Firstbridge Services Limited finds its humble origins in 2005, offering traditional financial accountancy and corporate support services. Fast forward to 2014 when Director Dean Micallef joined with the intention to rebrand and reshape, and the company began its transformation into the multifaceted professional services provider it is today. He talks Sarah Micallef from the Commercial Courier through his plans, tracing the evolution of the company in line with the local and international business landscape.
Fresh from a background within one of the Big Four accounting firms, Dean Micallef was keen to carry through the
professionalism and emphasis on quality he had become accustomed to upon joining Firstbridge in 2014, albeit with a little twist of his own.
“The style of doing things at my previous place of work always appealed to me – quality
was never compromised and you strived to do things the right way. I also quickly learnt that in order to build and sustain a professional services offering targeting the modern business client, there is a danger of having too much control and structure, losing focus of what the client actually wants. At Firstbridge, we try to find a balance between being professional and maintaining quality while still being responsive and adaptive to our clients’ needs,” he explains.
At present, the company offers six core service lines. “We still offer our highly demanded traditional back office support services which include accountancy and payroll, however today we also offer a full range of financial advisory, corporate advisory, taxation and international residency services as well.”
Asked how the industry has changed since he first started out, Mr Micallef points out that initially, the focus of the professional services provider was primarily focused on delivering a consistent, quality service without much attention being paid towards change management and adaptation. “It slowly developed from there. Now, I see the industry looking more towards the medium and long term – doing things because they will be of benefit in the future. It’s all about progression planning, embracing change, and being more creative,” he maintains.
And is this also the case locally? “I’d like to think so, but there’s still a way to go,” says Mr Micallef. “Unless we create a stronger acceptance and interest in investing in the intangible, we won’t see big improvements. Whilst various industries may be performing well, if organisations want to maintain and better their chances of success in the future, they need to encourage innovation. The buzz word in the technology field is disruption. Everyone is looking to innovate or disrupt when it’s a new product or service being offered, but when you’re trying to disrupt a traditional business model, it’s not as easy. One doesn’t have to radically change a 30, 50 or 100-year-old company overnight, but you can take calculated risks – with the rapid technological advances that we are witnessing I feel that it’s about time we start becoming a bit more creative and forward thinking,” he continues.
Speaking of the technology field, Mr Micallef considers technology or tech to be “one of the largest game-changers”. Up until a decade or so ago, the Firstbridge Director explains, higher level tech was isolated to the ICT industries, and when it came to companies not directly related to tech, it was seen simply as a tool. “If a business does not embrace tech, it will fall behind – it has become a necessity. It supports the various aspects of every business, from sales and marketing to human resources, quality control and even finance.” Firstbridge is continuously focusing on better understanding the distinct business models across key industries and is currently working on a number of initiatives providing our clients with the relevant tools to manage change for the modern era.”
Mr Micallef speaks with enthusiasm about Firstbridge priding itself in being an active supporter of business start-ups, and highlights the difference tech has made within the start-up playground. Whereas in the past, a university grad or an idea generator who may not have had the means to kick start an idea had to depend on support from banks to start their own business, or give up altogether to work for an already established market player; thanks to tech, more and more people are becoming entrepreneurs and business owners. “We are seeing an international trend where more creative minds are starting their own business rather than becoming an employee.
The market is evolving, and tech is bringing the world closer together. Your potential market is no longer the people in your vicinity, its international. Just think about what happened with Uber and Airbnb – your spare bedroom is suddenly available for business, and you have many more opportunities to monetise your free time, essentially businesses can reach anyone in the world at any time,” he maintains.
As a start-up destination, Malta is making inroads in developing the scene. Through its #supportingstartups initiative, Firstbridge has been supporting a number of interesting start-up entities, helping them establish their business policies and procedures, strengthening their corporate structures and ultimately helping them raise capital through the various corporate finance streams currently made available to them.
And with Firstbridge’s focus on relationship building and travelling the journey together, I ask for the Director’s top words of advice to businesses today – many of whom are currently faced with a changing reality in their industries. “My main advice is to focus on what you do best, the complexity of modern business requires that organisations maintain focus on their core business to ensure they remain a step ahead. One does not need to look at controlling every aspect of their business, rather, it is good to embrace collaboration, partnerships and other forms of strategic alliances. Entrepreneurs and business owners should also not be afraid to invest in their own business and not necessarily in the tangible aspects – ultimately never stop moving forward and re-inventing yourself,” he affirms.
Another of Mr Micallef’s key advice points is related to succession. “Keep growing your company – whether you’re starting day one or celebrating year 20, strengthen your brand, work towards making your business model self-sustainable and try to reduce any highly concentrated dependency points.
Your business may be one of your most valuable core assets, however such a value is only as real as the underlying company’s ability to be transferred and converted into more liquid assets, therefore you need to plan ahead so that if need be, you can attract potential investment,” he continues, pointing to a failure within the local business
landscape to embrace equity models.
“Equity investment coming directly into your business is something that, emotionally, a lot of local companies find hard to swallow, parting with a share of your company in return for a smaller piece of a bigger pie is a reality that a number of businesses are taking advantage of, the growth potential and operational efficiencies can be incredible.”
Moving onto internationalisation, Mr Micallef believes that this is the natural next step for successful local businesses. “There are a number of Malta based organisations that have been relatively successful in Malta, but the Maltese market is what it is, and I honestly feel that we have the capabilities to go beyond that. Internationalisation will allow us to finally benchmark ourselves against international players,” he explains, referring to Firstbridge’s business development desk SINO, which focuses on cross-border business development between Europe and Asia, with particular focus on China. Firstbridge has supported a number of organisations in establishing crosscontinental business relationships.
Finally, looking towards the horizon for Firstbridge, Mr Micallef is adamant that the relationship-building aspect with the firm’s clients is key. The goal-driven team behind the company have one all-encompassing goal: to help businesses grow through tailormade solutions that are created with specific clients in mind. “Our unique selling point is that advisory features in every one of our service lines. It’s not just about holding financial records and maintaining organised books, it’s about raising flags, encouraging debate and discussion, stimulating proactive mentalities and accepting reaction when needed. It’s about bringing attention to the client and giving them value added,” he asserts, adding, “to be part of the evolution of a company is something that excites us.”
And on a personal level, he maintains, “one of my key strategies is to bring quality and consistency to meet creativity. You have to find that right balance. We’re all about embracing and supporting change, and allowing businesses to exploit their own potential. We’re there to support businesses to allow them to do what they do best, while maximising the potential of their unique business model.”