x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Money&Me: Don't spend on yourself, invest in yourself

Marie-Josée Primeau left a successful career in Canada at age 37 and has dedicated her life to her passion: art.

The artist Marie-Josée Primeau stands in front of her exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair. Andrew Henderson / The National
The artist Marie-Josée Primeau stands in front of her exhibition at the Abu Dhabi Art Fair. Andrew Henderson / The National

The French-Canadian artist Marie-Josée Primeau moved to the UAE five years ago. With a background in business and marketing, she set up a wastewater-treatment company in the Ras Al Khaimah free zone, but soon realised that it was time to take a leap of faith and dedicate her life to her passion: art. With her paintings now worth between US$35,000 (Dh128,562) and $40,000, her decision paid off and she was named as the signature artist at the recent Abu Dhabi Art Fair.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I have a business background in marketing. I studied at McGill University in Montreal and I got a scholarship to study in Los Angeles. When I came back from Los Angeles, I started as a salesperson in Canada and, as you know, in sales, when you are good, you are reaching a very high salary, commission and bonus. So I reached a high salary and I became a director of sales and the national director of Canada for the company I was working for. I had a huge salary, a BMW, a house on the waterfront. But at the end of the day, I knew my future. I wanted to risk more. I liquidated everything to come here. People thought I was crazy. But I said if I am not risking at 37 (I am 43 now), I am not going to do it. Whatever crisis, this region is the place to be in the world. I invested in this wastewater-treatment company. I invested in me, a rental car, a rental apartment. It was quite expensive at that time - 2007 and 2008. Nobody was paying, supporting me and I rubbed the bottom for a time.

Was it difficult to run a business here?

In a business environment, it took time to finalise contracts. But I did it; I managed it. And it is very special because usually you are working to paint. For me, it was the opposite for a while. I used all my money and I was selling my paintings and being recognised and I was financing my business. But it was like a turning point when I rocked the bottom. So that is why I did the paintings. And somebody told me, a very important collector, "I am happy that you reached that point because every artist should rock the bottom". I came out of the struggle and sold more paintings and at each point, I said I couldn't have two hats anymore. I had to stop wearing one hat and be an artist only. Now, I am a shareholder of my company, Primeau FZE, and a full-time artist.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I invest. I am not spending. I never spend.

What do you invest in?

I invest in me. All my life, I never thought that I was spending. When I was young, 27 years old, I was a sales director and leading hundreds of people. I was the only woman in these meetings and I was wearing very serious clothes. I looked like a grandmother. But I had to look serious because I was so young. People asked why I was buying expensive clothes. I said I needed to have a serious image. So again, I was not spending, I was investing. When you come here and become a member of a business club, they say you are spending. I say no; I don't spend, I invest. I am meeting people, my future customers. I am interacting with people. So people understand that if you are not risking by investing, you cannot reach anywhere.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

No. First of all, my father and my mother really love me; they gave me the freedom to let myself go. And they know they have a serious daughter who wanted to study and have a big resume. So if I was in a bad situation, the worst-case scenario, really, was to go back (to Canada) and get a job. But I will have to be very honest: for a year, I had to, in order not to go back, live with people. Some Canadian people helped me - they opened their home for me and they provided me with a room and bathroom and a space to paint. I was so touched. They believed in me; they saw the success I was having and I was struggling because I couldn't keep going for a while. My life has changed totally so that now I have to give back, to help someone else. Before, I didn't have that conception. Nearly every artist has to reach this.

What is your idea of financial freedom?

Security for me is not important. I am an extreme person in everything I do. I am having success and I will have a lot more success. I'm privileged to sell my paintings for an average of US$35,000 (Dh128,558) to $40,000. So now I am not having any more problems with money. I am a passionate person and I believe that when you do the right thing, money comes with it. If you are insecure, you are not going anywhere. I work seven days a week, so I have to be careful to make sure that I stop myself. There is a risk about this freedom of being your own boss and I have to make sure I take a break to renew myself. But financial freedom is about creativity; the richness is in my mind, my heart and my ideas.