x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

How to beat the ins and outs of accounting

Envelope accounting is chief executive Hazel Jackson's money secret.

Hazel Jackson says her job is to help companies with implementing strategies, performance and team building.
Hazel Jackson says her job is to help companies with implementing strategies, performance and team building.

Envelope accounting is my money secret. Back in the early days, when I first arrived in Dubai in 1993, I had a great start-up sum of £500 (Dh2,870) to live on and start my business. What I would do was write on one side of an A4 envelope: "money-in". That side got larger when I sold a piece of business. So if I managed to sell my time, I would put in Dh1,000, Dh2,000 or Dh5,000 if it was a really big job.

On the other side, I put "money out" for such things as daily expenses and office supplies. I was training corporate clients in sales strategies and customer service. I had a low overhead because it was just me. At first, I was working out of home and then I took on an employee to help me out. I also rented a small office in Jebel Ali. Whatever was left in the envelope at the end of the month I lived on, so sometimes I just ate beans on toast and other times I managed to get some takeaway. That was what it was like during the first eight to 12 months of being here.

Our envelope is much bigger now and it's handled by the finance department. But the principle remains the same, and we have never borrowed any money or got into financial trouble. And we've always got six months plus of operating cash in the bank, including payroll. So we can all sleep at night. I have never taken on a partner that brought in any capital. The business has always funded itself or come from me.

But fortunately, over time, I found like-minded people who wanted to come on and help the business grow. The team grew to five or six people over the first couple of years. Now, biz-strategy in Dubai Media City has 30 employees. My job is to help companies with implementing strategies, business performance and team building. The Jumeirah Group has been a great client of ours over the last 10 years. We've also done work with the National Bank of Abu Dhabi, Emirates Airline, Etihad and the Abu Dhabi Airport.

Some clients will last over a two- or three-year period, but others last longer. The projects might vary, but they keep coming back. We also have an office in Abu Dhabi, but very small, and we're just about to expand our team building programme into Qatar and Egypt. That's been an interesting journey. I'm very lucky. I was very naive 17 years ago, but I picked a subject I'm absolutely passionate about and it has paid off.

You make the lightbulb go off in other people's heads. And when they have that "ah-ha" moment, something changes in their lives, which means something changes in their business. Before moving to Dubai, I was a hot-shot advertising executive with a great lifestyle in London from 1989 to 1993. I spent much more money then. I spent what I earned rather than saving for a rainy day. I was a huge shopper. In fact, I had a black-belt in shopping, with a passion for shoes.

If I like a pair of shoes, why not have it in every colour? For a normal pair, I would spend about US$300 (Dh1,100), but I might buy 10 pairs. I lived in a small flat on the outskirts of the capital. I was in my early 20s at the time and you feel like you're making all the money in the world. I had a very loving childhood and grew up in Yorkshire, England. My parents have probably had 10 careers between them in their lives. At one point, they owned a post office in a small town in Yorkshire, and my first job was actually delivering three newspapers when I was nine years old. The first was at the top of the hill and the third was at the bottom. With the youngest legs, that was my job.

I probably got paid 50 pence a week or something like that. I wasn't on the official payroll. At 14, I worked at a bakery, and other jobs along the way were as a waitress and working in hotels. I knew at that point if I wanted to feed my shopping habit I needed to work. I always earned my own pocket money. I only went to college for six months. I was supposed to be a famous actress, so I went to drama school in Leeds. Nobody had any money and people were trying to be famous actors and actresses.

Six months in I was disillusioned and dropped out, and instead got a job as an office junior at a local newspaper. Later, I went on to work in classified advertising before moving to London. In 1993, I came to the UAE to launch a project in the advertising industry and put up an exhibition stand for a brief period of time. But I fell in love with Dubai. It was so optimistic and entrepreneurial. London was rainy, pessimistic and I always knew in some way that I would have my own business. I just didn't know what in or where.

Establishing biz-strategy and getting to where we are now wasn't easy. I also had my fair share of mistakes and disappointments.