Mr Franco Valletta is Corinthia’s Chief HR Officer. Insider Plus wedged itself into his very busy schedule and frequent work travels and asked him a few questions. He is surprisingly very relaxed, affable, direct and gifted with a humane approach. Mr Valletta is a man of many talents, some of which may not seem compatible at first glance. This interview throws some light on his past, present and future.
I am aware your background is colourful and your talents are varied. Can you briefly lead me through them?.
From a very young age, I was fascinated by classical music. I started learning piano at the age of 6 and my dream was to become an international concert pianist. After obtaining the LRSM and FTCL, I participated in the first Bice Mizzi Vassallo Competition in Malta and won the piano section. Carmine Lauri, co-leader of the London Symphony Orchestra, won the strings section. In my late teens, my passion for classical music evolved into orchestra conducting. My desire, then, was to study at the Accademia Teatro alla Scala in Milan. This was 1987, the year the University of Malta started offering again psychology and sociology as subjects of study. I started reading a first degree in both subjects and never looked back.
In his humble manner, Mr Valletta omits to add that he holds a Bachelor of Arts (B.A. Gen.) in Psychology and Sociology, University of Malta; Bachelor of Arts (B.A. Hons.) in Psychology, University of Malta; and Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Occupational Psychology, Institute of Work Psychology at the University of Sheffield.
Franco playing the piano at the age of 7 at the Phoenicia Hotel in Floriana, Malta. That’s 46 years ago!
Do you agree that all knowledge is one and that every experience and learning is interrelated? In other words, what would link, say playing a Beethoven sonata, with your work discipline and sensitivity?
I agree. Piano performing taught me structure, attention to detail, focus, consistency in delivery, self-discipline, perseverance and patience. The list is not exhaustive. All qualities I found most useful and relevant in my later business and professional career.
How would you describe your job in a few sentences?
As Chief HR Officer (CHRO), I am responsible for developing and ensuring the implementation of Corinthia Hotels’ global HR strategy. I advise on, and facilitate cultural and organizational change initiatives. I am further entrusted with identifying and developing the Company’s future leaders.
Delivering one of his many talks
As Head of HR you certainly encounter hundreds of personal problems. Do you become immune? Is your sensitivity dampened?
Dealing with people issues, mainly professional and occasionally personal, is part and parcel of the role of CHRO. Over the years, I have had to face sensitive and painful situations that spanned from a simple conflict or misunderstanding between two colleagues to communicating the end of a colleague/friend’s employment with the Company. I always refrained from becoming immune to such situations. Every person deserves being treated with dignity, genuine care and attention, especially in difficult moments.
Very much at ease with HR and L&D Community
I am aware you are close to completing your thesis to obtain a doctorate from the esteemed Bocconi University of Milan. What is the theme of your thesis?
Yes, I am currently reading for a Doctorate in Business Administration at the SDA Bocconi School of Management. I intend submitting and defending my thesis in Q3 2020. I am studying the extent to which one’s position in the social structure of an organisation can potentially predict one’s propensity to quit or stay in the job. Employee turnover is a costly matter that has been written about and researched for more than a century. I hope to contribute further to our understanding of its causes and prevention.
In a world of cutthroat competition, Corinthia has looked at the other side and developed a very humane philosophy of uplifting lives. Is this just a buzz phrase? How real is it in Corinthia everyday life?
Uplifting Lives is certainly not a buzz phrase. It is a way of being and doing for Corinthians. There is a colleague and a customer dimension to it. In a nutshell, we strive to make other people’s lives better through heart, head and hands in whatever we do as Corinthians. Also, it is the whole brand platform we are talking about. Therefore, it is not only about a personal good deed to a colleague or guest but it is equally about our positioning. In other words, the intention to create uplifting destinations in the various cities where we operate hotels.
When you interview someone for a managerial post, what are the requisites you search for? Is there a small percentage of gut feeling? In any case gut feeling develops with experience so I would prefer to call it educated intuition. Am I right?
There is always an element of, as you rightly say, educated intuition. This develops over the years and with experience. Concurrently, through situational and behavioural interviewing, I try to determine the extent to which a candidate’s value system is aligned with, or far from, Corinthia’s culture. Put differently, what is the person’s disposition to manifest the nine behaviours (under heart, head and hands) of Uplifting Lives? In any case, it is only following the first few months of employment that one can state with increased certainty if the candidate’s choice was suitable or otherwise from a culture alignment perspective. I also look at the person’s formation from a career viewpoint via his or her CV, additional interview questions, and reference checks, without getting into the technical aspects of the job. I leave the latter to expert colleagues who understand the technical requirements of the position.
Without mentioning names, which were the most difficult decisions you have taken?
It is always difficult to part company with a colleague. Perhaps more difficult is the moment of communicating such decision. It is sad to see a colleague go especially if the reason is not due to gross misconduct.
With his darling wife, Joyce
Could you tell me something about your family?
I have been married to Joyce for 25 years. As a matter of fact, this August we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. Joyce is a senior guidance counsellor at San Andrea School and a licensed psychotherapist. We have two daughters, Federica, 21, and Francesca, 19. Federica will complete her first degree in International Hospitality Management at Glion Institute of Higher Education in Switzerland later this year. Francesca just completed her first-year studies in Sociology and Psychology at the University of Malta and is interested in International and European public policy.
Your job entails frequent travelling. Do you get used to this or do you still battle with lack of family contact, less office time, shock of changing scenarios etc?
Yes, my job requires frequent travelling. It would be fair to say that after so many years I have adequately adjusted to this role requirement. That said, however, I continue to miss my family each time I travel on business and am always pleased to return to Malta albeit for a few days. Obviously, I am most of the time physically away from the office. However, I am regularly connected to my team and other colleagues via video-conferencing. Technology makes this easy nowadays. Also, as I presume this happens with other frequent travelers, I find it easy to adjust/adapt to different destinations and audiences as dictated by my business travel schedule.
Every dynamic man constantly and consistently aims at achieving new targets and establishing better standards. What is your current aim?
From a Company standpoint, I wish to conduct a full review of our HR policies and procedures by year-end. Both initiatives will contribute further to the already existing solid foundation as we open and manage new properties. On a professional level, I wish to complete my doctoral research in the coming 12 months and, subsequently, have the opportunity to share my knowledge and experience with business or hotel school students internationally. On a personal level, I hope to dedicate quality time to piano performing.