

This article has been adapted from the MaltaInvest 2023 Edition by Content House article.  Featured Image:  Bernard Polidano