A few days ago Amazon Prime delivered the above DVD starring Alec Guiness, Jack Hawkins, Anthony Steel & Flora Robson which brought back many happy memories of visiting the island fortress of Malta .
Thankfully, unlike the film, the hoards of German and Italian visitors when I visited the first time were not intent on bombing the island, but enjoying it with their British counterparts as tourists! Unfortunately I was there on business, having effectively sold my services to the government CIO of Malta at MITTS, the precursor to MITA over the telephone…
I did have a track record of helping sales sell into the client base by phone, most famously when I had a bad case of the trots & stayed at home while the salesman visited the CIO in Wales, but normally this necessitated a visit in person to meet the CIO to make sure the Executive Partner’s experience and personal chemistry was the right fit for both parties.
Malta although very close to Africa geographically as well as Europe is very Anglophile, with many of the laws and customs, including a government organisationally very similar to Whitehall. My experience of working extensively with central government here in the UK was therefore of great interest.
The chemistry aspect though was probably just as important. Indeed, later as the leader of the UK & Ireland business for a number of years I used to joke with clients and prospects that my role was more like the CEO of Match.com…
As it happens the then EMEA and Global leaders of Executive Programs decided that year to hold the regional January kick-off meeting in Malta at the newly built Meridian hotel. This involved a treasure hunt by jeep and a pole dancing class in St. Julian’s after imbibing some celebratory drinks in several of their hostelries!
So my own client kick-off meeting with Peter Bugeja was tacked onto the end of that visit, my first ever to the island, although I had heard stories from my father about being based in Malta during the Second World War when his ship HMS Largs visited the Valetta port in January 1943.
Unfortunately my father on hearing I was about to revisit his earlier port of call some 60 years later asked me to ask Peter if “the Gut” was still there. Innocently I related this story to Peter over our introductory lunch who looking rather taken aback as he told me it was the name of the old “red light” district for visiting matelots of the Royal navy…
Despite this faux pas the two Peter’s got on well and became good friends although I have to say that when I subsequently visited the island I never worked so hard and on one occasion asked my Executive Client Manager Eddie Louchart to come with me to share the workload!
In these early days this was before Malta joined the European Community and the sterling cost of my services pre-Euro were not inexpensive for the government, so I felt morally obliged to maximise the return on their investment.
In fact to echo this when on a later visit in May 2005 when their local currency was still the Lira or Maltese pound as it was often referred to I decided to fly out Debbie and Emma at my own incremental costs to share my experience of the beautiful island, staying at the Corinthia hotel in St. George’s Bay.
A bottle of good local wine in a seafront cafe was about £1. Alas once they adopted the Euro prices shot up although hotels can still be stayed in relatively cheaply as there are even more budget airlines flying there.
Later, being very impressed by the work being done by government IT on the island for very low cost, I organised a study tour for two UK central government CIOs Roy & Mike to see what was possible especially in terms of challenging European procurement rules which seemed to be interpreted so strictly back home and led to huge incremental costs as a result.
They seemed amazed as to the progress made by MITTS across a number of government departments and vowed to take the lessons learnt back home. On our last evening we decided to visit some of the underground bomb shelters used during the war which made me quite emotional when watching “The Malta Story” on DVD yesterday which shows actual historic archive material.
My abiding memory of Malta was how friendly and family orientated the people were and just what a beautiful island it is. I do hope Debbie & I make it back out there one day!