Paul O’Flaherty, group chief executive of Al Naboodah Group Enterprises, says his best investment has been his children's education
Money & Me: 'Everything I do is to secure a stable future for my kids'
Paul O’Flaherty is the group chief executive of one of the UAE’s oldest family conglomerates, Al Naboodah Group Enterprises (ANGE). The Dubai-based company, which now has more than 16,000 employees, operates 15 different businesses in the fields of transportation, travel, electrical, furniture and fit out arenas. Mr O’Flaherty left his native South Africa for Dubai to begin his current role in February 2016, but it is his second stint at the company - he was previously the chief financial officer for the group’s construction arm, Al Naboodah Construction Group, between 2007 and 2009. On top of his day job, Mr O’Flaherty serves as an independent non-executive director on the board of Barclay’s Africa, and as fellow of the South African Institute of Chartered Accountants.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My father, who is a chartered accountant, had a pretty strong influence on my attitudes towards money, and I was given an understanding of finance from an early age. Even before I had my first paid job, my parents were always reminding me of the importance of early saving and responsible spending. I also went to boarding school in South Africa while my parents were living in Iran from the age of nine, so I had to quickly learn to be independent. Boarding school really grounded me, and it presented a real-life opportunity to practice what my parents had been preaching all those years.
How much did you earn in your first job?
My first job was as a vacation student in the accounting firm PwC, while I was studying commerce and accounting at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. This worked out well, as I was able to gain hands-on work experience and apply it directly to my studies. It was also my first real-world experience where I learned about the importance of being accountable for your work, and about how important it is to be punctual. I earned just over Dh10 per day, which forced me to learn how to budget and balance my earnings so I could support my extra-curricular activities.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I have always generally been a saver, but of course that changes due to life circumstances. I have a daughter and a son in their teens and aside from investing in their education, they are both heavily involved in organised sports such as tennis, cricket, rugby and golf, which can be fairly costly. But I view it as a long-term investment.
What do you most regret spending money on?
I have made some interesting financial decisions in the past, including some hardly used expensive golf clubs and tennis and squash racquets which seemed like a great idea at the time. I’ve since learned from those lessons.
Where do you save?
My portfolio is diversified, and reflects a combination of retirement funds plus investment trusts both in my native country of South Africa, and in the United States and the UK.
What has been your best investment?
My best investment has undoubtedly been in my children’s education. I was fortunate enough to have some enriching experiences through boarding school, and I’m grateful that my parents valued the importance of a good education. As a parent, almost everything I do is to secure a stable future for my kids. Aside from monetary investments, I feel very strongly about the importance of investing in one’s health through regular exercise and healthy eating – with some occasional indulgences.
What is your most cherished purchase?
Definitely my getaway house back home in a beautiful place called Dullstroom, which is in the highlands in North Eastern South Africa. Dullstroom is famous for being a mecca for trout fishing, but it’s also an outdoor enthusiasts dream and is only about two hours from Kruger National Park. Since purchasing the holiday home in 2010, we try to go back every two years to keep the family tradition. The saver in me wants to sell the house and invest the money, but I’d have to answer to a very unhappy wife and children.
What was the lowest point for you financially in your life?
Trying to continue my studies while doing my National Military Service for two years was difficult, as the pay was so low.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
Prepare and be resilient for the unexpected, because no matter how well you plan, life never ends up turning out quite how you expect.
What do you happily spend money on?
I am always happy to spend money on my children’s education and their aspiring sporting careers. For myself, watching live sport is a luxury I like to indulge in once in a while. My wife and I are big cricket, rugby and football enthusiasts, and love attending sporting events around the world. For example, we attended the Sydney Olympics in 2000 and went back home to South Africa for the FIFA World Cup in 2010. I’ve also travelled to the UK to watch the Rugby World Cup in 2015, and I’m a loyal follower of South Africa’s cricket and rugby teams – I’ve seen them play in Lord’s and Twickenham in London. I’m a strong believer in the importance of balancing out work with fun, and travelling overseas for sporting events is a great way to see the world while combining our passion for sports.
What do you try to cut back on?
We save money through general waste reduction and energy savings practices around the home. So, for example, we try not to waste any food and consume within our means, and we’re quite mindful of energy and water consumption. In South Africa, we have been through national energy load shedding, which involves planned electrical power shutdowns to conserve energy, so we’re very aware of the need to use electricity wisely. I’m a staunch advocate of sustainability, and so this has become a core principle of the business operations of ANGE. Sustainability is strongly reflected in the group’s corporate governance framework, which I have made a renewed area of focus.
What would you raid your savings account for?
It would have to be a sudden, totally unexpected emergency for me to raid our savings account. But I would be very tempted to go back to South Africa in 2021 to watch the British and Irish Lions play rugby against the Springboks, South Africa’s national union rugby team, with my mates. This tour only happens every 12 years, and is potentially well worth the raid.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
Assuming my children’s university education is taken care of, I would use a portion to take my wife (without children) on a dream holiday doing something we both enjoy in the great outdoors. We like adventure travel, and before we had children, my wife and I hiked the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu in Peru, went elephant trekking in Thailand and canoed down the Amazon River. I would definitely like to do something similar again.