x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A day in the life: two jobs and a dream to build hotels out of shipping containers

While he seeks investors for his own company, Jason Bryan has to juggle a day job as a financial controller in Dubai.

Jason Bryan is juggling two jobs as he tries to launch his own business. Photo courtesy Jason Bryan
Jason Bryan is juggling two jobs as he tries to launch his own business. Photo courtesy Jason Bryan

Jason Bryan 39, arrived in Dubai two and half years ago with his wife, Michelle, and children Brandon 15, Harley 13, and Erin, 3. The Irishman had been working as a financial controller for a logistics company in Afghanistan. As the US Army began to withdraw he was to manage the winding down of the business, and he managed himself out of a job. However, he saw massive potential in one arm of the company, building and operating semi-permanent camp hotels in conflict areas and high-net-worth development areas. As one door closed another opened and he began Frontier Development. While he seeks investors, he is juggling a day job alongside the plans for his own company.


I leave for the bus stop. I sold the car to finance frontier-developments.com, it’s my company website, it was a hard decision with three kids to ferry about but it made business sense. My quest for investment, which at present is focussed on the United States, meant would-be investors had to be able to understand my business without my presence. It takes me two hours to travel by bus and metro to my day job in Oud Metha. I spend those two hours catching up with emails even when standing on a crowded metro, every minute is precious.


I’m a financial controller with a big team of people to manage so the hours are extreme. I am only working to finance my company, I couldn’t make ends meet otherwise. I have to find the right balance between the day job and Frontier Development which is sometimes difficult.


We have a contract to build a 140 room hotel in Pemba, Cabo Delgado, in Mozambique. There has been a huge natural gas find there, the third biggest in the world, so energy companies are pouring into the country and the city. I employed my father who has been in construction all his life. His expertise means we have a credibility when dealing with contractors. He knows the building game and gets a credence that I would never get. We can’t afford to make a mistake so having someone I can trust without recourse or remonstration is fantastic.


If I eat at all, it’s Burger King at my desk, or maybe a shish tawouq but still at my desk. I would love to eat more healthily but the job and where I work really do not allow it.


My day job has offices in Dubai Media City where I am frequently required to be. I often have to meet possible investors in DIFC. I use shipping containers to build hotels. One would never know it was a shipping container, breaking people’s mind sets is one of the hardest parts of the business. When you stand back from a container and look at what it actually is, you can see it is a building block that’s already built, it’s a steel frame structure. The Burj Khalifa is built around a steel frame structure! A container is basically a pre-fabricated building block that enables us to construct a functioning hotel six months after a contract is signed.


I speak to my possible investor regularly, we have a closing date of January 17 for him to commit the funds. That will be a US$5 million investment. There are 24 LNG plants to be built over the next 10 years in Mozambique, so Pemba will be the regional hub for the energy find and there is no accommodation. We are focused on three markets at present: Iraq, Libya and Mozambique.


It’s back to the day job. It is hard separating the businesses especially when I am so close to realising my original ambition. My investor is from the United States, and has been with me to Mozambique to see the opportunity. It is pure speculation, building and running a hotel in a prime location to cash in on the boom in Mozambique. The investor is a security provider, understands the market and as Afghanistan and Iraq are receding are looking for other opportunities. They see that they can make huge returns from a 3-star hotel. It is high risk but high returns.


I leave the day job and begin the two-hour journey back. When the investor comes on board I will need to employ about 100 people almost immediately so there is a huge amount of work needed to be done before hand which is all basically done on the metro or the bus.


Home for dinner, I microwave whatever Michelle has made. She has been incredibly supportive, as it really hasn’t been easy, but I know it will be worth it. If not, it won’t be for the lack of trying.