This month I have been sent to meet with Karen Zammit, who is the Human Resources Manager and Headhunter at PlayTech Plc in their offices in the newly built and rather impressive World Trade Centre in Gibraltar. It’s super high-tech, glimmering and gleaming, (even the floor glitters, I kid you not) and you need to sign in to even get past the building reception much less the individual company offices. The first floor has a mezzanine that contains Costa coffee and a beautiful clean-eating smoothie and salad bar where they actually smash avocados without a trace of irony.
I’m here to get her take on relocation – both as someone who has done it herself from her home country of Malta and as a recruitment professional, both agency side and internal for many years arranging relocation for her candidates.
I meet with Karen in the cafeteria of her office and she breezes in looking sophisticated, confident and I’m in wide eyed amazement that she chats away to a colleague in fluent Spanish. I already know Karen has relocated to Gibraltar from Malta and I know that Maltese people speak English and Italian as well as their native language. But apparently for Karen, gaining a fourth language was also no issue!
the start of the journey
We sit down to chat in what is a bustling hive of activity, to match the rest of the World Trade Centre vibe the PlayTech cafeteria is full of state of the art coffee machines, more herbal tea flavours than you can shake a stick at, and what looks suspiciously like a free buffet for the staff – sandwiches, soups, salads… I start to think I work for the wrong company! But even with all this excitement around me, the distraction fades away as Karen starts speaking about how she ended up living and working here. Starting with a recruitment company called Pentasia, in Malta in 2008, Karen describes how she felt a need to move on in her career, so when an opportunity came up to set up a new branch of the company over in Gibraltar, she was offered the chance to live here for the 6 months it would take to set up and staff the new office. Whilst she grabbed the opportunity to learn more about establishing a new branch of the business, she also makes it very clear that moving away from Malta permanently was never an option for her: ‘I have a big family and it felt at the time for me to leave would have been impossible’
So, intent on this being a temporary situation only, that March Karen arrived alone, with two suitcases, from the sunshine of Malta to well, the sunshine of Spain and found herself feeling slightly intimidated to be outside of her home country. But, relishing a challenge, she buried herself in her work and then found that she very quickly acclimatised to life in Spain. Given accommodation in Benahavis and a satellite office in Marbella, Karen set up the Gibraltar branch and quickly realised the market potential for the iGaming industry was huge.
Within those 6 months Karen found herself not only putting her current skillset to effective use – recruiting staff for the office and handling all the HR, but also going on a huge learning curve as she set up the business. ‘Obviously I had done a lot of recruitment and HR before, but my background was never starting a new business here in Gibraltar – which is paperwork, banks, running around, legislation – doing a lot of different things. That part of it was new and nice, I enjoyed the learning experience.’
a temporary situation becomes permanent!
The following September the new office was successfully opened in Gibraltar. This should have been the point at which Karen’s temporary sojourn to the South of Spain finished, so she could head back to her family in Malta. But Karen found that after putting in so much work getting it all off the ground in Gibraltar, handing over the reins to someone else proved to be a tricky thing to do! She says ‘The day I interviewed a guy for the role to replace me, I said to myself, he is not a Pentasian; he didn’t have the passion that I was looking for. So, the obvious choice for her and the directors of the company was that she stayed and ran the office herself. This caused inevitable inner conflict for her, so she asked her family for advice. ‘I called my older brother – before I told my parents! He’d been to visit me twice while I was here and he said ‘Why the hell do you want to come back to Malta? There’s new pastures out there for you – go and take a look.’
So, with the decision made to make the arrangement a tad more permanent that it was ever supposed to be, Karen settled into her new life here. Living in a beautiful apartment in a small coastal town called Casares about 30 miles from Gibraltar, Karen describes her lifestyle at that point as a wonderful balance between a career that she was passionate about and an environment that gave her the opportunity, space and freedom to indulge in her personal passions too – sports and the outdoor lifestyle! ‘I’m a sports addict, I do a lot of sports – cycling, swimming, running, so the clean air, climate and terrain were perfect for me.’ During this period, Karen also describes, she had found a sweet spot in terms of her preferences for a level of social interaction and active lifestyle: ‘We used leave work early on a Friday and go to Ocean Village, then by 8.30 I’m on my way home already! So, the next day I can go out training – and I’m ok, I’m not suffering from the night before.’ Ocean Village is the cosmopolitan port area of Gibraltar surrounded by yachts, bars, restaurants & casinos, one of which is on the world’s first floating 5* hotel!
relocation for dummies!
Having experienced both a temporary and then a permanent relocation, Karen is always keen to give others the benefit of her experience, and to try and help them avoid making the mistakes she made. She says, ‘I paid my rent and managed to do the basic administration but there are other things no one told me about, road tax for example, getting your Residencia (the Spanish ‘permission to reside’), opening a bank account, paying your Declaracion de la Renta (Spanish income tax); I didn’t know anything of these things.’
It becomes clear at this point that getting a little help with these things can turn relocation from a confusing and daunting experience into a smooth and effortless process – which is where recruitment agencies and internal HR and Recruitment specialists like Karen, who have first-hand experience of both the joys and the pitfalls of starting a new life in a foreign country are extremely valuable! Karen has always offered guidance to not only the employee but also the partners and families, helping them set up with accommodation, schools, and anything that helps make the transition less stressful. Karen offers some more advice for anyone thinking of relocating to the Costa del Sol: ‘I advise everyone, if you want to live here – get your own car, drive, and spend time looking around because there’s a paradise out there!’ During the past and even nowadays Karen and her partner spend many afternoons taking long scenic drives from town to town, stopping and having a coffee, exploring what the area has to offer and discovering new and interesting places.
a new challenge?
After a couple of happy years living the lifestyle in Southern Spain, Karen accepted a new challenge; she was offered a position with a venture capital company back in Malta. However, after a while she found herself missing everything about her life here in Spain and Gibraltar – ‘I realised I had to come back here. Malta felt very familiar, it was becoming too claustrophobic. Here in Spain I feel there is much more freedom and open air, no traffic and the lifestyle is so flexible. I can jump in the car and be somewhere completely different in one or two hours. She’s absolutely right, there is a plethora of outdoor activities and sports available here – for everyone from the hardcore triathlete like Karen, to people more like me who wouldn’t be too adverse to a gentle stroll every now and again. There are mountains to climb – the Sierra Bermeja mountain behind Estepona is 1449m high and is perfect for hiking, walking, running and cycling down too!
For the more ‘extreme’ sportsperson there is Tarifa – the kitesurfing capital of Europe just a few miles along the coast from Gibraltar – the white sands, plentiful campsites and hipster nightlife make it a hugely popular destination for young Europeans.
For a social sport, Padel is very popular here (it’s like a cross between squash and tennis and played with 4 people). And for water lovers you can scuba-dive in the beautiful clear Mediterranean waters or even learn to sail at one of the many nautical schools dotted along the coast.
Basically, it doesn’t matter what level of activity you’re looking for, or even not looking for at all (who says sunbathing isn’t a sport?) the climate and the weather and the variations of activities available here combine to make you want to be outside, explore and discover – no wonder so many people choose to relocate!
Karen is now specializing in relocating people to work for Playtech. We have relocated around 70 families, successfully- they’re all still here! They love it a lot, it’s a different country from what they are coming from and they are genuinely happy…. you can see it. We’re all lucky to be here and have the possibility to live in a much bigger space. The UK is big enough but it’s cold, and wet and dark for much of the day when it’s time to enjoy leisure activities.’
back to the ‘open door lifestyle’
She goes on to say that this is the perfect place for someone who wants to experiment with relocation, to try it for a period of time. It’s a relatively inexpensive place to live, with taxation being equivocal to the rest of Europe, or when compared to the North of Europe a lot less. There’s also the ‘open door lifestyle’ as she eloquently puts it – walking out of your home to sun and blue skies, finishing work and still having three or four hours of sunshine and warmth ahead of you. ‘When you are just in the kitchen for example, cooking dinner and it’s still bright, you know, it tricks you a bit! That’s how I see it, it changed my life to give me so much more’
Karen doesn’t feel like she is missing out on anything back home either, whilst she does sometimes miss her parents and siblings they stay in almost constant touch through social media. She explains –‘we have a messenger group that is made up of cousins, uncles, aunties – we message every single day!’ She giggles as she goes on to say, ‘And then we have the private one which is ladies only so my aunties and my sister, we can gossip, like what’s happening in their lives but they don’t want their children or parents to read!’ She also says that now there are direct flights to and from Malta to Malaga airport that it’s easier than ever to make the regular visits back home.
It’s very clear to me that Karen loves her life here on the coast of the Mediterranean – she speaks with a passion and energy that is positively infectious, she’s like a walking advert for a healthy, active and fun lifestyle and I come away from the meeting feeling inspired and with a newly rediscovered esteem for the beautiful area we are blessed to live in.
By Amy Reyes