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Interview with an Entrepreneur

Dazzling Turnarounds

Lorenzo Mule’ Stagno comes across as positive, sprightly and capable. He is a well-known lecturer, heads a company that represents one of the world’s top business schools and still thinks of himself as a teacher first and foremost. Be he a teacher at heart, a mentor or a businessman, the man rarely loses his smile, not even when discussing stress and his own failings and failures. In fact the interview I had with him was more than fun and sprinkled throughout with bursts of laughter. Although very accomplished as a lecturer and quite an extrovert I did have a problem getting the full picture of what he does and does well. He kept insisting with me that he hated boasting and sounding arrogant. As I have found in the many times I have heard him lecture he knows how to capture an audience but he also can deliver a meaningful message in all he says.

MENTOR, LECTURER, ENTREPRENEUR. WHO IS THE REAL LORENZO MULE’ STAGNO?
LORENZO MULE’ STAGNO: Maybe all of them rolled into one. I don’t like being pigeon-holed maybe that is why I don’t wish to let one aspect of my specialities dominate.

I love the entrepreneurial part–the excitement of it gives me a real buzz. Even the feeling of whether a project will work or not adds to the excitement.

I went into business rather blindly and today use my own experience not just to change the way I look at my own business and ventures but also in my lectures and in my mentoring. I take the worst scenarios I went through and suffered and use them as a springboard for what can be done and what should not.

I threw myself into my first business venture with little planning or role model–no one in my family was in business. I thought if you had the passion it would be enough. It was obviously a bumpy ride and I learnt a lot from it. And today I try using this experience not just for my own advantage but also for others.

Both mentoring and lecturing are loves of my life. A part of me loves the entertaining part and I feel a bit of a showman. The fact that I hear people laugh and enjoy themselves while taking home a proper lesson and learning a lot from what I say gives me an ultimate lift. This is what people who hear me seem to indicate. The mentoring part of my life has never given me a good return—but again the satisfaction of seeing people use ways, methods and words to reach their goals is very satisfying. It hardly pays the bills but life is not only about material wealth. It is most satisfying to see success stories of people who believed in my skills and my mentoring powers.

YOU’VE HAD INTERESTING PATHS IN LIFE, INCLUDING BEING A PUBLISHER AND OWNING A MARKETING ENTERPRISE. HOW DID YOU MAKE THE JUMP INTO RUNNING ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT BUSINESS SCHOOLS IN MALTA?
LMS: As some ventures tend to be, the start was quite a coincidence. I was doing my MBA in 2001/3 and running my business at the same time. My business was not doing well and I actually used it as the background to my thesis as I saw that my business model was never going to be a success.

Looking at other opportunities, I was offered the chance of entering the business consulting world by turning around some struggling organisations. Through this, I got involved in a consulting and market research firm that I later acquired, and my leanings towards education as well as my newly acquired business degree seemed the perfect combination. This eventually lead to the representation of Henley Business School, as well as the inception of Malta Business School.

SO THE MBA DIDN’T HELP YOU IN YOUR OWN BUSINESS BUT ACTUALLY PLUNGED YOU INTO A NEW SIDE OF BUSINESS?
LMS: The MBA gave me an insight which convinced me even more that my publishing business would not make it.. That was why I started looking for new opportunities. Possibly that was what awakened my entrepreneurial spirit. Developing a business in Management Training was almost a natural step. In a way it proves that after all schools are in my blood. I closed the publishing sector and concentrated on the new business.

WHAT WERE THE PITFALLS OF THE CHANGE?
LMS: There weren’t many pitfalls. I moved easily and with more appetite into my new role. I immediately introduced new aspects, including training, and as we wanted to have a different, more reputable MBA in our offering, we pitched for Henley, beating other applicants. The fact that we were chosen proved we had a good business model and set-up. This was happening while I was turning the company around and subsequently taking it over. In 2008 we had our first intake of Henley MBAs and in 2010 I took over the sole ownership of the company. There were no pitfalls but it was quite a bumpy ride and needed plenty of perseverance.

WHAT INSIGHTS DID YOU BRING INTO YOUR NEW LINE OF WORK?
LMS: My biggest input was to bring in people who are like-minded and share the vision. If as a team we don’t pull the same rope we don’t move on. Our main philosophy is that we can deliver without dazzling by over-promising and all the team have to be attuned to that or else we falter. We have built up a good reputation for delivering which we have to keep.

YOU ONCE SAID THAT FAILURE MAKES US STRONG AND PLUNGES US NOT INTO DESPERATION BUT INTO A SEARCH FOR SUCCESS. HOW DO YOU SEE THIS IN RELATION TO ALL YOU HAVE ACHIEVED?
LMS: It’s been said before but without failure we cannot comprehend success. Ironically, failure makes us what we are and gives us strength, as long as one fails and moves on, learning that failure is in its itself part of success. I saw my publishing company fail and used that to fit myself into a new beginning. Someone once said that greatness is not just how high you can rise but how quickly you can get up again when you fall.

NOT ALL MANAGEMENT STYLES ARE EASILY ACCEPTED OR STREAMLINED FOR ALL VENTURES. WHAT IS YOUR PRACTICAL MANAGEMENT STYLE?
LMS: I think the way forward in anything you do is to extract the best from all styles, the traditional autocratic ones to modern ideas which sometimes sound like the soup of the day, and adopt your own. My style is a mix of leadership aspects. I like participation and discussion but I can also be autocratic if necessary.
My mantra is think for yourself. Not only do I like seeing people develop but it makes me proud - in fact I don’t only encourage people to develop, I practically force them. I want to develop the person not just the employee as with development a person becomes better not just at striking a balance but also in their ways at home and with everybody around them. This after all is the Henley way–it guides you to become a better manager and in the process you develop as a person.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
LMS: I want to go at full throttle to expand the school but also the whole company. I want to move on and drive the internationalisation of the company further. Malta is a great place to be - and an ideal starting point for many outfits-- but it has its limits. I have an itch to go further afield and dip into the big pond outside our own country. It’s scary but I think we have the right attitude and people are responding well to what we are offering. We could face failure, but again that will prove how resilient and how properly prepared we are not just to grow but to sustain growth and be ready to pick up any pieces we drop because of failed opportunities or failed ventures.

We are looking at overseas tenders and training abroad. The future is unknown. But hopefully this time I am better prepared and better trained to plan the future.

Last modified onTuesday, 24 December 2013 08:53
Victor Calleja

Victor Calleja has been involved in publishing, marketing, and anything concerning the written word, for over thirty years. He is now a part-time but very opinionated journalist who delves deeply into a number of subjects.

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