A most affable person: Neville Fenech, Corinthia Group CFO


A gentle voice inside casually invited us to enter the room to interview Mr Neville Fenech, Corinthia Group’s Chief Financial Officer (CFO). One would have imagined an elderly person with grim face, looking piercingly over his lowered specs. Nothing of the sort. He is a young 47-year-old (looking even younger) with a fresh face, open smile and welcoming demeanour. We knew him before, so we informally asked if his friendly smile was really part of his constitution. “Of course it is,” he said beaming, “What you see is what you get.’”

Within seconds we were comfortably seated and queried what the job of a CFO entailed. “I would say a CFO is a senior executive who is in charge of the general planning and management of a companys financial affairs. This would include developing the companys budget, as well as advising on strategic financial matters. The CFO also assists the CEO with forecasting, cost-benefit analysis, obtaining funding for various initiatives. He ensures that the company’s financial reports are accurate and completed in a timely manner.”

That seemed quite a chunk of work, so we asked what would be a normal day’s work run-through? It depends on the time of the year. Normally, the first quarter is tough and intense as we are busy with audit of the Group which has very strict deadlines and many related side-issues, such as valuations. In general, however, no day is like the other, though one may say the mornings are busier with calls and meetings than the afternoons where there is much following and actuating work which was discussed in the morning.” He looked intently and then added with a chuckle: “So we really do not have time for a siesta.”

Insider Plus wondered if he carried his problems with him home. No, as a general rule, no. Mind you, I always remain connected if needed, but that is another matter.”

He looks like an easy person; was he?Yes, I would say I am an easy person. Being easy would not mean allowing any one to act as s/he wants. For me it means creating an atmosphere where colleagues can develop and grow without overshadowing them. Naturally, when deadlines exist and time is tight, I do expect more grit and adrenaline in the blood, but I am blessed with a good, understanding and capable staff. They do not fail me, nor the Company.”

Every person has his/her own way or philosophy how to tackle problems. What was his approach? He did not bat an eyelid and was quick to respond: “I am a calm person. I dissect a problem into parcels, then I attack it. I am a realist; neither an optimist nor pessimist, though at times a slightly stronger dose of optimism helps. The important thing is not to allow a problem to overawe you; that would deprive you of your logic and will undoubtedly damage your ability to decide.”

Insider Plus wondered how he would describe himself. He smiles gently, then looks fixedly at some imaginary point ahead of him.I’m a quiet sort. I’m not reserved but I am slow to warm up when I meet someone new. Logical, down to earth and humble.” He stopped and queried whether one would indeed be humble if he described himself so. 

Which traits in a character did he dislike most?I loathe braggarts and swaggerers. I suppose it is not polite to say the proper basic word but if you take the first letter of those words, b and s, you will know what I mean. Mind you, sometimes I envy such persons when they pull it through.”

Insider Plus asked Mr Fenech to name some of his pastimes, sure that we would be presented with a list of very orthodox examples. Far from it! We were pleasantly surprised with the unexpected answer.The usual pastimes, with daily exercise to de-stress. Although when I have the opportunity, I like something more active. Bungee jumping was an experience. Letting yourself fall down and suddenly feel the pull which saves you so close to the ground is such an experience.And that was not all! We were shocked to hear him add: ‘But sky diving beats it all. Jumping from 4 kilometres high, and seeing land approaching so fast…then opening your parachute to soften your landing…it’s just exhilarating!” 

No fear at all? You’re joking! My legs shake like mad before I jump…but that’s part of the fun. Overcoming the fear and letting go for an adventure! Naturally, I am assisted and that teaches you to trust others…with your life.” He chuckled softly: “From an accounting point of view, it is a calculated risk.”

When asked if he would do it again, he thought for a second: “I have to. I promised my eldest son Sean, I would join him for a jump when he turns 18. Then of course I would have to do the same with the younger ones …Luke and Liam when they reach that age.”

How did Mr Neville Fenech interact with his staff? My colleagues know how I think and operate. I am open with them; I provide them with all the information and tools, which are an essential requisite to deliver. I like coaching. I tell them where we need to arrive and allow them some space to journey. I want them to be independent. The worst thing is to render yourself indispensable. It kills all initiatives and dampens the urge and challenge of the rest. And the company suffers too.”

Is he a listener? Absolutely, yes. If people listen more, meetings will be better. If you do not listen to the other side, you cannot reach a consensus. You have to understand where the other person is coming from; otherwise, you operate in a vacuum and in a vacuum, there is no gravity. Items float and never find their place.”

With that, we parted ways. It was a pleasant experience to share a few words with a most affable character.