Meet Shireburn CEO Yasmin De Giorgio; HR GIG 7 Partner

Ahead of HR Gig 7, we sat down with Shireburn CEO Yasmin de Giorgio for her thoughts on breaking down the silos, conscious communication in the office, and how CEOs can foster an environment of inclusion and support.

Posted on: Monday, April 18th, 2022

Ms. De Giorgio is the founder of Sanya Eco Spa, a wellness spa specialising in supporting people to experience deeper levels of physical and mental wellbeing. A supportive environment created to address modern day stressors, Sanya Eco Spa has made a name for itself in Malta as the go-to place for relaxation and self-discovery. Recently, Ms. De Giorgio has also taken over the role of CEO at Shireburn. She succeeds her father after a 38-year-stretch as CEO.

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m super passionate about doing business in a more conscious and sustainable way in order to benefit not just the society that we’re working in, but also the people who work for the company.

I’ve actually been interested in business for a very long time – I went to university in the United Kingdom and completed a Bachelors in Economics, which I followed up with a Masters in International Development, which really opened my eyes to the kind of damage that an unconsciously-run business can do. In Economics, we were really only focused on Economics as a tool removed from human influence, whilst International Development, on the other hand, showed us the reality of business and economics when you add in the human lens: from businesses underpaying and exploiting workers in developing countries to knowingly crafting an environment which is harmful to the worker.

My Masters degree really put me off business for a while, so I rejected working in the corporate world for a few years.

After that, I happened across a book written by the founder of Aveda, Horst M. Rechelbacher. He spoke very openly about conscious business practices, working within a harmful environment to change it – I think he was one of the first people to give intellectual property rights to people in the Amazon, and to champion pushing environmental and sustainable practices. It really opened my eyes, and I started to think, well, if I want to make a difference in the world, maybe I need to work with businesses that reflect my values.

That’s when I started my own business.

My first two businesses were a catering company and Sanya. I really did try to bring forward the lessons I took from my Masters degree, and Rechelbacher’s book, to the forefront. The Grassy Hopper was the first business to bring compostable packaging to the island, and Sanya’s first – and foremost – focus is wellness.

In both of your other businesses, you set the work culture. What’s the work culture like at Shireburn, an established company?

I’m actually very lucky to have found a good culture here. My father and his co-director Franco ran the company for 38 years, and they’ve been focused on hiring people that are down to earth, not egotistical, and were happy to take on younger generations. It makes it a lot easier to implement conscious communication practices, and to create a supportive environment. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how well the team at Shireburn have taken onboard the changes, and I’m really looking forward to what else we can do.

Could you tell us a bit about HR GIG?

I attended HR GIG last year, and I just think it’s so incredibly important to have these conversations in a public setting, especially in Malta where the idea of conscious business is still a little new and can find a lot of challenges. HR GIG conferences are an excellent platform for these conversations: not only do you get to share your experiences, you get to hear from other people’s perspectives, see what’s working for them, and talk about the challenges you’re facing.

Everyone benefits from more conscious business, but figuring out where to start and how to move past roadblocks is a big aspect of conscious business, and having a public platform to talk about tactics is crucial.

The theme for this year is ‘Breaking the Silos’, something you’re very familiar with. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

It’s funny because when I started at Shireburn, one of the things I really wanted to work on was breaking down communication silos, and it became a bit of a running joke in the office. We have a sort of – joke Secret Santa, and the gift I received for that year was a hammer, beautifully wrapped in Zara packaging. It’s my breaking down silos hammer.

Silos are something that happen in every company because conscious business starts from learning how to be conscious in general, and we are not taught from a young age how to cultivate an awareness of what drives our actions and how they impact others. Cultivating these sorts of skills is crucial to create a better functioning workplace. Breaking down silos is figuring out how to dismantle them, it’s the first step in creating a conscious business.

As a leadership team at Shireburn we strive to focus on three things: communication, coordination, and negotiation. These skills are what we need to teach people how to break down those silos and it’s something that I feel is very crucial for modern working environments.

What are your thoughts on communication in the modern office?

Firstly, I think communication skills can be taught regardless of where your office is: I know a lot of people are working remotely now, but communication comes from emotional intelligence. To be able to speak your truth in a way that’s productive in the workplace and gives information to your colleagues is such an important soft skill to have, and I feel that sometimes people are too busy and forget communication etiquette, which is completely understandable – especially now.

Our ability to communicate is the basis for human collaboration and many of our greatest achievements as a species are rooted in our ability to work together. With the advent of remote working, it is more important than ever to work on our ability to communicate and coordinate our actions.

Have there ever been any situations where your office culture has suffered due to communication issues?

This is something that happens in every office. What we do get is small issues that niggle away at the trust between teams, which can then become a much bigger problem in the long run, so we try and make sure to foster good communication throughout.

How can CEOs foster a better environment for communication and trust?

CEOs have a hard job ahead of them: the environment has changed completely – from the office, to the market, to the industry they’re working in and what people are looking for. Over the past two years especially, CEOs have had to constantly adapt to situations that have been unpredictable and unprecedented, and I feel that it can really exacerbate the feeling of having all the responsibility on your shoulders.

However, there’s no supportive or conscious business without CEO support, and I also feel that CEOs have a big responsibility towards their culture. It’s difficult to create a workplace that works consciously without the support of leadership, and CEOs, COOs, and business owners have the most influence, so supporting and working on themselves to be able to create that culture is something that leaders need to keep constantly in mind.

What are the benefits of attending HR GIG?

Specifically for CEOs, leadership can be really lonely, and I think it’s helpful to feel supported and to connect with people who are experiencing the same things as you are and a conference like HR GIG is an excellent way to do that. With HR GIG, you’re not at a conference competing with others, you’re there to learn: to take inspiration from what others are doing, to share your own experiences, and to be inspired by new possibilities.