In a heartfelt message at the end of a videoconference with senior leaders from 10 countries, Steve Tarr recently announced that he will be stepping down as Chairman of Hili Ventures after five years. The announcement, which prompted more than 500 messages of well wishes, marked Tarr’s decision to move into semi-retirement 45 years after embarking on an illustrious career spanning many countries and industries.
A well-known but low-key figure in the Maltese business community, Tarr, whose late mother was Maltese, worked with some of the country’s most successful family businesses and advised many top entrepreneurs. Since expanding his business from the UK in the early 1980s also seeking to establish a consultancy in Malta, Tarr has gradually built a reputation for his prowess in managing change and people. . With his propensity to inspire people at different stages of their careers and professional journeys to identify and realize their potential, many are fortunate to have been able to consider him as their mentor.
He has been embraced by the wider business community as Chairman of Business Leaders Malta, the joint venture that started as a conference organizer 12 years ago and has grown into a group encompassing a school of commerce and a research company. BLM, jointly owned by audiovisual specialist Jugs, recruiter Konnekt and Tarr’s Mdina Holdings, now operates internationally. Morgan Parnis, who joined BLM 10 years ago and is now its chief executive and shareholder, has been instrumental in the company’s success. Parnis is also a director of Tarr’s own company, Mdina Partners.
A qualified management consultant, Tarr spent his school holidays on the island. At 16, he began an apprenticeship at General Motors, a job he didn’t appreciate but which he finished at 20 to appease his father, sales manager at Fry’s Chocolate. He joined an engineering company as a sales representative and was quickly promoted to sales manager. Headhunted by a competitor to become a sales manager to lead a team of 40, Tarr began seeking specialized sales training but found that beyond open courses, bespoke programs were virtually non-existent.
“Instead of buying a house like most people would have done at that age, I spent all my earnings on 20 courses to understand the psychology of selling,” he says. “I became almost obsessed with people’s behavior: what motivated them, what inspired their attitude, what shaped their mindset. I was so fascinated that I quit a secure job and decided to train salespeople.
By his thirties, Tarr had established a training business called Strategic Training International in Bedford with two partners and over 40 trainers, operating out of a state-of-the-art 700 square meter facility. He found that as CEO he was not spending as much time on training as he had hoped. He sold his stake, retained a few clients and decided to pursue the potential of his fledgling management training business in Malta and the UK. He admits the experience gave him invaluable insight into management and the importance of having the right people doing the right things at the right time with the right attitude. Business owners and managers, he found, were crying out for leadership skills. With his own team, Tarr operates quite differently from most consulting firms.
“We were, and still are, different in that we audit staff, identify training needs, deliver the training and then measure its effectiveness. This is why our customer relationships last on average 10 years. We are part of the team,” he says.
I had never worked with such a dynamic company and team as Hili Ventures
Early in his career, Tarr made a conscious decision never to be employed and to remain independent in order to preserve his ability to challenge the status quo of his clients. He spent 40 years building relationships with family business owners, helping them design management and people strategies and business plans as they headed for growth – while traveling between Malta, the United Kingdom, the United States and other parts of the world.
One of his early experiences, which he says shaped his consultancy skills, was working with visionary Jeremy Pilkington of Harrogate-based construction firm Vp plc. Pilkington took over from his father and turned the business into a conglomerate by acquiring companies in the United States and bringing them into the group. For more than eight years, Tarr supported the change and people management that was critical to ensuring the company’s growth was effective, efficient and ultimately sustainable. Pilkington, Tarr recalls, was meticulous, structured, and had a remarkable insight that would ensure the realization of his vision.
“I learned so much from watching him and watching his behaviors – he was so strategic. He had a particular brilliance,” Tarr says. led to thinking about the importance of empathy and the importance of communicating with people as early as possible and as much as possible, giving them time to process the information that will affect them Reassurance and transparency go a long way in calming people’s nerves, gaining their trust and loyalty, and retaining them. It’s about people, treating people the way you want to be treated, and creating an environment that encourages decision-making. your mistakes is the smartest part.
Tarr then worked with Northern Rock, helping management transition from a building society to a full-fledged bank and working to hold branch managers accountable. For 10 years he held the responsibilities of People Manager with Measurement Technology Limited, a family business in Luton specializing in switchgear technology which expanded to 36 countries and became a plc. He has consulted and trained teams in China and the Far East, Russia, the United States and Canada, and throughout Europe. At parcel company United Carriers, he supported the chief executive as the group grew through acquisition.
In Malta in the early 1990s, he played a key role in human resources when Gasan Insurance and Galdes & Mamo merged to form GasanMamo Insurance – the two companies had different cultures, but the transition only resulted in only one senior management resignation. Elsewhere, as Alf Mizzi and Sons expanded, Tarr oversaw all formation and development of the growing team.
Alongside these appointments, his own company in Malta Mdina Partnership has engaged engineer Alex Galea, now its managing director, who shared his vision of a bespoke leadership and management training provider and “didn’t never looked back”. Today the firm, rebranded as Mdina Partners, has offices in Malta, the UK and Germany – the latter set up in conjunction with a delegate so inspired by the firm’s program that he asked to establish a presence for Mdina Partners in Germany.
“I’ve always wanted Mdina Partners not to depend on me and to succeed when I’m not around. Thanks to Alex’s leadership and the team we have in place, this has already been achieved,” he says.
Tarr has split his time between the UK and Malta for over 30 years since the late Albert Mizzi and his son Alec Mizzi gave him consultancy assignments with numerous group companies. He was introduced to many family business leaders and soon became acquainted with the Hili family and consulted for them as they increased McDonald’s presence in Malta and developed their shipping business Carmelo Caruana Company.
Melo Hili, the youngest of the Hili brothers who first ran their engineering company Motherwell Bridge and became licensed from McDonald’s in Malta in 2005, discussed the opportunity to form Hili Ventures in early 2012. The new group would encompass some of the companies family had built together as it diversified. Tarr helped Hili and veteran CFO Richard Abdilla Castillo devise a plan that matches the vision for the group’s growth trajectory. As Chief People Officer, he recruited an experienced management team to execute the strategy before being appointed Group Chairman in 2016.
“It was a learning curve for all of us,” he recalls. “Hili Ventures has multiplied its revenues from the 50 million euros at the time. The group is now present in 10 countries, operates 166 McDonald’s restaurants in six European markets, manages 30 Apple Premium Resellers in Poland and Hungary. We we have ventured into oil and gas, hospitality, leasing, technology and real estate over the years and have grown to 10,000 people.
“I had never worked with such a dynamic company and team as this one. We were able to demonstrate that we could grow a business exponentially, a business that was not solely dependent on doing business in Malta. Melo and I went through many challenges, but I worked hard to understand the dream he had for the band and his desire to see it based on honesty, transparency, work ethic and shared values – values that cannot be compromised. More than a professional relationship, we have forged a friendship of trust and value. Those years have been fun and exhilarating.
A father of four and now grandfather of two, all of whom live in the UK, Tarr decided to make Malta his home base 15 years ago, knowing he would eventually retire to the country he loved. The situation caused by the pandemic caused him to examine his lifestyle and he says he had a taste of semi-retirement which involved minimal business travel and commuting – and that he loved it. He decided to keep a handful of small business board appointments while considering a few more. He says he will dedicate his time to family, friends, his love of sports and documentaries, and hopes to get involved in charity work to give back.
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