x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

I'm driven by the challenge, not the reward

Top developer in Dubai talks about chewing gum and business bubbles.

Josef Kleindienst, CEO of the Kleindienst Group in his offices in Jebel Ali, Dubai.
Josef Kleindienst, CEO of the Kleindienst Group in his offices in Jebel Ali, Dubai.

I am not a saver. For me, money is a form of energy, and you don't store energy. It has to flow. I'm not good at saving money, and if I did, it would make me very uncomfortable. You need proper cash-flow planning to make sure it's available when you need it. I'm not into cars, watches or clothing. Other than my investments, I will spend money on good food. I like to go to restaurants in Dubai, such as Buddha Bar and Zuma, for example. I would say that is my only luxury.

I first came to Dubai in 2003 because I was invited by an Austrian bank to visit. They were searching for business partners to get involved. When I got here, it was clear that this was a booming market and I wanted to be part of it. It wasn't possible to properly participate without being here permanently, so I moved to the UAE. The European Business Center in Dubai Investment Park was the first development of Kleindienst Properties, of which I am the chief executive.

We decided in 2005 to lease this block of land and from all the blocks it was the only one still available. We came as the latest building and yet it was the first one completed. We have also purchased six islands on The World development in Dubai and we are the very first to begin construction on three of them this year. Island number one is Germany, and we're building 20 holiday homes there. Island two is Monte Carlo, which is a party island with beach clubs, restaurants and event areas. Switzerland is a family hotel.

During the boom, money was very easy in Dubai with real estate. You went out, invested in something and a couple weeks later you sold it for more than double the price. Anyone could do it. But mid-way through 2008 things changed. Earning money in real estate is a tough business, as in Europe and elsewhere. You can still do well but you need to focus and have a better understanding of the market. Of course, the way you grow up decides on how you structure your life. I grew up in a small village in Austria called Schrattenberg. At the age of two years, the whole village had to search for me because I decided to move out. They found me sleeping next to a river, but kilometres from our village and from our house. I think even then I was ready for a challenge and adventure.

I have one older brother and two younger sisters. My father had a farm and his passion was a winery. He also bought and sold real estate, and as a child I always watched him buying and selling. We had many types of animals on the farm, such as cows and horses, and as a boy I wanted to be a farmer. I did everything there was to do on a farm. I fed the horses and cleaned the stable. I always remember, when I was six or seven years old, they installed one of those machines where you put in change and it dispenses chewing gum.

It needed the smallest coin. And I didn't have one, so I never got any chewing gum. My parents kept me with very little money. At the age of 17, I moved to Vienna and went into military service, which is compulsory in Austria. After that, I went into the police, partly because my brother was already an officer. When I started I earned 6,000 schillings, which is about ?500 (Dh2,375) per month. I worked as a policeman until I was 36 years old. At this point, in the late 1990s, my siblings had moved on and left our village. My father said someone needed to take care of the business and it was on me to get more involved. I started to work in real estate back in our village, which is about 30 minutes from Vienna.

I also started to get involved in Hungarian real estate in 1996. It was a booming market at this time. We purchased land, divided it and sold lots as apartments and villas, doubling our money within a couple of weeks or a couple months. When I came to Dubai in 2003, it was like Hungary then. I had four business partners and two were from Austria and two from Hungary. All four of us were policemen. Back then, I was also excellent at buying and selling shares on the stock market and for many years I earned lots of money. I invested in blue chips mostly. What I did was trade in real time over the internet. I decided on certain companies, usually less than five. I was using the ups and downs of the market during the day.

But it was boring. After I understood it, it was no longer a challenge. At Kleindienst Properties, there are many challenges, and it is important for me to create jobs. I have seen the impact of this in many cases, where somebody comes here from Asia and he earns enough money to support many people. I grew up from childhood on work. I lived a very normal, simple life and I never got used to spending money as a private luxury. I don't need it.

When I talk to people about retirement, for me, it doesn't exist. Retirement means there is no use to being alive. I intend on working until the end. * As told to Jeffrey Todd