“I’ve got Verdi on my mind all day. But it’s all so refreshing. Believe me, I now sing in my shower; I haven’t done that for years.”
What opera are you singing?
“Nothing to do with opera. Verdi is the name of the second brand Corinthia is creating. I have been entrusted to work on it, give it shape and get it to walk and run. I’m enjoying every second of it. It’s a great experience.
That was Paul Pisani, who’s been working for Corinthia ever since he completed his Bachelor’s degree in International Business in 1990 at the American College of Switzerland
A second brand? Why?
“Well, if one looks back at the early years of Corinthia’s history, much of its growth was fuelled by opportunistic acquisitions. It was about creating a portfolio of assets which would be subsequently called ‘Corinthia’ where a strong entrepreneurial spirit combined with astute business thinking prevailed over choice of geographic location or specific hotel property characteristics.
Brand and positioning really started to come into our thinking around 2011 with the opening of the Corinthia hotel in London. Indeed, it was around this time that the company took a conscious decision to have a look at its portfolio, retain under the Corinthia brand the hotels which could add value to its intended luxury positioning while deflagging others which do not. The Verdi brand is the long-term solution for hotels such as the Marina in St Julians who were victims of this cull as also for other hotels owned around the world by our partners which similarly do not qualify for Corinthia branding.”
Was this a new idea?
“Not really, it’s been lingering over the years, but other priorities cropped up, or the time was not right. Now we are rearing to go. We decided on this internally about 18 months ago, and I was approached to see if I wanted to take up this challenge and lead it.”
Paul is a pure Pisani. He does not see challenges but opportunities. His uncle, Alfred Pisani, Chairman of Corinthia, is a living champion of this philosophy, and Paul fully embodies this line of thought. He was named Paul after his grandfather, the paterfamilias who had purchased the villa which was turned into Corinthia Palace after his premature death on 19 March 1960. “I bear that name proudly. Naturally, he died much before I was born, but I am well aware of his acute sense of business, foresight and vision.”
After working for 33 years in Marketing and Development, this new ground was an exciting adventure. “I am starting with a clean slate and building on that. I feel the excitement of a pioneer. We have more or less completed the conceptual work around the brand, defining it, building its DNA, its values, signatures…all of this. Now we are set to take Verdi forward, initially with two of our Malta hotels and then spearhead it overseas.”
Is there a starting date?
“We plan to start with Marina Hotel St Julians as of January 2024. Still, concurrently we are working with several third-party owners overseas with who we intend to create relationships for the brand. We do not see this brand solely as an internal solution but a different extending arm which we want to see developing at a healthy rate.
“Let me make myself clear. We are not creating a light version of Corinthia. Verdi has its own personality and positioning within the hospitality market place and we are keen to keep the ‘swim lanes’ for both brands as separate and distinct from each other as possible, so as not to give rise to any confusion, both externally and internally.
“In a pool for competitive swimming, there are lanes preventing swimmers from moving away from their allotted course. We used this concept to keep our evolution on the proper path and identified our customer, his habits, his likes/dislikes, and how he differs from a Corinthia customer. We studied him well to identify his needs and quirks. One element which Verdi shall excel at is a true connection to ‘place’. What I mean here is that a visitor to a Verdi hotel in Malta for example shall be given a distinctively Malta experience where local design elements come together with local cuisine and culture to create this. So, in our Malta Verdi Hotels, we would mesh Malta into them and create an engagement with our local community. We would not need rebuilding but introducing some changes to enhance different experiences.
“Since the intention to create a ‘conversion brand’ targets hotels which in product terms may/will be very different from each other, the focus has been on creating a brand driven by signature experiences. And it will be these signatures rather than the physical look and feel of our branded hotels, which will provide the commonality between Verdi hotels going forward.”
Paul’s excitement was evident in his eyes and tone of voice. His passion was crystal clear. “All this means stepping out from my comfort zone where for years I worked on development. We have an ambitious plan to grow 20 Verdi hotels in the next seven years and this we believe is very achievable.
Paul explained that every month Corinthia receives a number of growth opportunities – acquisition opportunities, management opportunities etc. However, typically about 75% to 80% of them are discarded as being non congruent to the Corinthia brand for reasons such a location, product design etc. “With Verdi, we shall now have the possibility to entertain such opportunities and to have a second look at possible involvement.”
One obvious question which could not be avoided is: why Verdi? “Believe me, one of our biggest challenges was to come up with a name. We studied and discussed a long list of them. Names are strange; you may dislike one for no particular reason. You may like it because it rings the right bell or sounds great. We needed an easily pronounceable name that echoes sustainability or a green environment. In the end, our Chairman came out with Verdi…everyone can read it; sounds familiar and very close to the word ‘verde’ green, and similar words such as verdure and verdancy.”
So, it’s got nothing to do with the composer Giuseppe Verdi? “That’s right, but still familiar.”
“Let’s be clear. We are not re-inventing the wheel. Issuing a second brand has been done by many established global names. Some have issued several other brands.”
Would not this create confusion? “No, not at all. We do not contact the customer with the name Corinthia and tell him we are also Verdi. He will know us as Verdi. But we would mention the Corinthia background when dealing with, say, conference organisers, travel agencies and people in the trade to prove the professional background and service-driven framework, backstory and qualifications. Our core values will not falter. The main differences are not in values, but in the signatures we have created.”
From what I understand, there is no prototype. Am I correct? “You are. In fact, the hotels we have in mind have different locations, areas, countries and cultures. We shall not try to make them look the same but will allow them to retain their personality with some additional varying elements.”
How many of you are working on this at the moment? “Two of us. I recently hired an experienced Chief Commercial Officer who will be based in London but who will visit Malta for a week or two every month. In seeking the right calibre of candidate, we decided to fish in an international talent pool and it made sense to have this in London for many reasons. He has been on board for a month already and shall be covering all things commercial.”
A direct question: would you be syphoning staff away from Corinthia? “Of course not. At this stage, it makes sense to leverage on the internal knowhow and expertise that the Corinthia team offers but down the line the intention is to grow a Verdi specific team to support a growing branded portfolio.”
Corinthia was implanted in Paul Pisani from birth even though as an act of rebellion, when still a teenager, he thought of taking up medicine, but when he finished his sixth form, he realised his heart was elsewhere. So, he changed focus. His Corinthia aura is so ingrained in him that when I asked him how old he was, he answered: “I was born ten days before the official opening of Corinthia Palace.”
“Within three days of graduating in 1990, I sat at my desk in Corinthia’s Head Office. Naturally, I felt the shock of the new. I thought my studies had prepared me for everything, but that is never the case. I was the youngest person at Head Office, so several of my suggestions were met with a remark or silent understanding that I was still young. I was then 22…not that young!
After working in Marketing for four years, Paul underwent a year of training in Operations, which involved working in kitchens, reception…everywhere.
“Then one day, my uncle called me to his office, and after a 15-minute chat, he told me: ‘By the way, you need to start learning some Turkish.’
I gulped. Turkish? In his charming way, my uncle told me he would like to see me move to Turkey for a few years to oversee and grow our work there. We had a partnership in a hotel in Antalya but were acquiring a new place in Güllük. I was a 26-year-old bachelor, so I did not ask questions. I started from scratch by hiring a Turkish secretary, then an office and an apartment. It was a great experience. It was my first experience of starting from zero.
When I returned from Turkey, I spearheaded Corinthia’s expansion in EMEA. Since 1998, I have been involved more in management agreements rather than acquisitions.”
Was there a common feature in his experiences? “All experiences are unique. You start a course or a journey and think your direction is straight ahead, but you soon experience bends and roundabouts. You have to remain on guard and grasp opportunities and read carefully the signposts which life embeds in your course. You may need to leave your comfort zone but then find yourself in an exciting scenario.
In this particular Verdi experience, I was lucky that Corinthia supported me to the hilt when I developed this concept, but I always kept the Board informed of its development so they could also contribute and feel part of it.”
Do you start your day early? “Yes, I am up at 5 am. Three times a week, I go to the gym from 6 am to 7 am, then have a shower and go straight to work. I feel fresher and healthier when I do so.”
Paul enjoys a good body shape so I was not surprised when he informed me he loves sports, walking, playing padel, and practices scuba diving. In fact, he is a certified scuba diving instructor, but confesses he has never certified any diving beginners. Maybe one day, when there is more time!
“But my greatest relaxation is bonding with my family after work. My wife Viktoriia, who is Ukrainian, is expecting a baby boy in a couple of weeks, but we have not chosen a name yet. I also have three wonderful children. Matthew and Kotryna are 17-year-old twins and are both in their sixth form, whilst my younger son, Adam, is 16. They are all looking forward to the newcomer and acting as babysitters when necessary.
So, I will be experiencing the birth of our new brand Verdi with the birth and development of my new son. It’s an exciting period, and I look forward to enjoying myself to the hilt.”
This was a very informative chat, which Paul shared in his usual professional but very relaxed, friendly and warm manner.