After six years studying to become a chartered agricultural surveyor, David S McBryde gave it all up to start a company in London specialising in landscaping inside buildings. He then set off on an adventure across the Middle East. The founder and managing director of Planters Group, which is based in Dubai, speaks about getting started.
q: You originally set out to be a chartered surveyor. What changed?
a: I decided that I wanted to do something a little more interesting. And this is the business I felt I could start with no money. The Hilton Hotel in Bahrain asked us to do some work because we were doing the Hilton Hotel in Park Lane in London, and to cut a long story short, I bought a van and drove it across the Middle East. It began with a white van and my furniture on the roof.
q: Where did your adventure take you?
a: From Bahrain it led to a job in Doha, which led to a job in Saudi Arabia and after a while it led to a job in Dubai. The Chicago Beach Hotel was the first big-enough contract [in Dubai]. Before that, we had just done Sharjah International Airport when it opened. But Dubai was always the destination we wanted to end up in.
q: What did you do for the Chicago Beach Hotel?
a: They needed a huge live [fig] tree for the atrium, and we said we could provide it … from Florida. We had to find it, and we then trucked it up to New York and flew it to Luxembourg, and then from Luxembourg to Dubai throughout the mid-winter. It was a tough assignment.
q: Why did you want to be in Dubai?
a: Because it was just a more attractive destination for everybody. It was a nice place to visit and relatively easy to set up a business here. It was pretty small. There was the InterContinental Hotel and the Sheraton Hotel and there was the Metropolitan Hotel and that was it. So it was pretty quiet. In London, things were very, very busy, and I came out to the Middle East thinking it was going to be the same, and it was very quiet for five years.
q: How did you survive that period?
a: It was a struggle. Let me tell you, it was a real struggle. I didn't pay myself a salary for five years. But as Dubai grew, and as the region grew, we grew with it. And it's been a great ride. We had a sister company in Saudi Arabia which had the same sort of start as over here. But we were more into retail there. We had a garden centre and 22 shops in Saudi. I sold that … 12 years ago. Now we are just based here in Dubai and we have about 2,000 ongoing maintenance contracts.