x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Money & me: executive used work ethic to head NKD Pizza

Canadian-born NKD Pizza executive Ian Ohan woke up to benefit of alternative fast food but says money is not everything.

Ian Ohan believes that when you reach a certain point in your life, money becomes less important.
Ian Ohan believes that when you reach a certain point in your life, money becomes less important.

I had a middle-class upbringing. I was born and raised in Toronto and both my parents are first generation Canadian.

My mother is Hungarian and my father is Palestinian. Both of my parents were teachers. I think my first job was in hospitality at Canada's Wonderland, the amusement park in Ontario. Even at a young age, work excited me, although my parents often encouraged me to just enjoy my time while I was young. We travelled a fair bit back then and I used to stay in quite a few hotels. We went to Europe, the Middle East and all over the US. We weren't flying first class, but travelling was always available to us. My parents were fairly generous but we never had structured funds or allowances. Things were given as they were needed.

I'm now 40 years old and live in Dubai . You reach a point in life when money becomes less important. Having more doesn't improve my life that much. I tend to spend money in restaurants, certainly. I have always been a bit of a foodie. But my wife and I eat out less now that we have two children. My daughter is two years old and my son is six months. We spend more time in and around the house and enjoy entertaining friends.

I'm a bit of a car nut and love Porsches. The car I bought as soon as I had the chance was a 1991 Porsche 911. That was only a few years ago. It wasn't particularly expensive but it was important to me. I actually had a poster of that car on the wall of my room as a child. Keep in mind this was a 1991 car, all original, with 30,000 miles on it. It was just over US$20,000 (Dh73,460) and I want to give it to my daughter when she turns 16.

I'm really enjoying my young family and feel pleased we waited to have children later in life. The money stresses are less than they have been in the past and I just enjoy giving them what they need and spending time with them. My wife is British and we both enjoy travelling. Our daughter is only two, but she has been around the world a couple of times. We have a house in California. I do a lot of motorbike trips and spend time there for business and leisure. I'm quite interested in California as a long-term destination. I was driving Route 101 in Santa Barbara on a motorbike, and I told someone at a stop along the way that I wanted to buy a house here. And the next year, I did.

I used to have four or five motorbikes and I enjoy doing a lot of dirt biking in the desert. But now I drive a Toyota Land Cruiser with all the kids. It's more of a family vehicle. I'm now the area developer for NKD Pizza. What that means is I'm responsible to develop the product here. It's one of the fastest-growing food outlets in the US. In the GCC, it's projected that there will be 50 plus units here in the next five to seven years. It's partly contingent on the success of the product. But that's the goal. We have the Dubai Marina store opening in January - in the Marina View Towers, near the Radisson Blu.

We have two other locations, one of which will service Arabian Ranches and the Sport City areas, and the other location is still under negotiation. Before NKD Pizza I worked in real estate in Dubai and owned a company with two partners. We sold our company to Jones Lang LaSalle in 2006 and I was required to stay on as part of the transaction. In 2009, I decided that after a 12-year run of being very busy to re-evaluate and look at things differently. I had children on the way and wanted more personal meaning in my job.

One night, I was about to drop off to sleep and I saw on Bloomberg one of the founders of NKD Pizza getting interviewed. It all resonated with me and I appreciate their smart and savvy business model. They had backing from some really big players, such as Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the Dallas Mavericks basketball team. It had managed to attract a lot of attention and their mission is real about offering fast-food alternatives.

I thought it was clever. I woke up and wrote them an e-mail in the morning. I think it said something like: "I will be your most successful franchisee. Pick me please." Within about five minutes they responded. We were on a phone call the next morning and I was at their headquarters in New Orleans the following week. Overall, since 2009, the company has sold 350 franchises across the US, and they'll probably be 500 to 600 worldwide by the end of the year. The food is not organic. They want to offer a fast-food alternative that's healthy and affordable. They wanted to make a difference and come up with a private-sector solution, because the US government hasn't come up with one yet to combat obesity.

I believe it's important to have money, but you can only drive one car at a time. When you go beyond a certain income, it won't affect your life too much. It's important, but only if what you do is something you are passionate about.