Tony Guillaumier is a man of many hats. He is a most successful businessman, a prominent man in various local organisations and also the man who set up the Richmond Foundation. He is an innovator, a mentor and a man who is looked up to by most people who know him or have heard of him. In interviewing Tony, Victor Calleja was accompanied by Charles Calleja, who recorded Tony’s facial expressions. Unlike most people faced with a barrage of questions, Guillaumier never faltered. And even without a lie-detector, one would say from his body language and eye-contact that the man is genuine and relaxed with all he has done and achieved. In the frank interview with pictures that follows you too can gauge not just his words but also his various expressions. Except for very minor editing for continuity the interview is basically in its raw state.
Philanthropist and businessman. Have you ever tried using philanthropy to increase your business?
Never! Never even crossed my mind. It is really the other way round. I used my business and my contacts to make the causes I worked for more reachable.
You are one of the businessmen who are most looked up to. So maybe not all business is based on greed and getting the most out of workers and colleagues?
You are maybe referring to my big frame? But really I believe that how one is looked upon reflects his own mileage and what he did. I always tried being fair with all my colleagues and employees— and fair with people who needed the products connected to my business.
Was your interest in good causes a way to fight guilt that sometimes comes with material gain?
No, never felt that at all.
You seem evergreen and continue finding new avenues. Do you feel the age?
I’m 75 but try to remain young at least in heart. I find it strange when I look at myself—that bulk of me—and think how many years have passed. But I’m happy with what I did and what I am even now. And I still go in for challenges regularly even if I shouldn’t.
You have had great partnerships and also some bad ones. Was it always the other’s fault?
One learns from partnerships. Even the bad ones teach us but some have been my fault because I am known as a trusting person so sometimes I tended to be naïve. Although it is seen as a fault— especially by my own family-- I feel I am better off in my life like that. The way to be trusted is after all by trusting.
And what if someone walks in now and says to you here’s the mega deal of your life. Would you say NO?
(in a hush): How can you say no? But I would not want something long-term.
You mention your family a lot. Do they want you to wind down your business activities and to unwind?
Yes they do and I have an arrangement with them now not to go into new deals, new business.
So family can be laid aside?
Yes a bit if there is a mega-deal!
People say you laugh a lot. True?
Any situation can have its comical or less serious side. And yes I love laughing—makes life easier to see the light-hearted side of it. Even in serious matters if one tries finding the funny side one can de-stress even faster. I take life as smoothly as I can and avoid worrying for nothing, when that worry won’t or can’t solve the problem. I do admit that sometimes small things bother me unduly but on the whole a smile is all I need to move on.
You were the brains behind and sustainer of the Richmond Foundation. Is that part of your legacy?
It would be great if it were to be seen as my legacy. But others were involved and many strove to turn mental issues from a completely taboo subject to one that is discussed in the public arena. I feel Richmond was instrumental in doing that and I am, yes, more than satisfied that I was part of that story, the Richmond story. It started as a small idea which mushroomed and now Richmond employs over 40 full-time staff along with relievers, part-timers and volunteers.
What has your biggest success been?
I feel satisfied with all I have achieved. I was never over-ambitious and kept my feet well-planted on the ground at all times. I lived a tranquil life doing my duty and sometimes trying hard to go beyond my expected duty. But while the intention was to do good I am not the one to judge what I did. However, when I look back I do feel satisfied.
Although you were younger you took over the company from your father. Wasn’t that over- reaching and overly ambitious?
Actually I was led to it. I didn’t seek the position at all. My father, in league with my own elder brother, chose me as the natural leader of the company. It was not ambition that got me there but it did give me a lot of satisfaction though obviously I knew I had to prove myself even more.
So you didn’t cheat to grow in your business?
I never even thought it possible to cheat. I think my main attribute is I can only do things the proper way. And maybe that is why the people you said look up to me in the business circle have that feeling about me. They know I will say it and do it in the only way I know - straightforwardly and honestly.
Do you believe in crystal balls?
Not really. All I know is that I will not be retiring - as long as I am healthy and alert enough to be active in business or philanthropy. But yes, I will go on downsizing.
Do you see good leaders emerging in Malta’s business circles?
Several are innovative and have a great urge to move on, maybe even more than was the norm when I started in business. We were more tied to this rock while today’s entrepreneurs see the world as their playing-field. I like the local way of doing things.
Day out in space or fishing?
Fishing - being on a boat was always something I thoroughly enjoyed. I always owned a boat but now I have managed to retire from that and only go on others’ boats. I love the sea’s serenity and vastness and also the inner strength it has to unleash its powers. The sea is to me like life - calm most of the time but a small incident can turn it all upside-down.
Did you fire anyone and hate it?
Always hated it but never regretted it as it was always done conscientiously and when justified. I always made it a point to do it myself and not send someone to do it for me. I had to show I believed it was done for the right reason and if redundancy was involved I had to be there to explain, to discuss and to, as much as possible, offer sympathy because of the situation.
Alone or with others?
I’d always choose others with me but I am also happy alone.
If you could would you ever have fired yourself?
I don’t think I ever would have as I feel good with all my choices. Some were disastrous but all had a good rationale to explain why they were taken. The rest of the disasters were because I was too trusting. That is, I accepted dangerous things as a good calculated risk in all my business deals.
Once you were called naïve, are you?
Yes I was called that by someone abroad. I accept it. My biggest defect is being too trusting. Maybe that is why I should have fired myself after all!
What is happiness?
Being stress-free and preferably in the best of health or in a position to accept what you have or lack. I have no baggage of regrets so I sleep well at night and know how to push aside anything that could worry me. I move it to a compartment which I will see and confront when needed.
Do you always say the truth and nothing but the truth?
Yes - but one then needs to ask, what is truth? Do we know what it really is?
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.