Money & me: Founder of Dental Spa pays it forward

Dr Ahmed Amer is a cosmetic and laser dentist and the founder of the Dental Spa in Dubai. The Egyptian moved to the UAE in 2000 to work at a government hospital in Al Ain before setting up on his own in 2005. The 52-year-old lives with his wife and two daughters, seven and five.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I had a very happy childhood growing up in downtown Cairo, Egypt, with an emphasis on the importance of education. My father, an educational planner for the Ministry of Education, was very hard- working and while we were not poor, there wasn’t a lot extra. My parents sheltered us from financial topics with the idea they were protecting us. I think it was part generation and part culture. I had to pretty much teach myself and learnt some important life lessons.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

At 15, I was paid 100 Egyptian pounds (Dh41) for a DJ gig on weekends at a popular Cairo night spot on the Nile. It was good money at the time.

Are you a spender or saver?

Definitely a spender, although I am not a big spender on myself. I actually enjoy spending on my family … particularly my daughters. I buy them toys, clothes, food they like and take them places they enjoy. My wife has to keep me in check occasionally. Like a lot of men, I also spend on gadgets and technology.

What is your most cherished purchase?

A few years ago I splurged and took my parents, my brother, my wife and my daughter on a family holiday to Istanbul for a week where we celebrated my birthday. I probably spent about Dh40,000 and I loved being able to do that for my parents.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could you not pay the bills?

Yes, I have had a few of these in my lifetime. One that stands out is when I decided to invest and start my own clinic. The initial investment in setting up, including the high-tech equipment, can be very expensive. It was scary for a while, especially when there is no pay cheque with a set amount coming in at the end of the month. But I felt like it was “now or never”, and so I just went for it.

Where do you save your money?

I constantly reinvest in my business. In my field, it is imperative to stay on top of the latest in equipment and technology. I also contribute to an offshore monthly pension fund and education fund for my young daughters.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

I try to pay as much as I can on my credit card as I get air miles and it is easier to track spending. I make sure I pay the bill in full at the end of the month instead of accruing the ridiculous finance charges.

What do you most regret spending money on?

I invested in a family member’s business idea and made my decision based on emotions and not on facts or a business plan. Let’s just say it was a lot of ­money and a decision that still gives me chest pain to this day when I think about it.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Start saving as early as possible, even if it is a small amount every month. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket … diversification is a must.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Absolutely. Having young children, I have had to make plans to ensure a financial safety net for them.

If you won Dh1m, what would you do with it?

I am a big fan of paying it forward, so I would definitely contribute to a worthy children’s charity. I would also invest in the Dubai property market.

What would you raid your savings account for?​

At this point of my life, it would have to be for a family emergency.

pf@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Money & Me: My Gym UAE owner spent a fortune on baby things she barely used

Pia Bahri is the founder of My Gym UAE, a dedicated children’s fitness centre and US franchise with over 200 gyms globally. The British Indian, 43, a UAE resident for more than 30 years, started her career as a corporate and commercial lawyer then moved on to financial services focusing on trusts, estate planning and institutional business. After having her son in 2004, she decided to open a child-friendly business, launching My Gym UAE 14 months later after her daughter was born. The entrepreneur now has a second branch in Dubai and sub-franchises in Jordan and Egypt.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My family was not wealthy, but we were always comfortable and never lacked for anything as kids but were made aware of the value of money, especially when you see people around you with not enough for one meal a day.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

My law firm package was about Dh11,000 a month almost 20 years ago. It was more than enough for me as I lived with my parents and had virtually no expenses. It allowed me to travel, which is a passion, and save money while still enjoy time with friends and shop.

Are you a spender or saver?

I was more of a saver, but as I get older and the basics are covered, I figure you can’t take it with you so I like indulging in good food and travel. I like fashion but am not governed by the latest “must have” and often feel quite guilty if I spend a lot on bags or shoes. Charity is important and I like to be actively involved rather than just donating money.

What is your most cherished purchase?

A recent death in the family made me realise how meaningless possessions are, but I suppose my computer and phone, which together were about Dh5,000. I do love shoes but am a sucker for a sale as I love the satisfaction of getting a bargain.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Yes, but it’s mostly in my head as I usually have a contingency. It does not assuage the worry though, and I can often get quite paranoid about it and think the world is coming to an end. It’s more a battle within myself than the reality of the situation. I have a supportive family, so subconsciously I know I have a safety net, but I hate depending on anyone.

Where do you save your money?

In a bank in fixed deposits and a few investments.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Credit card for large purchases and cash for purchases below Dh300. I find it odd to put a Dh10 purchase on my card.

What has been your best investment?

My flat in Dubai Marina which I love and will hopefully be a nest egg as well.

What do you most regret spending money on?

I spent a fortune on baby things as I read all the books and was so scared about buying the wrong stuff that I was a bit neurotic about it. It must have been over Dh20,000 to begin with and I did not use half the things even after my second child was born. Over time I am sure this number was at least three to four times more.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Don’t think you have lots of time and put it on the back burner.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Sadly still not very concrete. Life throws you curveballs all the time so it’s very difficult to stick solidly to a plan, but I am trying.

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

Funnily I ask myself this question all the time. Probably use a quarter of it for charity and a few indulgences and try to save/invest the rest.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Knowing when to shut down from work and live your life

Do you find yourself sending emails over dinner, or fielding calls from the boss while on holiday?

With the rise of technology, work and home life is merging. But for those managing family and a career, does working from home make maintaining a work-life balance easier or does it simply mean more work?

“Technology is a double-edged sword”, says Ravi Singh, the chief executive of Bluefin Consultancy, which he established to create smarter business models that promote a more engaged working culture.

“Integration of work and life through the medium of technology may be a misconception. On one hand you have access to information, and on the other you cannot escape accountability.”

The French government has concluded that its citizens’ work-life balance need to be protected. France’s new El Khomri law, which governs labour rights and conditions, dictates that employers put in place procedures to keep work from encroaching on employees’ personal time. According to Article 25 of the law, “the development of information and communication technologies, if badly managed or regulated, can have an impact on the health of workers. Among them, the burden of work and the informational overburden, the blurring of the borders between private life and professional life, are risks associated with the usage of digital technology”.

Some companies are paving the way in limiting digital overload. Daimler says employees are free to delete all the mes­sages they receive while on holiday, and Volkswagen shuts down email servers after hours.

Even digital companies realise technology needs to be restricted. Google’s Dublin office has a programme called “Google Goes Dark”, with employees leaving their devices at the front desk before they head home.

According to their gDNA study, an anonymous long-term survey of 4,000 Google employees, there are two main approaches to work-life balance: the segmentors, and the integrators. Segmentors, who made up 31 per cent, can draw a line between work stress and the rest of their lives, allowing them to not think about work when they’re at home. The remaining 69 per cent, the integrators, cannot. “For integrators, work looms constantly in the background,” says Laszlo Bock, Google’s head of people operations. “They not only find themselves checking email all evening, but pressing refresh on Gmail again and again to see if new work has come in.”

But others in the tech world see advantages for employees in bringing work home with them – especially for women. Meera Kaul was one of the first female tech entrepreneurs in the UAE, and now owns or has invested in 35 companies worldwide. Five years ago, she set up the non-profit Meera Kaul Foundation to empower women in the workplace. “Technology en­ables women to work from home and to work flexibility”, says Ms Kaul, who lives in Dubai.

According to research by Grant Thornton in 2015, although 76 per cent of women in the UAE have university degrees, only 34 per cent are working.

“The biggest threat that we have as women today is economic marginalisation,” says Ms Kaul. “About eight years into the job, when women have kids, they drop out and many of them never come back.

“In many parts of the world, the decision about your career is made by family, and then after you get married, it’s made by the husbands. Technology can narrow the gap and involve more women in the workforce, even when they’re not allowed to go out.”

Tamsin Anderson, from the UK, combines her job as editor of Yalla, a family guide to Abu Dhabi, with the responsibilities of being a mum-of-three. “The technology gives the illusion that I’m always there when someone calls or emails me, be it sat in a car park or even at home,” says Ms Anderson. “My location is irrelevant. I can arrange my day around the needs of my children, including school pickup, drop-offs and crucial sports matches.”

But Ms Anderson admits there is a rub. “Technology may be liberating, but it can also be very invasive. It’s absolutely vital to know when to close the lid down or turn the ringer off so that I can absolutely concentrate on my family’s needs outside of school hours. And truthfully, most people respect that. It is only our desire to know what is going on that gets in the way.”

PepsiCo is a company that has offered flexible working options for several years, according to PepsiCo Asia Middle East Africa’s chief human resources officer Umran Beba, who is based in Dubai.

“Women need it more, given the issues they face of mater­nity, childcare and parents’ care. What we see actually is that if you take the pressure out of the mind of a woman, they can be more productive. If in the morning you have to attend a play at your kid’s school, you can finish your work after that. Maybe it will be a little bit late. But in today’s world, you go home, have dinner with the kids, then when they sleep, you continue doing work from home.”

business@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Money & Me: British executive consultant has lessons learnt early in life

Mike Hoff is the founder and chief executive of Mike Hoff Consulting, a Dubai executive consulting business, which he set up in 2012 and runs with his wife. The Briton, 53, has more than 30 years of senior leadership experience, beginning his career in the UK in 1985 in the hospitality industry. He moved to the UAE in 2004.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My parents were entrepreneurs running a small business in the north of England, so from an early age I gained a good understanding of the true value of money. My upbringing also taught me that living beyond your means was not an option, so hard work was the only source of cash and you don’t get something for nothing in life. Being self-employed meant that you also had to build up cash reserves to get you through the tough times and to take time off, even though no income would be earned while we were on holiday.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

It was in hospitality and I earned £7,000 (Dh34,000) per year. I remember feeling very rich at that time.

Are you a spender or saver?

I tend to be more of an investor, so I save money with a focus on a certain amount or number of months operating expenses in the bank and then spend the excess on either personal or business investments, such as pensions or marketing the business.

What is your most cherished purchase?

It has to be our holiday to the Maldives in 2004, as it as was then that my wife Claire and I realised that we wanted to spend the rest of our lives together. I don’t remember the cost but I know that we couldn’t really afford it at the time but we needed the time away, so it was priceless. As is the fact that we now are running our own business together.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could you not pay the bills?

There have been several times where this has been the case and not just while running our own business. The fact that credit was so easy to obtain in the UK during my career meant that at times I did over-commit, however the bills did always get paid. I always seem to find a way.

Where do you save?

I save in a variety of ways; we own our house here in Dubai in the Green Community, which has proved to be a solid investment. I also believe that, in the same way that leaders need a business coach, you need an expert around helping you make the right decisions when it comes to saving. So I have a finance manager who supports my savings strategy through a variety of short, medium and long-term plans. Important things when making a saving decision is being in control of the cash and being able to get access to it easily.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

I mainly use the credit card as it saves carrying large amounts of cash around, which can be inconvenient and less secure. It also helps our cash cycle, as there are 30 days in which to pay the amount off.

What has been your best investment?

Undoubtedly the house here in Dubai, as we bought in 2009 when the market was softer. I believe that property is probably the best long-term investment that you can make, even in these turbulent times.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Do not get five credit cards when at university, as it will take you 10 years to pay them off and you will end up spending thousands of pounds in interest payments.

Do you have a plan for the future?

The plan is to be able to provide for our retirement in a way that our standard of living will not need to decline. The business plan we currently have in place supports this goal. The important thing about having a plan is acting on it and reviewing it on a regular basis.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Money & Me: Dubai marketing agency executive busy reining in urge to splurge

Tehzeeb Ahmed is the managing partner of Buzzy Bee Communications, a Dubai-based agency catering to start-ups and small businesses she set up with her brother in 2012. The Bangladeshi, 39, who has also worked in Boston and Brussels, has lived in Dubai most of her life.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My parents brought us up to believe that money was never the be all and end all of happiness. We should instead strive for job satisfaction, health, a happy family and money would come if we stopped worrying about it. I grew up learning that we should be happy with whatever we had and never compare ourselves to others and hence I never made money my key success driver. That is still the case today.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

It was an entry-level position in an advertising agency in the US. I made US$18,000 annually before taxes. I brought home about Dh3,000 monthly from that and I was paid weekly, which meant I had generally used up every penny by the end of the month.

Are you a spender or saver?

A spender learning to become a saver. I used to be a reckless spender, living for the moment. My credit cards would be maxed out and I had a “pay now, worry later” attitude. It was all fine when I had a stable salaried income. Things change when you become self-employed and constantly looking for ways to save money. That’s when you realise [credit card] interest rates are ridiculous and the importance of having money you can use in times of need.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My beautiful Volkswagen mint green Beetle purchased in 2001 through a car loan that I paid off in 2004. It was my dream car and I knew I wanted it before I could even drive. I sold it with much sorrow in 2007, when I moved to Brussels.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could you not pay the bills?

Yes, generally the summer months when business is very slow but credit card bills, overheads and salaries still need to be paid.

Where do you save your money?

In a savings account and mutual funds.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Credit cards because of the points they offer. However, in the last year I’m aggressively trying to reduce my card debts so I’m pay as much as I can by debit card or in cash. Wanting to pay off my credit cards came from realising that it’s a bit of a black hole and that your monthly payments can end up becoming a person’s salary. At one point I was paying nearly Dh9,000 a month on my card as a minimum payment. You lose track of the reality of a situation with a credit card.

What has been your best investment?

A mutual fund critical illness policy. In my 20s I never thought about investing in my future or my health. As I approach my 40s and due to critical illness in my family history, I have invested in this to protect both my family and myself.

What do you most regret spending money on?

I don’t really as my larger expenses have always been experiences, courses or items that I have made the most of and enjoyed. I occasionally purchase cheap services on Groupon etc and then forget about them and regret buying them.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Not really. For now I would like to be completely debt-free by next year and comfortable with my business earnings.

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

Keep aside Dh500,000 in a savings account for my family; buy a new car (because I really need one of my own as I’m driving a family car at the moment); pay off my credit card debts and invest about Dh150,000 in the infrastructure of my business.

What would you raid your savings account for?

Capital equity for the business if required and my big 40th birthday bash next year.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Money & Me: Wedding entrepreneur treasures first UAE trade licence

Rhiannon Downie-Hurst is the founder of the UAE wedding-planning website Brideclubme.com. The Briton, 35, as lived in Dubai for eight years, launching her business three years ago when she was planning her own wedding in Dubai and noticed a lack of online information for others like her in the Emirates. The entrepreneuer also runs The Engage Academy, a community and consultancy for wedding entrepreneurs.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but neither was I born into poverty. I had a healthy, happy upbringing, but did skim the border of poverty at one stage during my younger years, when my mother was a struggling single-parent-of-two. She taught me to be careful with money and never rely on anyone but myself. I took this advice to heart and have been reasonably careful with money to date. My mum brought my brother and I up single-handedly and worked several jobs to put food on our table. Her hard work ethic rubbed off on me and fostered my entrepreneurial spirit.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

Would you consider a paper round a real job? I earned £5 a week delivering newspapers and used to babysit my neighbour’s children for around £10. My first real chunk of money came when I was interning for a construction firm at 16. After my four-week stint, I received £100 in cash as a ‘job well done’ bonus. I’ll never forget the feeling; it was really rewarding.

Are you a spender or saver?

I’m a little of both and go through periods being one or the other. It’s all relative to how well I’m doing financially at the time. As I reach my mid-30s and see some older relatives struggling because of decisions they did or did not make when they were younger, I am more inclined to save. There is a real issue among expats not making provisions for their older age; it’s very much a ‘live now, worry later’ mentality.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My first UAE business trade licence. I saw it as an investment into my future and still do, it was one of the biggest decisions I have made to-date. My travel purchases are also cherished, as they created memories that will last a lifetime – I definitely value experiences over possessions.

Have you ever had a month where feared you could you not pay the bills?

Absolutely, especially when I was living in London. I think everyone needs a wake-up call now and then. Been there and done that, never want to go back there again.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

By debit card or cash. I only use my credit card for certain purchases or emergency situations. In fact, my husband and I have each other’s cards now to stop us using them unnecessarily.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Save. Even if it was just 5 or 10 per cent of anything I earned, saving is key. And be very careful with your generosity, who you lend money to and who you do business with. Have contracts for everything – there are a lot of shady characters out there.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Yes, to expand my business, which (touch wood) is growing at a steady percentage year-on-year. So far, the business has been bootstrapped, but we may explore possible investment to accelerate growth. I also want to work smarter, not harder, so I can enjoy life to the full.

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

Keep it a secret for a while, hire a reputable financial adviser and invest some back into my business. I’d ensure we were clear of debt and help a select few of my closest family. I’d also love to donate to an orphanage in my mother’s home country, Sri Lanka, and help animal shelters in Dubai. Dh1m sounds a lot, but in the wrong hands it can easily vanish very quickly.

What would you raid your savings account for?

Emergency situations to do with health or finance. I’d never raid it for things like fashion.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Money & Me: Wedding entrepreneur treasures first UAE trade licence

Rhiannon Downie-Hurst is the founder of the UAE wedding-planning website Brideclubme.com. The Briton, 35, as lived in Dubai for eight years, launching her business three years ago when she was planning her own wedding in Dubai and noticed a lack of online information for others like her in the Emirates. The entrepreneuer also runs The Engage Academy, a community and consultancy for wedding entrepreneurs.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was not born with a silver spoon in my mouth, but neither was I born into poverty. I had a healthy, happy upbringing, but did skim the border of poverty at one stage during my younger years, when my mother was a struggling single-parent-of-two. She taught me to be careful with money and never rely on anyone but myself. I took this advice to heart and have been reasonably careful with money to date. My mum brought my brother and I up single-handedly and worked several jobs to put food on our table. Her hard work ethic rubbed off on me and fostered my entrepreneurial spirit.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

Would you consider a paper round a real job? I earned £5 a week delivering newspapers and used to babysit my neighbour’s children for around £10. My first real chunk of money came when I was interning for a construction firm at 16. After my four-week stint, I received £100 in cash as a ‘job well done’ bonus. I’ll never forget the feeling; it was really rewarding.

Are you a spender or saver?

I’m a little of both and go through periods being one or the other. It’s all relative to how well I’m doing financially at the time. As I reach my mid-30s and see some older relatives struggling because of decisions they did or did not make when they were younger, I am more inclined to save. There is a real issue among expats not making provisions for their older age; it’s very much a ‘live now, worry later’ mentality.

What is your most cherished purchase?

My first UAE business trade licence. I saw it as an investment into my future and still do, it was one of the biggest decisions I have made to-date. My travel purchases are also cherished, as they created memories that will last a lifetime – I definitely value experiences over possessions.

Have you ever had a month where feared you could you not pay the bills?

Absolutely, especially when I was living in London. I think everyone needs a wake-up call now and then. Been there and done that, never want to go back there again.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

By debit card or cash. I only use my credit card for certain purchases or emergency situations. In fact, my husband and I have each other’s cards now to stop us using them unnecessarily.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Save. Even if it was just 5 or 10 per cent of anything I earned, saving is key. And be very careful with your generosity, who you lend money to and who you do business with. Have contracts for everything – there are a lot of shady characters out there.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Yes, to expand my business, which (touch wood) is growing at a steady percentage year-on-year. So far, the business has been bootstrapped, but we may explore possible investment to accelerate growth. I also want to work smarter, not harder, so I can enjoy life to the full.

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

Keep it a secret for a while, hire a reputable financial adviser and invest some back into my business. I’d ensure we were clear of debt and help a select few of my closest family. I’d also love to donate to an orphanage in my mother’s home country, Sri Lanka, and help animal shelters in Dubai. Dh1m sounds a lot, but in the wrong hands it can easily vanish very quickly.

What would you raid your savings account for?

Emergency situations to do with health or finance. I’d never raid it for things like fashion.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Executive travel: High-end dining in business class with Cathay Pacific to Hong Kong

If there’s one thing I enjoy during a flight, it’s sleeping. So there’s little to report from my business class journey from Dubai to Hong Kong’s International Airport on Cathay Pacific’s A330-300.

Straight after take-off on the overnight flight, I was using the rather clunky seat adjuster buttons to roll out my 82-inch flatbed seat and fluffing out the duvet and pillow. I woke almost eight hours later as we were coming into land and was able to attend a meeting a few hours later fully rested, albeit a little hungry.

The return day flight, however, was very different. After only just making it on to the plane – Hong Kong’s airport is far, far bigger than it looks – I was offered a Cathay Delight, a drink made from kiwis, mint and coconut. It was so good, I asked for another (I needed it after that sprint) while I watched the rather up-to-the-minute safety video; it even offers advice on how to switch your devices to flight mode and what to do if your phone slips between the seats (you call the air hostess, in case you’re wondering, to ensure it doesn’t get damaged).

Once airborne, I reclined my seat (again, those buttons are awkward to operate) into a comfortable viewing position and browsed the film selection on the 15.4-inch screen. The journey offered enough time to catch up on the latest business films: The Big Short and Steve Jobs.

I liked the “insufficient time” warning alert that lets you know you won’t make it through the whole film before you land.

As I viewed, I feasted on a starter of herb marinated smoked salmon with seared scallop, followed by fried sea bass with spring onion.

I liked the symbols on the menu letting you know there was a vegetarian option or that a particular dish was signature Chinese – plus all meals are halal.

The food was easily high-end restaurant level, so I really missed out during my outbound flight.

I declined the cake for dessert, opting instead for the fruit and cheese selection, followed by praline chocolates.

One thing, the seats had no arm rest on the aisle side. I kept thinking I was going to roll out and my space felt less private without it. Then I realised another button could be pressed to raise the arm rest. Crisis averted.

q&a well connected on the way

Alice Haine expands on flying business class with Cathay Pacific:

What about storage?

There was space at foot level for my shoes and side storage for my amenity kit and devices, plus a nifty little smartphone pouch by the screen which held my phone while I charged it during the flight. A small cupboard at head level stores the noise-cancelling headphones and is a useful for personal items such as a wallet or jewellery.

Was there enough space to work?

There is a pull-out table big enough to accommodate documents and a laptop, plus plug and USB sockets situated on the control panel.

How many Cathay Pacific flights a day head to Hong Kong from the UAE?

There are two flights a day, leaving at 5.05pm or at 10.55pm from Dubai. During my trip I also took a connecting flight to Singapore for a few days and there are eight flights daily between Hong Kong and Changi Airport in Singapore.

How much is a return business flight to Hong Kong?

Dh8,145 inclusive of taxes. If your trip takes you to Singapore as well, a return from Dubai to Singapore, via Hong Kong, will only set you back a further Dh500, coming in at Dh8,635.

Can I make telephone calls on board?

Yes, calls are charged at a flat rate per minute at US$8.80. Most major credit cards are accepted. Toll-free numbers and international directory inquiries are not available from your in-flight phone and the system cannot accept incoming calls either.

What about Wi-Fi?

It’s not available on the existing aircraft, however the airline is now rolling out its new A350 service and it will be available there.

arayer@thenational.ae

* The writer was a guest of the airline.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Money & Me: The National columnist Keren Bobker enjoys freedom with flexibility

Keren Bobker is a senior consultant of the financial advisory company Holborn Assets. The Briton, 49, who moved to the UAE 10 years ago, is also The National’s On Your Side columnist, writing almost 400 columns for the Money section over the past seven-and-a-half years.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My parents are fairly sensible with money, so I was taught to save before spending. They certainly weren’t mean though, so sensible pur­chases that were either needed or brought pleasure were fine, provided they were affordable. I was also taught that it’s important to be generous to those in need and that money is good to have, but it’s a means to an end rather than a goal itself. That’s pretty much my attitude these days.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

I did a lot of babysitting in my teens which was quite lucrative, paying up to £10 (Dh53) an evening. My first full-time job was with an insurance com­pany; I was paid around £5,000 a year. It was a long time ago.

Are you spender or saver?

These days I am much more of a saver, but I am certainly not averse to spending on things I like or want. I am not much of a shopper, so that reduces random spending and I apparently shop like a man in that I go to stores with a purpose and leave when I find what I want. It’s a different story at a farmers’ or antique market though.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

I had a few of them in my 20s, when UK mortgage rates were in double figures and my income wasn’t very high. Not a feeling I ever want to have again.

Where do you save your money?

I keep a significant amount in cash offshore due to the uncertainly of being largely self-employed and general global volatility. The majority of my money is invested in equities. Due to my work I understand the risks and how to manage it. I don’t currently own any property as I sold my UK house and still haven’t decided where I want to end up. I save so I’ll be able to buy a home for cash – once I decide.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

I like cold, hard cash as it seems more real, but these days I tend to put much of my spending on my credit card. It is paid off in full automatically each month and I benefit from a reward scheme. I never build up balances on cards as there is no need to pay interest unnecessarily, but they are a useful tool.

What has been your best investment?

In terms of percentage return, possibly a signed painting by the late actor Tony Curtis that I bought shortly before he died. I paid US$700 including shipping in 2010 and it is estimated to be worth around $2,500 now.

What do you most regret spending money on and how much was it?

A Victorian house I bought many, many years ago. Property prices fell across the UK and I had an old house that needed a lot of work. I paid around £80,000 for it but made little profit when I sold it on a few years later. I should have rented, especially as I was only in my early 20s.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Waste less money on clothes and don’t buy them using credit cards, as they end up costing more.

Do you have a plan for the future?

Yes, but it is very flexible. I have a rough idea of what I want to achieve and how to do it, but I don’t like my life to be too fixed. I work with people every day to plan for the future and there is more to it than having a five-year written plan.

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

I’d invest most of it but I would probably treat myself to a diamond tennis bracelet. I’ve fancied one for years but am far too sensible to buy one. I’d also pay for my brother and his family to fly from the US to stay with me for a holiday.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Osama Heikal is the chief executive of United Beverage and Food Company (UBF) and managing partner of Trium and Mustard Seed – all F&B companies. The Egyptian entrepreneur, 40, who moved to Dubai two years ago and now lives in Arabian Ranches, is also a father to four daughters, aged between two and 15. His latest venture is the Asian fusion restaurant, Mori Sushi, which is due to open its first UAE branch next Wednesday.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Growing up, my brothers and I were always encouraged to never be afraid of making decisions. My father, in particular, taught me to be bold in my business decisions and never to look back and regret the bad ones. Now I can confidently claim that I am fearless when it comes to financial decisions. I worked as an employee in my father’s companies from 1997 until 2002, when I founded my first company and became chief executive of UBF as well as being a majority shareholder.

How much did you get paid for your first job? 

I got paid 4,000 Egyptian pounds (Dh1,654) per month for my first job. Back then it was the equivalent of US$1,000. I was 22 and the job was in my father’s construction company. I worked as the site admin coordinator and it was a fantastic learning experience for me. 

Are you spender or saver?

I am a spender by all means, as I love to enjoy all aspects of life equally. 

What is your most cherished purchase?

One of them is buying the Mori Sushi Franchise for the UAE. It wasn’t the most expensive, but it was one of my most daring and challenging decisions. Mori Sushi is a very famous and well-established brand in Sao Paulo and Egypt. I knew it as a loyal customer and when I decided to take the move of establishing a business in the UAE, I got in contact with the owners and successfully closed the deal.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could you not pay the bills?

No, not really. I might be fearless in business but I am respon­sible, especially when it comes to personal and family matters.

Where do you save your money? 

Mostly in expanding my business. In a way, establishing a new company was one of those investment decisions where I converted my savings into investment. 

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash? 

I’m a cash payer as I don’t like the burden of interest payments. Also I like to know how much I’m spending and you can easily get carried away using a credit card.

What has been your best investment?

Bringing the Cinnabon brand to Egypt back in 2003. I started with one branch and now I have 30 locations. Hopefully I can replicate this success story.

What do you most regret spending money on?

I never regret spending money on anything, even if it was an absolute waste of money. This is part of being a successful businessman. You have to accept bad decisions just like the good ones and always look forward. 

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Relax about your financial decisions and stop worrying whe­ther things will happen or not. Tension brings in panic, and panic is definitely destructive for any business. 

Do you have a plan for the future?

My plan is to continue expanding my business and at the same time enjoy my life and my family. I’m a firm believer that getting too hooked on work will ruin your personal life. We are here in this world to enjoy it. 

If you won Dh1m, what would you do with it? 

Donate it to charity, especially to children in need. 

What would you raid your savings account for?  

Absolutely for cars and yachts, these are two things that I really enjoy. I drive a Mercedes, but I am also very lucky to own a boat here in Dubai and another one in Egypt.

arayer@thenational.ae

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter