I had fixed a date to interview charming Liz Bartolo, PA to the CEO & Administration Director of Corinthia Hotels Limited (CHL), but unexpected incidents on my side forced a double reschedule. So, this time, I crossed my fingers firmly…and it worked.
It’s always a pleasure to speak to Liz, who is ever so courteous and friendly. But this chat made me appreciate her character and personality much better. Being always well-groomed and welcoming, I thought Liz would have been photographed often, so I searched the internet for some good photos of her. Surprise! Clean sheet. How come? “I don’t like posing for photographs. I prefer to observe rather than be observed. That makes me discern better. In any case, my role is not about myself but the person and the organisation I work for.”
And speaking about the role, what would be her main tasks as PA to the CEO of Corinthia, Simon Naudi? Liz smiled broadly. “In a nutshell, I provide comprehensive support to the CEO and senior CHL executives. This calls for constant availability. It’s a dynamic role which requires maturity in action, avoiding acting on impulse, and searching and finding the right solutions to numerous tasks professionally. Duties vary: organising meetings/conferences, coordinating the extensive travels of the CEO, seeing to the CEO’s diary appointments, and taking and following minutes of meetings and so on. It involves a holistic support to facilitate the CEO’s smooth performance of his main duties.” Liz stopped for a second to emphasise her next words. “Discretion is fundamental. This is a job which requires utmost confidentiality. Yes, total dedication, honesty, discretion, availability and organizational / multitasking skills.”
So how would she define her work in one sentence? “Challenging but very interesting!”
But her long experience must have matured her in facing challenges. “Naturally, but responsibilities are never to be taken lightly nor avoided. However, experience has helped me not to be intimidated by any demands and I am now more assertive and better prepared to face and manage any situation.”
Liz is also the Administration Director of CHL. “One of my main duties in this role is to create a positive and pleasant work environment. We spend more time at the office than with our families, so it is crucial to create the right atmosphere and vibe. I want colleagues and guests to feel the warmth and welcome factor as soon as they walk into our reception area.
This role also involves coordination and good rapport with all the internal departments, both here in Malta and in London. Naturally, I have colleagues in London who administer the London offices, but I oversee both the Malta and London CHL offices.”
It is a well-known fact that Corinthia’s CEO Simon Naudi works with great passion and drive and is certainly no stranger to extended hours. Is it daunting to be his CEO? “No, daunting no, but demanding yes. This is certainly not a 9 to 5 job. It requires constant focus. Simon travels constantly, and time zones vary, but support cannot stop. His early morning may be our late evening or vice versa. But that’s it. There are no two ways about it; constant availability is a must.”
Liz must have learnt some good lessons by working so closely with Simon. She nodded vigorously. “To be successful, you cannot drag your feet but act and react steadily, constantly and without fail, all the time. Simon is constant and balanced. He does not change from one day to another. After finishing a long-haul flight, he proceeds with a constant tempo and faces long office hours. So, lesson learned is: work with determination and passion, focus and above all consistency. Not an easy thing to fulfil, but feasible.”
Surely, her long experience with Corinthia has changed her in some way. Did it toughen her, soften her or make her more wary? “I have worked with an array of persons from different worlds. This has made me more resilient and confident and helped me adapt to different personalities with diverse working methods. I can say I am much wiser in handling matters, more aware of the different requirements of every task, and more determined to give the maximum. There is no middle way. Either you can do it well and to the hilt, or if you cannot, you should opt out. However, and I would like to emphasise this, my character has not changed.”
Ok, so what is your character? “I do not like speaking about myself.” I butted in, saying some refer to her as a mega-kind person. She smiled and nodded but added: “Unfortunately, sometimes it backfires on me since some may take me for granted or my actions are not appreciated enough. I am sensitive and, I admit, a bit hard-headed; I’m a Taurus.”
The Liz I know seems very accessible, but I asked her to confirm. “Yes, I agree, and I respond to all queries and acknowledge everyone! I have lots of patience except with rude or arrogant people, who I just cannot tolerate! Moaners also rub me the wrong way. I love positive people who get on with their life despite the problems that hound them.”
She has remained in good form, so I asked if she trains or practices some physical exercises. “I pay attention to what I eat and avoid carbs. I love walking, but mainly as a form of relaxation. I do not attend a gym, but I start the day with a 3-minute plank. I can assure you those are the longest three minutes of the day.”
What’s a plank? I was informed that the most common plank is the forearm plank which is held in a push-up-like position, with the body’s weight borne on forearms, elbows, and toes. I was lost even more, so I suggest you use YouTube to find all the information you want.
“And I love a good laugh,” she added. But that called for a story, which Liz quickly recollected. “In 2019, we organised an international conference for the senior team members in Budapest. The closing event on the agenda, which we call the fun afternoon, was a dragon boat competition on a lake. There was a total of ten boats participating with 10 rowers in each boat. My team was warming up for a few minutes before the race started when one of us, Omar, a great, broadly-built guy, was joking, as usual, and rocked the boat gracelessly, which started to swing dangerously, and …we all ended up in the muddy water. Our competitors applauded heartily, and our team roared with laughter – it felt like being back at school!”
So was the team disqualified? “Not at all. We all mounted the boat again, mud and all, and competed with greater determination. We arrived second and were the heroes of the day.”
Life has been good to Liz. She is blessed with a family she loves. Her husband, Charles, a highly talented and artistic sculptor, is now retired, so he diligently takes care of the house chores whilst Liz is at work. “He is a darling. Without him, I would never have taken up such a challenging job. At home, I often open my laptop to follow anything that crops up. Throughout all these years, Charles never commented on that. Imagine if I had a nagging husband! It may seem contradictory but it’s true: by giving space you remain close. He’s also a great cook, but in the weekend, I take over the cooking and enjoy it. Then I have my two amazing sons: James, 28, and Peter, 26. Peter and his fiancée Alayah, a wonderful mother, have made me a proud grandmother for the first time. I now dote on my 3-month-old grandson Luca, who has won all our hearts. I simply adore him, and every new move or sound is considered a new feat. He is now following our faces and smiles.” Liz chuckled, “I would like to believe he smiles best when he sees me.”
“But I cannot leave out Maggie, my 2-year-old British Shorthair cat. She succeeded a Siamese cat we had for some 16 years. When he died, it was a great loss which we felt for long. Maggie is litter and scratch pole-trained, so it’s fine, and she’s really no trouble.”
Liz Bartolo is a Corinthian to the bones. After completing a three-year secretarial course, she had a short stint with a firm. “But I was always interested in the hotel industry. So, I joined Corinthia. In those days, there was a top-rated TV series named ‘Hotel’ with Anne Baxter and James Brolin. I used to follow it with great interest and always wanted to be part of that exciting world. I joined Corinthia starting in the Accounts Department at the Corinthia Palace Hotel. Then when I had my two sons, I stopped working for four years but later joined Finance again at the Corinthia St. George’s Bay. A vacancy within the office of the CFO at Head Office became available and I was chosen and moved here. I have had the privilege of working with three CEOs, but my longest term is with Simon Naudi.”
And how would she sum up this long Corinthian period? Her response was swift: “It has been a fascinating journey.”
And may it last much longer, as befits a fascinating person!