Hili Ventures, the multi-disciplinary group based in Malta, registered revenues in excess of €450 million in 2020, successfully maintaining the turnover levels of 2019 while completing two major acquisitions throughout the year, despite the coronavirus pandemic adversely impacting the economies of the markets in which it operates.
Hili Ventures is engaged in partnerships with McDonald’s and Apple, logistics, marine and engineering, technology, property, oil and gas, hospitality, and leasing in 10 countries spanning central and Eastern Europe and North Africa. Its 9,500 staff complement remained intact throughout 2020 with no COVID-19-related job losses.
As expected, challenging trading conditions across Europe impacted profitability. However, EBITDA for the group in 2020 is expected to exceed €60 million. The group’s robust position and healthy liquidity at the end of 2019 allowed Hili Ventures to enter 2020 on a sure footing, able to maintain the momentum on its ambitious investment programme.
In March, the group completed the acquisition of all non-US ship-to-ship operations from marine energy transporter Teekay Tankers in order to fulfil its strategy to make greater strides in international shipping in the near term. Based in Sunderland, a highly experienced team at the newly incorporated STS Marine Solutions, provides ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore transfers of crude oil, refined petroleum, LPG and LNG. The team, which manages Jordan’s first LNG import terminal, oversees operations at 24 bases around the globe, where core activities comprise oil and gas and LNG support, emergency support services and consultancy.
In October, Hili Ventures’ McDonald’s business Premier Capital, the Developmental Licencee for the brand in Estonia, Greece, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta and Romania, secured 100 per cent ownership of the Romanian business after acquiring the 10 per cent stake held by a single shareholder.
Now firmly focused on its three-year plans to 2023, Hili Ventures continues on its growth trajectory, pursuing expansion organically and through mergers and acquisitions. In 2021, the group will actively engage in seeking partners and investors for a collection of attractive propositions in a range of sectors and markets.
“As Hili Ventures’ revenues hover steadily over the half-billion mark for a second year, even after almost a year of global crisis, we are confident the time is right for the group to step up the tempo on investment activity,” Chief Executive Melo Hili said. “Our 2020 bottom line has been impacted, but the year has demonstrated that our business is sturdy. Our strong operational resilience, our management teams’ nimbleness in navigating the crisis, our ability to protect our people, our revenues and our associates demonstrate that we are succeeding in building a solid, sustainable business with significant potential for growth. We believe we are well-placed to welcome like-minded, ambitious partners and investors to our fold to continue to drive real business value to our medium- and long-term plans.”
Premier Capital, the group’s foremost holding, demonstrated remarkable resilience across the markets where it operates McDonald’s restaurants, despite economic turmoil impacting sales and profitability forecasts for 2020. The teams worked tirelessly to ensure brand trust was maintained, adhering to very stringent safety protocols and serving customers with pride through lobby take-out, McDrive and McDelivery. Premier Capital closed 2020 with a portfolio of 159 restaurants in its six markets after opening three additional restaurants in Romania, one in Greece and another in Lithuania.
The group’s McDonald’s team is committed to its ambitious vision for the next three years, determined to open more than 20 restaurants in the next three years, including eight in 2021.
Hili Ventures’ investments arm 1923 Investments, its second largest underlying operating group, continued to see growth, particularly within its subsidiaries engaged in Apple Premium Resellers, its newly acquired oil and gas company STS Marine Solutions, logistics and technology.
At iSpot, the group’s Apple Premium Reseller chain and Poland’s largest Apple retailer, the situation necessitated a reshaping of the business and greater team effort behind digital sales channels as authorities ordered the closure of malls for long stretches. The team’s great sense of commercial responsibility resulted in remarkable results, significantly up from 2019 and close to the original projections for 2020, particularly on the back of strong December sales.
Since March, as uncertainty underpinned global commercial activity, the strong collaboration between the various functions at Hili Ventures, 1923 Investments and the team now trading as STS Marine Solutions in Sunderland in the UK, ensured the integration was smooth. While working from home, the STS team re-opened all the bases around the world and restored their revenue streams. The team closed off 2020 on sure footing after signing a contract to supply services to Russia.
Shipping proved itself as one of the more resilient activities in a crisis, and Hili Ventures registered positive results at its logistics business in Poland where the team ensured relations with loyal customers remained strong, and at its Malta-based ship agency joint venture with CMA CGM. The group’s anchor company Carmelo Caruana underwent considerable restructuring in 2020 in order for it to be repositioned to target new areas of business.
Technology group Harvest, of which 1923 Investments is the majority shareholder, maintained its positive momentum and is on course to exceed forecasts for 2020 thanks to prudent cost management and encouraging business results stemming from its partnerships, the completion of international projects, and new products and services brought to market.
This year, 1923 Investments aims to expand its APR network, step up its internationalization efforts across its technology business, increase its LNG bases, and solidify its sales teams and offerings across its logistics activities. Over the next three years, Hili Ventures’ investment arm intends to intensify its mergers and acquisitions activity to the tune of €50 million by forging strategic international partnerships.
The €120 million re-development of the Comino Hotel and Villas on one of the Maltese islands, Hili Ventures’ most ambitious project to date, will reach a key milestone in 2021. As soon as planning permission is granted for the demolition of the existing sites, the construction of the 70 luxury suites and 21-villa cluster can commence. The group is engaging with some of the world’s most renowned architects and engineers to deliver a stunning and environmentally sustainable destination for discerning travellers by 2023-2024.
Hili Properties, the group’s real estate holding and management company, collaborated closely with its retail and corporate tenants to support them through a very challenging year, and to give consumers and visitors good reason to return to shopping centres and business spaces as soon as was safely possible. In the near-term, Hili Properties aims to expand its portfolio beyond retail and office properties by venturing into partnerships with prominent players on the wider European market.
2020 was particularly productive and fruitful for Malta-based engineering company Motherwell Bridge Industries as it seized opportunities presented by the downturn in affiliate sectors to register its best revenues in five years. Strict COVID-19 protocols ensured teams entrusted with crane installation and maintenance stationed at port terminals in and outside Malta were kept safe and all operations continued undisrupted.
HV Marine, the group’s yacht industry start-up, identified a niche for remote crew management, support and training throughout 2020, and will now turn its focus on its growing pipeline of potential acquisitions and partnerships in yacht marinas and yards around the continent.
“Our people’s dedication and their focus on the rigorous review and adjustment processes we put in place throughout 2020 has been phenomenal,” Mr Hili said. “All that we have achieved and overcome throughout the year is entirely thanks to this talented, determined community across Hili Ventures. With personal and professional pressure brought to bear, life has not been easy for anyone. But we have weathered the storm well and we are now better informed and better equipped to handle this long-term disruption to our lives. We will continue to experience challenges in 2021, not least in the first quarter, as we continue to live through this pandemic but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. There still is a bright future ahead. ”