x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Financial goals in high gear

Driven by a desire to earn money, this trader and businessman started playing the market while he was still in high school. Now, at 23, his ambition has been rewarded with a Ferrari.

After working for Dubai Bank as a credit analyst, Sharath Shanth, 23, launched his own business with a Dh500,000 investment.
After working for Dubai Bank as a credit analyst, Sharath Shanth, 23, launched his own business with a Dh500,000 investment.

I'm 23 years old, and I was born in India but grew up in Ras al Khaimah. For some reason, I've always had a strong desire to make money. I started trading in the stock market when I was in grade 10. My dad used to do it before, but he lost 70 per cent in the stock market after September 11 2001, and didn't want to do it anymore. He said if I wanted to try it out, I could go ahead. I studied everything about the stock market and had many teachers. One person who taught me a lot was Sheikh Humaid bin Abdullah bin Mohammed Al Qasimi of the Ras al Khaimah royal family.

My dad worked for the late deputy ruler of Ras al Khaimah, and after his death, he has continued to take care of the whole family's financial decisions. He's been working with the family for 27 years, so I grew up with their children and know them at a personal level. Sheikh Humaid taught me everything he had learnt and done. He has trained with many experts first hand as a student. He introduced me to these people through e-mail, and I would get financial advice from them.

I used to trade on Nasdaq using my dad's offshore bank account, which had about US$50,000 (Dh183,644) in it. I became really good at it, and used to make $100 every day. My dad was so amazed. He used to literally give me money and say: "Go play with it." I used to sit at home trading at 5pm, while my friends were out. I did that for a whole year because I really wanted to make money, but I lost interest for a little while because I couldn't withdraw any of it.

I never got pocket money growing up, but my parents would give me Dh1 every time I got an answer right before the contestants on a TV show called the Bournvita Quiz Contest. They always encouraged learning and being productive. They never let me play video games, and I'm glad they did that. Every summer, since I was 14, I would be an apprentice at different places. I ended up learning skills like carpentry, gunsmithing, flower arranging and pastry making, although I didn't get paid for it.

After I finished school, I went to the American University of Sharjah in 2004 to study accounting and finance. I graduated in just under three years, even though the programme is supposed to take four years. The normal course load is four or five subjects a term, but I used to take six. I thought that if I graduated faster I could start working faster and make money faster. While I was at university I traded in the stock market, and I started asset trading on a freelance basis. If someone wanted something I would find it for them. And I literally started trading everything - sulphur, bitumen, vegetable oil, cooking oil, cement, steel. You name it, I did it.

In my last year of university I advised my dad to start a business. It was 2006, and a good time for Dubai. Real estate and construction was booming, so we started a business with my dad's friend. It involved transporting raw material such as limestone and granite from Ras al Khaimah to other emirates using tipper lorries. The only thing we had to buy were the two lorries, which cost Dh500,000 each. The business did pretty well, but it was hit by the recession last year, and now we're thinking of selling it.

After graduation, I started working at Dubai Bank as a credit analyst. I loved the job, and I was good at what I did. In the first four or five months, I was made a credit analyst for auto, property and personal finance. People usually work for only one area. I got a raise in my first eight months. Then they put me in collections, which was a messed-up job. At this point, I wanted to quit, but my dad said "no", because he wanted me to have two years of experience to help me prepare for a master's degree.

Within the first few months of joining the bank I decided that I'm not going to do this for the rest of my life. So I decided to start a building maintenance company on the side. I named it U Call We Fix (UCWF), and I am the managing director. The company takes care of entire buildings, from towers to villas. We do everything, from cleaning and landscaping to security and painting. The business required Dh500,000 in capital. Half of that investment came from profits made from the transport business, and the other half from my dad's colleague, who is general manager at UCWF.

We rented an office next to my bank, and every time it was my lunch break, I would go there. I scheduled all my client meetings at that time, signed my cheques and agreements, and headed back. This went on for two years, until I quit my job in December 2009 to focus on my business. UCWF is doing really well. Initially, we hired eight people. Now we have 60 to 70 people, and we are still hiring. We were able to become profitable within six months. We have contracts in several emirates, and my goal is to keep expanding.

In March last year I was able to buy a second-hand Ferrari. It was kind of shocking. Everyone was like: "We're in a recession for God's sake, and you bought a Ferrari!" It's a 550 Maranello in a racing red colour, and only two or three people own it in the UAE. Buying it was the best thing I ever did. My parents think I spend a lot, but I don't. I actually spend only 20 per cent of what I make. I plan out everything, and whatever I want, I write it down before I spend it.

As well as spending on designer clothes and going out to nice places, I like to spend on other people. The first thing I bought from the money I had earned from trading was a bike for my dad. My dad was a motocross racer when he was younger, and he used to woo my mom with his bike. It's called the Java and it's a '67 model. It was so difficult to find, but me and my aunt found one in India and got it repainted to exactly what he had. He was really happy.

In terms of accommodation, I don't spend much. It's kind of funny that I own a Ferrari, but I live in a small studio apartment in Bur Dubai. I spend Dh55,000 a year on rent. I don't need too much space right now, and the location is perfect because it's steps away from work. Right now, I manage the maintenance business, the transport business and a coffee business my dad owns in India. I also do some freelance asset trading. But I am actually planning to start three new businesses this year, as well as something in the UK when I go there later this year for my master's.

Ultimately, one day I want to have a really nice house and a huge, huge bank balance. * As told to Sanam Islam