Money & Me: Dubai dad-to-be’s shifting priorities

Alex Marr is the owner and managing director of the Dubai-based Xeratek Solutions, which provides IT services for businesses. The British entrepreneur launched the venture in 2009 with four employees and now has a staff of 20. The 41-year-old from England came to Dubai in 2004 to work for Xerox Emirates after 15 years of corporate experience in his home country.

Describe your financial journey so far.

When I was seven years old, I helped my mum, who is a potter, sell her sculptures and pottery in art fairs across the south of England, mainly in Oxford and London. I didn’t receive her artistic talents but I realised I enjoyed selling and meeting new people. Later, I took part-time and summer jobs – one as a kitchen potwasher at a restaurant and another in a car sales showroom – and learnt the value of money. In 2009, when I started Xeratek, I used my personal savings and a bank loan that added up to Dh250,000 in initial investment. I used it to buy office furniture, pay rent and ensure six months’ operational cash flow. We started in April 2009, when the global financial crisis hit the UAE, and I questioned our sanity. I had to go ahead as I had already planned to quit my job. By the time Ramadan came that year, the company was doing well, helped by the lean model and competitive prices. We were adding three to four clients a month. It has now grown to become one of Xerox Emirates’ largest business partners in the UAE.

Are you a spender or saver?

I am a spender and an investor. I invest in the growth of Xeratek. I like to take calculated risks in real estate in Dubai and the United Kingdom. Now that we are expecting our first child, I have to save more. In the past I have dabbled in stocks.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Having money gives you the ability to make choices. If used wisely, money can provide great enjoyment.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Yes, and mistakes will always be made. You can never learn without making mistakes as long as you do not repeat them. It’s a part of maturing as a human being and as an entrepreneur. Around four years ago, I started another business, to introduce a media marketing idea to Dubai – a physical video greetings card, which when opened had a small screen – and it failed miserably. We didn’t research the product and the UK distributor could not provide enough samples of high enough quality. Luckily, we weren’t exposed too much financially. We persevered for 12 months but realised it was never going to be our pension.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

My wife and I are working on a food and beverage concept. It is in the idea and conceptualisation phase. If I won Dh1 million I would invest that in the business. It is going to be an outlet that looks to make a change in the society, a social business. I hope to have it up and running in the next year; I just need to find time and the investment.

What has been your best investment?

This would sound a cliché but it was forming and growing my current business.

Do you plan for the future?

I do, because it is important to have a goal. I have a five-year plan for business and personal finances. With the baby coming, the five-year plan will have to change a bit. We used to spend money on travelling and eating at all the fabulous places here as both my wife and I are foodies. The travel plans are on hold for a little while and now we need to find baby-friendly restaurants.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

Travelling and trying new restaurants. Last year, we went to the United States, France, Maldives, the UK and places within the UAE. In the US, we drove from Los Angeles to San Francisco on Highway 1, past some beautiful and stunning scenery.

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