Money & Me: Dubai digital agency chief was a millionaire at 24
Usman Khalid is the founder and chief executive of Centric, a digital branding and online advertising agency based in the Jumeirah Lakes Towers district of Dubai. The 35 year-old Pakistani has been living in the UAE for eight years. He is still single and spends his spare time driving fast cars, skydiving and scuba diving.
Describe your financial journey so far.
I was 24 when I became a millionaire for the first time. I lost practically everything (except my job) by the age of 26 in the Saudi stock market. I am a fighter. I climbed my way back up and ended up buying a full floor in Ajman’s tallest tower just before the crash … you can guess what happened next. During this time, I had a successful career spanning positions at IBM, Sun Microsystem and Oracle, so day-to-day expenses were not an issue. After going through two cycles of ups and downs; I figured out that I kept acting on the professional advice of others. I didn’t want to do that any more. That’s why I started Centric, where I knew the industry, the trends, the ups and the downs, the challenges and the opportunities. This has been a very successful journey so far. I employ 30 people in Dubai, three in Qatar and I’ve just opened an office in Pakistan, which I hope to grow to another 30 people by end of this year.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
Coming from Pakistan, where there is no social safety net, I was taught to save for a rainy day. Even though my parents had done well for themselves, that passive undertone to tread the safe path of job security and savings was always there. I am a born rebel; I question everything and am very confident of my abilities that God has given me and my parents have polished.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
It was a probationary period and I hadn’t completed the whole month, so the cheque was for the equivalent of Dh2,900. I cashed it and went for lunch at my parents’ house. I thought it was so much money. I ended up distributing Dh1,000 to my younger siblings and giving some to charity.
Are you a spender or saver?
A spender, definitely. As a child. I was quite a spendthrift with my pocket money and my parents always used to tell me that it won’t be the case once I have to earn my own. I guess I earn money to spend it, to make my life comfortable, not to stash it in Swiss banks. As we mature, we earn more, so you need to be careful about when you decide to start saving. All my siblings are doing quite well and my parents have a decent portfolio of real estate. I am not that bothered about a safety net. Plus, my experiences of losing big money have made me kind of prone to the ups and downs.
What is your most cherished purchase, how much was it?
That would be my car – a Porsche 911 S. It was slightly over Dh500,000.
Have you ever had a month when you feared you could not pay the bills?
As an employer you have to pay salaries on time to your staff even when your clients can delay your payments. So I have been low on cash many times, but do I fear paying the bills? No, because there is always a sizeable chunk in receivables.
Where do you save your money?
I believe in making money from money. So almost all of my net worth is in fixed (real estate or business) or liquid assets. I don’t like to keep cash as it devalues with time, and as a Muslim I do not want to profit from interest on savings.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
Credit card as I get 2 per cent cash back, and I pay it off in full. I am their worst customer.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
I have quite a few technology-based ideas that would make life easier. I’d put it as seed money towards one.
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