Mario Darmanin is a charming character, outgoing, well-spoken and never missing a repartee at the right time. He is Manager of Technical Services at Marina Hotel St Julians and has been on the job these last five years.
I knew his title involved a wider area of operation than a maintenance manager, but I needed a more precise answer. ‘My department has two main duties: we support Operations in all their needs. That would include room service, lobby technical problems, kitchens, restaurants, back of house etc. It’s like maintaining a home; it’s a never-ending process. Then we regularly take care of our plant room. This is where the arteries and veins of the hotel operate. Guests and most of the staff do not see the equipment and machinery in the plant room, which provide essential services. They would include chillers, boilers, reservoirs, water pumps, reverse osmosis and workshops amongst others. Some are checked daily, such as meter readers and RO, and others weekly, such as the generator, fire pumps etc. They have established and faithfully followed time schedules for checking and maintaining.’
Naturally, outside experts are called to service specific machinery; it does not pay to retain several experts full-time when these can be contacted periodically for their service. All this ensures timely actual interventions and continuous preventive maintenance. The latter is essential since one avoids the panic and sometimes disruptive moments experienced by breakdowns.
Mario started working at a young age as an apprentice at the Malta Drydocks. He then moved to MIA (Malta International Airport) for 24 years and joined Marina Hotel five years ago. Always in the same line of work? ‘Yes, always on technical matters.’
This led me to ask Mario why he left MIA. ‘It was time to change,’ he said. I did not press further except to query why he chose Corinthia. ‘ I love working with large established employers. Corinthia is one of the largest employers in Malta.’ He stopped for a second and added, ‘Corinthia’s good name as an employer and its forward-looking drive are well known. It was an obvious step in the future. Corinthia appreciates loyalty and I am delighted with my choice.’
Did he envisage moving to different areas within Corinthia? Mario shook his head slightly, ‘I am delighted in my job and have no intention to move yet. We are building and increasing our team, which had been somewhat reduced during COVID.’
And what did he emphasise most with new entrants? ‘Teamwork and work ethics. They can get professional training in courses at MCAST, but there are certain strengths and principles which are not included in academic studies. Yet, they make all the difference.’
I love seeking how different people approach problems. I asked him if he had a particular approach. ‘Often, I am not content with the common solutions which present themselves. If a problem offers obvious solutions A and B, I invariably look for another solution, C, which may not be a logical corollary to the first two. It’s a sort of lateral thinking which takes me off the expected course and opens new, unexpected avenues.’
Mario explained how a humble approach allows him to listen to suggestions which may come from persons much younger than himself. ‘I listen, I discern and find no qualms at all to take up that suggestion, perhaps with some appropriate adjustments. I will never approach a problem with the belief that I am the manager, so I am the only one who possesses the key to a solution.’
Has he experienced any particular story with guests? ‘Quite a few! But I am always amazed how different clients respond differently when faced with the same problem. For example, one time, a lift encountered a problem, and I managed to open the lift doors in a couple of minutes. One of the guests was so grateful that he offered me a cup of coffee and shook my hands vigorously. Another gentleman in the same lift looked daggers at me, and I expected him to scold me for what happened. Same problem, different persons, different reactions.’
A naughty question: if he goes home and his wife needs some technical help, how does he react? ‘No problem, I help where needed. But I must add that my wife, Carmen, is also a hands-on person.’
So when he wants to relax after work, what does he do? ‘Fishing, both in summer and winter.’ Out at sea? ‘Certainly, I spend hours both at sea and by the sea, sometimes accompanied by my wife or son. It’s so relaxing. Catching fish is not a necessary requisite for contentment. It’s simply a boon. In the evening, when all is quiet, and nature seems to sleep, it is exhilarating to be out there, surrounded by sea and sky.’
Any children? ‘I have a son and a daughter. My son, Benjamin, is studying for a Master’s degree in engineering at the University of Malta. My daughter, Diana, who is just 21, has recently graduated in Artificial Intelligence.’ Is he a proud father? Mario smiled, and I could swear there was a slight blush on his face. ‘I am a lucky man. I am blessed with a wonderful wife and two lovable children. What else do I need?’
We were about to conclude when Mario suddenly remembered to add what he may have considered a minor detail, but which, for me, was a very colourful addendum. Mario’s family from his father’s side have managed saltpans for the last 200 years at, Żonqor Point, Marsascala. They hold rent receipts dating back a couple of centuries. His father, aged 85, still attends to these salt pans. ‘I help him too. We still use the same centuries-old process, except for the use of water pumps instead of pails. This salt is then sold throughout the year. We also organise workshops for tourists.’
For those who are unfamiliar with saltpans, these can be found in several places around Maltese and Gozitan shores. They are flat pools carved in soft limestone on the seashore, where salt is produced from seawater. The flat rock expanse is divided into many smaller several centimetres deep reservoirs.
‘The natural technique for producing salt is to evaporate water and gradually increase the concentration of brine until white sodium chloride crystals begin to precipitate. Salt is manually collected for further processing, primarily purification.’
Mario Darmanin felt proud to help in this family enterprise which he considers a colourful part of his family’s history. And he is absolutely right.