FROM OUR ROOTS

In 1976, trailers – roll-on, roll-off were introduced to the Maltese market. Those were interesting times. Malta was going through constant economic change; new markets were being tapped – whilst the political climate in Malta was often tense. We saw this as a good opportunity to invest, and in the process, we set up the company Vella Brothers (Malta) Limited to diversify into the international transportation. A year or so later the government had decided that the name “Malta Limited” was not to be allowed, so we had changed the name of the company to Vella Brothers Limited. 

Entering the international market was no easy task. Till that time, we were focused entirely on the local market. When we looked beyond our shores, that was a step in the dark – for we did not have adequate resources and knowledge to take such a remarkable risk. But we did, because we were determined to grow and diversify our business operations. Above all, we were determined to become leaders in our field. 

Two companies started off at the same time: Islander Trucking and Transeuro Systems who had the necessary resources to start off with a large fleet of equipment. In our case we could only start off with one tractor unit and three trailers. However, after a few years in their operation these two main competitors closed down their business and we eventually bought the equipment of Transeuro Systems. That too was a remarkable achievement and a watershed moment for us. Buying out all the equipment of our competitor, considering that we started small was no mean feat. With hindsight, I believe that was the start of our success story. It was a tough beginning. At first, we encountered a good number of challenges. We had to find out how to obtain the international transport authorisations for our trucks to load cargo and transit through other European countries. At the time Malta did not have any Ministry of Transport which could guide us and provide necessary assistance in this respect. In the circumstances, to obtain these permits, I had no option but to write directly to the Ministry of Transport of each country. I recall the reply received for my first enquiry with German and Austrian authorities was that further correspondence with them must be in the German language. Eventually, I managed to build up the contacts with the international authorities and set up the appropriate system to ensure our trucks are always accompanied with the appropriate authorisations and our trailers have the “carnet de passage” to facilitate border crossings. 

Subsequently, Gollcher Company Limited, Sullivan & Sullivan Limited, and John Ripard & Son Limited approached us. They wanted to enter into the international market and asked us to do it together. That was another watershed moment for us. It was excellent proof that we were being noticed, and that well established companies saw in us their opportunity to grow. For this purpose, we set up a company in which they had 60% of the share, and us 40%. We agreed that this company was to be named Express Trailers Limited. 

The first meetings of this new company took place at our Qormi premises. We had a makeshift office in the Qormi Garage: wooden planks, suspended in the mid-air, and humble apertures. We saw in this venture an opportunity to grow. This partnership gave us a proper company experience. The first company board was composed of the other three company directors, my bother Ġużi, and myself. 

By time, we started to expand our business and continue building up our network of agents in Europe to use as groupage hubs. Even our fleet of equipment was gradually increasing. The partnership with the other three companies lasted for around five years – then we bought them out. We set up our company board. Foreign medium-sized companies had expressed interest in us too. We had a lot of work, mostly in Italy, UK, Germany, Holland, and Belgium. 

In the 1970s, and 80s, the textile industry was strong in Malta. It employed thousands of Maltese workers. Many young men and women worked long hours, sewing garments, mostly for export. Malta had become one of the leaders in this field, and we benefitted greatly from this boom. By time, it started to falter due to harsh competition from abroad. We had a heavy volume of traffic in the textile industry, so we had to adapt to the changing reality – which we did. That could have been a do-or-die moment for us. I know of many local companies which went bust when the textile industry faltered. We did not because we never put all of our eggs in one basket, and we were always quick to adapt. 

In the mid-1990s the pharmaceutical industry gained ground in Malta and we saw this as an opportunity to grow. Today, it is one of the leading economic sectors in Malta which employs hundreds of employees and is constantly growing. We invested heavily in our trailers because the pharmaceutical industry requires sophisticated machinery and trailers. 

I think that life and this beautiful experience of seeing Express Trailers grow taught me a very valuable lesson – that to grow, we need to keep adapting and not be afraid of change. 

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