News | Wednesday, 13 May 2009

MFCC changes hands

Sign It Ltd increase shareholding, let in new partners

David Darmanin

The Malta Fairs and Conventions Centre (MFCC) held its first board meeting under new ownership yesterday, this newspaper can confirm.
The firm, which runs the largest indoor events venue in Malta, was previously owned by a partnership made up of Fairs and Exhibitions Ltd and Sign It Ltd. But whereas Sign It previously owned a 25 per cent stake in the company, it has now upped its share to 50 per cent and the remaining 50 per cent was bought up by Nexos Investments and Holdings Ltd.
Describing the last seven months as “turbulent”, Sign It Managing Director Ruben Caruana told Business Today that MFCC had come to a point where it would have either changed its board of directors or shut down.
Disagreement between directors of Fairs and Exhibitions and Sign It on the MFCC board last October led to an en bloc resignation of all of the former company’s board members – all representing the interests of the Malta Trade Fairs Corporation, which is owned by government and employer organisations. 34 garnishee orders against Sign It ensued. This has been described as an attempt by the estranged business partners to sabotage what had remained of MFCC - which was not doing well.
Caruana said the relationship between partners has now been restored, and discussions to involve the Trade Fair Corporation back in the organisation of the Malta International Trade Fair in July have been “almost finalised”.
“This does not mean that the corporation will come back on board, but rather that they will be coming in with their 50 years of experience to help us in the organisation of the biggest fair in Malta,” Caruana explained.
MFCC had been owned and run by Sign It and Fairs and Exhibitions for a whole two years since October 2008. Caruana says the biggest bones of contention leading to the fallout between the two parties was resistance to culture change.
“Over the past years, I have been operating with the speed and dynamism of a small company while the Trade Fair Corporation had a lot of experience,” Caruana told Business Today. “However, it was clear from the beginning that if we were to work together, I had to step up and start operating on a larger scale, and they had to speed up and decide to move at the pace of market demand. We both needed a culture change, but for some reason, the partnership did not work.”
Nexos Investments and Holdings Ltd, owned by Jesmond Bondin and Silvio Scerri – major lighting suppliers for large scale events, came into MFCC recently as partners to work with Sign It on a new strategy.
“Our new approach seems to be working,” Caruana said. “We now allow promoters and event organisers to enter into the co-ordination of major events they are interested in setting up here, while we provide the platform and the infrastructure for them to be held.”
In spite of the internal strife, since January MFCC went ahead and organised successful events such as the Amitex Fair, the Abba live concert, Michael Bolton live, Fresh Promotions New Year’s Eve Celebrations, the Disney Show Live, the MADC Panto and a car auction.
“We still have to repay some €1.6 million in loans, but I am not intimidated,” he said. “I carried on because I want to make a success story out of the venue – and the support I received from both government and the opposition proves that I am credible enough to succeed in making it work. If we were to shut down, the repercussions would have been very dangerous to the local economy. Just imagine what would happen if the International Trade Fair is not held for a year.”

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13 May 2009

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