Born in 1944, Salvu is the eldest of the Vella brothers and he remembers very well how tough the early years of the business were.
“It was tough work and in my case a lot of bureaucracy too, because whilst most of my other brothers were the more hands-on in the family and their work revolved mainly round our trucks, trailers and the running of the company, I had chosen to dedicate my entire working life at Express to the administrative side of the company.” Salvu was only fourteen years old when he joined the family business. He remembers his father Emmanuel starting off as a stevedore and eventually setting up his own venture with his brother, Ninu.
“This joint venture was not to last for long because Ninu decided to set off to Australia as did many Maltese at the time, and my father continued the business on his own – until I and my brother Ġorġ joined the business. My father and uncle Ninu were close and when Ninu left for Australia, my father not only lost a brother, but a dear friend and business colleague. But he was not discouraged and despite the emotional loss, he was determined to take the business forward.” “At the time, the company was known as Emmanuel Vella & Sons (an Unlimited Liability Company as was regulated by Customs authorities at that time), then eventually the Company changed its name to Emmanuel Vella & Sons Limited.”
“This was a very special time when we started buying a lot of equipment and vehicles. I remember the time we had bought a crane that was composed of five towers – which was quite a thing at the time because cranes of that type were still a rarity on the island. But we saw in it the opportunity to modernise our business and provide a more efficient service to our clients.”
“As we grew, we started seeing opportunities which before would have not been so apparent. This was when we started considering international transport on mainland Europe. As brothers, we decided to embark on this new business, and we formed Vella Brothers Ltd to be able to fund and acquire our first truck and trailer for overseas transport. We also invested in a piece of land which also came with a half-built garage. The former owner had a quarry and we used to bring the stone from his quarry to complete this garage. We worked together on weekends till we finished it. We bought all the materials and built the roof ourselves too!”
Salvu recalls how the main clients at the time were mostly local factories so the company started buying more vehicles.
“We always believed that investing in new vehicles and working resources had to be a priority if we were serious about becoming competitive in a new, growing market.
“I recall the day when we bought our first Ford Trans Continental from Gasan Motors. This was our very first truck with which we started operating internationally as Express Trailers. It not only enabled us to provide a better and much faster service to our clients, but it also gave us a better reputation in Malta and abroad because we allowed others to see that our new company Express Trailers was a company that meant business.” Salvu’s main duties however were always at Customs where he spent a lot of years, going there every day.
“I remember how most times, I used to be already up by three o’clock in the morning so that I could go down to customs where I used to meet our clients, present the paperwork, and get our goods through. For a teenager, that was already a tough job. But those were different times, and we all wanted the company to succeed so I persevered. Even when the going got tough and circumstances tried to hinder us from going on with our business. That seemed to be the only way how we would learn that ambition, passion, courage, and perseverance would see us through,” he reminisces. When it came to financial matters, Salvu echoes what his brothers always say: that in the early years, resources especially financial ones, were always tight.
“It was a shared decision that we were to re-invest most of our income back into the company to improve the business. We invested a lot in new machinery and vehicles, and I believe that this is one of the main reasons why today, Express Trailers has grown to become the leading logistics company in Malta with such a wide and varied network of partners and collaborators across international markets. None of this would have been possible had we failed to invest at the outset, if we held back from exploring new economic niches and adapt our business to international circumstances.” Salvu looks at Express Trailers as a company that has accompanied Malta through thick and thin.
“We pride ourselves in having managed to ride on some of Malta’s most prominent historical milestones such as Malta’s Independence and EU membership and benefiting from them. These were very positive times but likewise, we also had to withstand harsher events too such as the economic climate caused by the 2008 financial crisis and the subsequent economic meltdown. It was a time when major international banks went bust, we saw well-established companies close shop and people losing their life savings.”
“At Express Trailers we monitored the situation closely, relying on financial advice to ensure our operations adapted to those tough circumstances. Our biggest fear was that the crisis would also end up affecting the country, and other close leading EU member states, negatively. But we adapted, as we always did when faced with similar trying challenges.”
Salvu credits the hard work of Express Trailers’ people, the sound financial advice and the determination to carry on for Express Trailers’ constant growth even throughout the most adverse of circumstances.
“It was no mean feat, and we pride ourselves in having managed to not only overcome these tough times but to come out of them even stronger and more resilient.”
And perhaps even at this point in time, already a year into the uncertainty of this global pandemic, Express Trailers continues to remain true to the qualities that have always defined it, in persisting its conviction to keep offering the best service to its clients, investing in its people, and strengthening its fundamentals for when business starts picking up again.
“When times became tougher, our priorities remained our business and our people, two key elements that go hand in hand. There is no point in safeguarding a business if the people behind it are not safeguarded. We learned to be resilient from our fathers and it is now our turn to pass on this quality to our people. Resilience after all, was and will always remain, the main ingredient in our success,” concluded Salvu.
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