Joseph ‘Pepe’ Caruana is self assured and optimistic and regards himself as fortunate, in more ways than one. He attended boarding school in the UK from the age of 9 and can only speak positively about his experience: “Boarding school opened up the opportunity to play sports and other activities and taught me important life lessons about living with fellow students from an early age. It also engrained a strong element of independence that has stood me well in later life.”
Fortune also played a part in his going to study in London. “I put the LSE as my first choice as a “stretch target” for my real preference, Birmingham University, but surprised myself with my “A” level results and got into the LSE and, by default, went to this great learning institution,” he says. Pepe goes on to state that he loved his time in London both whilst at university and then doing his Articles as a trainee Chartered Accountant with a medium sized firm in the City. “I spent about seven years in London and had some great times, so I look back at them with great fondness,” he states.
Pepe always had a yearning for starting his own business, so a couple of years after qualifying, in September 1991, he set up on his own as Caruana & Co. “I took what seemed a very bold step at the time,” he says, “but it seemed a natural thing for me to do.”
“I was then fortunate that the perfect opportunity presented itself and in 1992 I persuaded Stephen Reyes to join me.”
Pepe and Stephen formally became part of Deloitte and Touche in 1994, at the time the minnow of what might have been the big five or six at the time. “While that didn’t give rise to a lot of change immediately, over time Deloitte grew to become one of the top global accountancy firms and we have shared in that growth as well,” he says.
The company now consists of six partners and about 50 staff who deal predominantly with audit and tax work. “While audit and tax are our backbone, our clients are demanding more and more specialised services in financial advisory and consulting and so we are working ever closer with our UK colleagues to deliver those specialist skills” he explains.
The firm hosts a highly successful annual insurance seminar that is of great interest to the international insurance community particularly in the UK. “The insurance sector in Gibraltar has grown to a level that attracts a lot of interest from abroad, and we continue to see new inquiries in terms of new insurance business. We also see our specialist insurance consultants very interested in the insurance business that we have here in Gibraltar.”
As Chairman and Senior Partner of Deloitte, Pepe is well placed to give his views about Gibraltar from a post-Brexit business scenario especially from the point of view of financial and accounting services. “After the Referendum I was initially as horrified as everyone else was as it is not what we would have wished for,” he clarifies. “I suppose it does mark significant change, but with change come new opportunities and it is ironic that in our trading since the Referendum – we have seen more new business coming into Gibraltar in the six months post Brexit than we did in the period leading up to it.”
Pepe goes on to explain why he is optimistic for Gibraltar, which he describes as being a wonderful place that has much to offer. “It is regarded as a very secure location,” he says, “and we have a tax system (both personal and corporate) that is stable and consistent which is extremely important and based on low rather than on zero tax.” He also cites the fantastic community spirit and good schooling that will always make it an attractive place to relocate to and set up businesses from.
“Gibraltar over the years has always risen to the challenge when presented with radical change and challenges, ranging from the reduction in the MOD presence, to the loss of the tax exempt company. Gibraltar has made a virtue of adapting to change and I am confident that Gibraltar will make a success of Brexit. ” Pepe states. “Even in financial services I am confident we will find new niches to develop.”
Pepe sees Brexit as an opportunity to market to the EU, using Gibraltar as a gateway to the UK. “Regularising our relationship with the UK is of paramount importance and I am glad to hear that our Government is doing just that” He goes on to say that the border is the big unknown but believes that the inter dependence between the Campo and Gibraltar and the jobs at stake, will mean a closed border will not happen. “What we might have are slightly increased controls at the border, but ones which will allow workers still to come and go and therefore I am confident that a solution will be found that will be for the mutual benefit of all, and one that will enable Gibraltar to move forward.”
Regarding Deloitte, Pepe says he doesn’t consider that Brexit will have a detrimental effect and thinks that it will be business as usual. “Our practice has grown from zero to one of the largest firms in Gibraltar,” he says. “We have always tended to have a strategy of having capacity to grow the business and whilst there are times that we might plateau, the fact is that since Brexit we have taken on ten graduate trainees .”
One of the things that Pepe is most proud of is the team at Deloitte and Deloitte’s record for investing in people and although he agrees it is a cliché, he says that people are the company’s biggest asset. “The reality is that we have invested a lot in making sure that we train our people well and also in attracting the best graduates to come and work for us.”
“As a result we have got a fantastic team of very dedicated people who work extremely hard to make an impact that matters to our clients, our people and the community.”