From Norway to Malta: why Thomas Jacobsen chose a career path less ordinary

Thomas Jacobsen’s career path was far from the ordinary.

After graduating from the prestigious University of Oslo, where he specialised in international tax, he spent a year in the Royal Norwegian Air Force before looking for his ideal career move.

While wondering what to do next, he met a Maltese girl through an international law association. The rest, as they say, is history.

Trainee at PwC

“I tried my luck applying for various jobs in Malta and managed to get a six-month traineeship with PwC,” Thomas recalls. “I thought it would help me with international tax, but little did I know that I was starting at the wrong end.”

When Thomas started his traineeship, it was mainly in company and corporate law – with very little international tax. Nevertheless, he now looks back on this period as the catalyst that helped him forge his career. It wasn’t exactly what Thomas expected, but he learned a lot and he enjoyed it.

“I was exposed to a completely new set of laws in a new language: English. The laws are obviously different, but that’s part of what I found interesting. The fact that everything in Malta is in English is obviously a great help because if it was in Maltese I’d be dead in the water.”

“At that time, I didn’t know that I was going to stay here for another 26 years. But I knew this was a great learning experience, learning everything from scratch.”

Thomas eventually stayed at PwC for 10 years, becoming a senior manager in the corporate tax department, specialising in international taxation.

Striking out on his own – Papilio Services.

In 2007, Thomas decided to strike out on his own with two friends, specialising in servicing the international business sector in Malta. Five years later, the business went through a series of changes into the organisation that clients recognise today as Papilio Services.

“In 2012, the business went through a restructuring when one of the original partners decided to join an international firm.”

“I and the remaining other partner decided to split the business into a law firm and a company service provider, and I took over the company service provider. I then brought on two managers as new partners. So, we’re still going strong today as Papilio Services.”

These days Papilio has a diverse range of clients, from individuals to listed companies on international stock exchanges. Licensed as a company service provider by the Malta Financial Services Authority, Papilio offers a suite of services ranging from helping clients set up companies, to providing domiciliation and directorship services. The company also handles all ancillary work related to these services.

With an accounts department dedicated to bookkeeping, drafting financial statements, and handling tax and VAT compliance, Papilio allows business owners to focus on their core business operations while the company handles the back-office tasks.

“We’re a typical company service provider in Malta,” Thomas says, “In terms of the licensing, what we do is help people set up companies.”

“We have an accounts department where we do bookkeeping, the drafting of financial statements, and compliance services such as tax and VAT. Anything and everything, all the business services that you need that lets owners concentrate on running their businesses rather than dealing with the boring back-office stuff, which is done by us. We also service a number of individuals settling in Malta under the various residency options available.”

Networking across Europe

From the start back in 2012, Thomas and his colleagues networked across Europe, visiting law and accountancy firms to drum up as much business as possible -all of it built around personal relationships.

“At that time, it was pre-Teams and pre-Skype and pre-all of that. Face-to-face was really all you could do. We were on the road a lot building up a contact network, spending time convincing the person on the other side of the table that they needed our services. It worked well.”

This roadshow-style networking proved to be very successful, and clients started bringing their contacts and clients to see Papilio.

“It was completely organic. I remember in 2007, getting our first client was a big deal. We couldn’t even afford to pay salaries to ourselves at that time.”

Malta – the preferred business location

Over the years, Malta has become the preferred jurisdiction for many international businesses, mainly due to its tax system that allows for tax deferrals, which means a lot of businesses don’t have to pay tax until they repatriate their earnings. This feature particularly benefits Thomas’ clients who have online-based businesses, as well as individuals managing their private wealth.

“We’ve been involved in a lot of very interesting businesses,” Thomas says. “One client wanted to set up a company that competed in the private jet space and had big investors and banks backing him. With that project, we were involved in absolutely everything from the corporate and agreements side to drafting aircraft-sharing agreements. Everything, from the corporate to HR, contracts, and even compliance.”

Indeed, these days Thomas and his team have built a healthy business around compliance, as the EU introduces new laws to combat everything from money laundering to data protection issues.

“The environment has changed a lot. Compliance has become the be-all and end-all of everything that we do, and we take it very seriously. We have set up our own compliance department and that comes with costs that are difficult to push onto the end user as a service because they don’t understand it.”

“But for us to survive above the competition, we need to embrace change and understand what’s happening in Brussels. The new laws. It’s not just GDPR and data protection, it’s lots of other compliance issues from anti-money laundering to risk management and new corporate governance rules; the whole spectrum.”

IR Global

Joining IR Global has been a strategic move for Papilio. While it’s still early days, Thomas believes membership will help to expand his network and generate more business, and several of the team have already attended events across Europe. Above all, Thomas wants to use IR Global to expand Papilio’s global reach and extensive client base across the global network.

Life in Malta

Living in Malta has been a unique experience for Thomas. The island offers a rich cultural experience and an ideal climate, and he enjoys his morning walks with his dogs.

“I live on the south side of Malta, close to the sea, and every morning at 6:30 am I take my dogs for a walk.”

“I’m now 54 years old – or will be soon – and I do try to finish work at around five o’clock every day to get home early and have a life outside work. I guess I think I deserve it at my age, and knowing that our team is more than capable of dealing with our work means that I do not have to be involved in everything myself.”

Contributing Advisors