Shereen Mitwalli is an entrepreneur, television presenter and events moderator. The Australian, who has lived in Dubai for six months, has set up three businesses during her career and believes in diversifying her income stream
Money & Me: Diverse investments reap financial rewards
Shereen Mitwalli is an entrepreneur, television presenter and events moderator. The Australian, who has lived in Dubai for six months, has set up three businesses during her career and believes in diversifying her income stream.
Describe your financial journey so far.
I grew up in Melbourne, where my mother is a chef and owns her own restaurant and my father is in management and engineering. I started working at 14 years and 10 months - the legal age in Australia - because I received A$20 (Dh75.94 at today's rate) a week and my father would question what I was going to do with the money. I was eager to earn my own money so that I didn't have to answer to anyone. I worked in the gourmet food section of a deli earning $80 a week and my friend was the cashier; we were almost the richest girls at school. When I was at university studying banking and finance, I worked part-time at a bank as well so that when I graduated I not only had the theory side but the practical side as well. From the age of 14, I haven't taken a dollar off my parents because I've always been working and I wouldn't have it any other way. If you put in the time, you get the rewards.
Why did you move to the UAE?
My brother lives in Dubai and during my last visit in 2011, I looked around and liked it and called my agent at home to see if there was much work here. I'm a trained TV presenter and there's demand for quality bilingual presenters who speak Arabic and English. Rather than jump the gun and take the first thing that came along, I've been waiting for the right opportunity. I'm currently looking at a new show with a reputable network and because there are so many conferences and launches needing a well-spoken MC here, I'm booked for a major event every week.
What has been your most valuable financial lesson?
When I finished university, I got a sales job and was earning $100,000 at the age of 20. It was my first experience of having money because, although we were comfortable as a family, I didn't come from great wealth. Except for running your own business, sales positions are the most highly paid positions in the world, so I learnt early on that if you're good at sales and good with people, it's very beneficial for your earning capacity.
What is your philosophy towards money?
Don't spend what you don't have. When I was younger, I went through a stage of burning through credit cards and ended up with a $10,000 bill. I'd gone overseas and even though I was earning good money, I was also spending that money on a brand new car and designer clothing. I paid it off and chopped up my cards, but it was a good lesson to learn. The global credit crisis happened because people were spending beyond their means and that's one of the biggest dangers when it comes to credit. Now I have no bad debt at all; I even paid cash for my car. Of course, I have good debt - anything that is business or investment related that earns me an income - but I'm happy to have that.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I'm a bit of both. My income is derived from many sources - property, shares and owning businesses - another thing I learned early on. You shouldn't put all of your eggs in one basket because anything can happen; you could lose your job tomorrow. In 2009, there were people losing their jobs who didn't have a back-up plan or even enough savings to survive for three months without any income. So while I do spend, I also have enough savings so that if anything happened to me I'm covered.
Why did you set up your first business?
I was 24 when I set up my finance company and about to get married and it scared me to think about what would happen when we moved in together and had children. I've never had to rely on anyone financially and everything I have is from my work and what I've achieved. So, although I'm very ambitious, the thought of being reliant on someone else was one of the driving factors to setting up my business. I've since sold the finance business, but have set up two more companies in HR and recruitment.
What do you spend on?
Mainly on travel. I've been to over 100 cities around the world - I've even been to Antarctica - and everyone knows if you're going to travel and do it right, you need to spend. I'm very spontaneous. For example, my next trip - a safari to Kenya - was booked within 12 hours of having the idea to go away. I also love dining out and, of course, the girlie stuff such as fashion and bags.
Have you experienced any financial difficulties?
Definitely when I set up my first business. The business was earning income, but it was only enough to pay the expenses, staff, rent, advertising - the list goes on. In the chain of what needs to be paid, I came right at the bottom. You give yourself a minimum salary so that you can invest back into the business so, for the first 12 months, I was surviving on my savings. It was only in the second year I could draw a salary.
What do you invest in?
As well as property in Australia, shares and my businesses, I'm always looking for start-up ventures to invest in. I also support a charity called Kiva, a micro-financing business that lends money to entrepreneurs in third-world countries. One woman has a tailoring business and she wanted a new machine for US$500 (Dh1,836), but because of where she lives she can't just go into a bank. The minimum lend is $25 and that goes towards a loan, but you get the money back. That's the brilliant part - I don't believe in just giving things out to people because you make them lazy. The repay rate is 99 per cent and while the loan is interest free so you don't earn anything, anyone who has the guts to follow their dream to support their family inspires me.
* Alice Haine