Money & Me: Business is no place to test friendship
Charles Stephenson is the director of Advanced Global Trading, a carbon-trading company he launched last year with three partners. The Briton, who moved to the UAE in 2009, worked in advertising for many years before making a career switch to the carbon-credits industry two years ago.
Describe your financial journey so far.
I was born in Surrey in the UK and my parents later moved down to Devon to live on a farm. I moved back to London when I was 17 because I hated country life. It was too quiet for me; I could hear my brain ticking. I'm a very proactive person, don't like to sit down and have always been quite good with money. Maybe this was down to when I left school as I wanted to be an accountant. I was also very good with figures when I was younger and sat my exams early. Financially, "speculate to accumulate" is my motto and it was through my personal speculating that I discovered trading of carbon credits and actually carved a successful career out of it.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I'm a spender, although I like to be financially secure. I believe you should enjoy life to the maximum while you are here as you can't take it with you. I do like the nice things in life, such as nice holidays and nice cars. I'm currently looking at buying a new Ferrari that I've had my eye on for a while. But I'm quite middle of the road. I'm not someone who goes out and blows money, but I'm certainly not someone who puts all their money under the mattress for a rainy day either.
What has been your most valuable financial lesson?
To be careful about going into business with friends as it can ruin relationships. I went into business with a friend a few years ago and it cost me dearly. I lost a lot of money and I don't speak to that person anymore. If you ever go into business with a friend, don't treat them as a friend and take it seriously. It's very difficult to mix the two.
Why did you decide to set up your own business?
The time seemed right and it was a sector that really interested me. I had worked in advertising for a long time and could not go much further in the company I was in. I saw the potential in the carbon-trading market as it was growing incredibly fast and I was experiencing significant personal returns on my own investments. An opportunity arose with some very like-minded people and it has been incredible. After opening the London office 14 months ago, we now have three offices in the UK, a Dubai office, an office in Zurich and more opening in America. I've started businesses in the past, but nothing of this size. This is a different challenge, but I wasn't nervous about it. My three partners and I did a lot of research and were in the right place at the right time.
Have you experienced any financial difficulties along the way?
Touch wood in this industry - no. Although I have invested heavily myself, I firmly believe we need to speculate to accumulate. I wouldn't go into something if I had nothing in reserve - I would never put my savings in too much jeopardy. On the whole, I've been very lucky in life; I've never been in a position where I've struggled for money. I can think back to when I was maybe 18 and did some jobs that weren't too clever, such as working nights at the fruit and vegetable market in Covent Garden. But jobs like that build your character and over the years, I've been lucky that I've progressed, earned good money and been happy.
What has been your biggest financial challenge?
Again, going into business with a friend took a lot of emotional strength and a lot of money. It's where I lost a lot of money that I'd saved over the years, so that was very challenging for me. I don't like doing things unless I can do it properly and get to the top level and I'm a bad loser - something my golfing friends would tell you as well.
What do you like to invest in?
Carbon credits. The potential to make money in this commodity is huge and I practise what I preach. It's a commodity that never goes down and the market is set to double or even quadruple. It's also an added bonus that I know investing in carbon credits goes some way to help the environment along the way.
What do you like to spend your money on?
I spend a lot on friends and family as I get enjoyment from seeing other people happy. If I go out to dinner with five or six friends, it gives me a pleasure if I pay the bill and I like buying presents - from flowers for my wife to a shisha pipe for a friend. It's just bits and pieces and, while I don't want to blow my own trumpet, I think I'm quite a considerate person when it comes to other people. I also give a lot of money to charity. I'm a massive believer in karma - people should give not because they want to receive something, but just for the good of giving.