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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 September 2018

Entrepreneur Qais Al Khonji: 'I lost a million Omani rials in two failed ventures'

The Omani businessman says the experience were learning steps towards his current successes

Qais Al Khonji says attending boarding school in Wales taught him to be independent at a young age.  Ania James for The National
Qais Al Khonji says attending boarding school in Wales taught him to be independent at a young age. Ania James for The National

Entrepreneur Qais Al Khonji lost a small fortune in two businesses he started that later went bust. But the Omani says he has no regrets, chalking it up to a learning experience. Born into a family of entrepreneurs, the 39-year-old Muscat resident initially worked in banking, before launching a business importing goods from the Far East, and trying to get companies off the ground in smart payments and solar power. All failed. He did, however, go on to launch his current, successful companies - Genesis Project and Investment, which conducts upstream and downstream oil analysis, and Genesis International, which sets up labs in the educational and commercial sectors. Mr Al Khonji is married with two children, a daughter, aged six and a four-year-old son.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

My business has taught me a lot and I started implementing whatever I did in my business in my personal life. I have budgets even for my personal expenses. There is inflow, outflow and a budget for everything that I do, even my personal travel. But it took me a while to realise the value of money. I was in a boarding school in Wales before going to Leicester for university. And being in a boarding school in the middle of nowhere actually helped me develop my personality. I learned to be self dependent. You do everything yourself, from your laundry to groceries. It was a very important step in my life being in a boarding school.

Did you have a budget for your grocery shopping back then?

Yes, but the budgeting thing started a bit later. Not exactly there but a bit later. When I decided to budget for my travel and everything. It became like a system.

Do you consider yourself financially mature?

I do, yes. I think I am.

When would you say that happened?

When I started my business I realised that the value of money is not about spending. It is more about investing and saving. I had a plan of starting a business every year. But it was a bit tough to implement. It sounds easy, but in reality it wasn’t. I started a couple of ventures that did not make it, but they were like my learning steps towards where I am today.

Are you a spender or a saver?

Can I be a bit of both? I am a spender when it comes to quality. I like to collect clothes from different regions of the world, so from that perspective I could be a spender but I am also a saver. I think 'no, no, no I shouldn’t be spending at this time of my career'. I should be investing.

What type of clothing do you collect? Designer labels?

Not really, I like anything that attracts my taste. So it doesn’t have to be branded. As long as it looks good and the quality is good, the price is good. All of these factors come into the picture.

What is your most treasured possession?

My clothes collection, or even my bike. I have a bike that is pretty valuable to me personally. It’s a trike, a three-wheeled motorbike. It’s been my passion for the last four or five years since I bought it. We have a bikers’ society and we go out once a week with more than 20 bikes. It’s a stress relief out of work. Sometimes you need a hobby and that’s one of my best hobbies.

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Where do you invest your money?

Oil and gas, manufacturing. I am a fan of something operational. Stocks and real estate are nice to have, but I like to see things moving in front of my eyes; so a factory and anything that has to do with oil and gas, because I believe in those sectors.

How do you select your investments?

Through contacts, through organisations - private bankers. There are a couple of names, like UBS. They bring opportunities once in a while.

Are you a heavy investor?

To an extent. I don’t take risks by investing in one basket. I invest in a couple of baskets with a smaller amount.

What kind of returns do you receive?

It takes time, because oil and gas is a very slow kind of business. And I believe in the business, so I have the patience to wait for the outcome. And I have been there for five years now in the Genesis Project and I can see it growing. But it takes time, because the market is very small.

What’s your biggest financial regret?

To be honest I don’t have any regrets, because whatever I have lost in the past I took as a lesson. It made me what I am today.

What has been your biggest loss, then?

I lost quite a big amount of money in a couple of businesses. I started with importing goods from the Far East. And those kinds of [products] were not available in the local market, but I discovered that if your product is not branded it’s not going to be as much of a hotcake as I thought it would. We wanted to start something called the smart city where you can pay all your utility bills online, but that wasn’t easy to implement because for [that] you need a higher authority’s approval. We also tried to bring a solar power concept. It is something new, yet not accepted. I lost about a million Omani ­rials (Dh9.54m) on the projects. It was my own savings and my income from the family business. But again, as I said - they were learning steps.

Was that hard to take?

Yes it was, but I kept going. I kept diversifying myself into other lines of business. And today things are running, slowly, but they are running.

Have you ever sold something you wished you had held onto?

I regret selling my Lamborghini . I was into super cars at some point and I had a super car, but then I thought it was taking a lot of my time being in different groups. So let me just get rid of it for the time being and I might buy one in the next couple of years. I haven’t until now because I am just focused on my business. I kind of regret selling it, but it’s OK.

Mr Al Khonji invests his money in the oil and gas and manufacturing sectors. Ania James for The National
Mr Al Khonji invests his money in the oil and gas and manufacturing sectors. Ania James for The National

Do you consider yourself good with money?

Today I am, but if you asked me this question five years ago I would have had a doubt. I wouldn’t have calculated the value of money. I would have been more of a spender, rather than having the patience to see the business grow. Today my perspective has changed 180 degrees.

Were you a guilty spender?

No, but I think I could have done more with what I spent. I should have looked at things differently.

Do you have a financial plan for your future?

Yes I do, definitely. I am going to invest somewhere in Europe once my cash cows pay back the money I have invested. I am planning on investing in Eastern Europe. It’s a plan to acquire a stake in one of the companies I have an eye on.

Do you put money away each month for your retirement?

I haven’t started that yet, but I think I should.

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