Money & Me: ‘Growing up in the Lebanese Civil War taught me money doesn’t come easy’
Joseph Ghosn of NRTC says he is now reaping the fruits of learning to hustle by doing odd jobs in Beirut
Joseph Ghosn is chief operating officer of NRTC Group (Nassar Al Refaee Trading Company), a fresh fruit and vegetable wholesaler, which has operated in the Middle East since 1973. Born and brought up in Beirut, Mr Ghosn, 44, has lived in Dubai for over 20 years. He worked in the hospitality, retail and trade sectors before joining NRTC nearly two years ago, helping the company roll out NRTC Fresh, an online platform for produce delivery to UAE consumers, in January. He lives in Al Barsha with his wife, who works as an account manager at an exchange house, and has a 12-year-old daughter living in Scotland.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I grew up in Beirut in, let’s say, not in a very rough area, but we call it a rough area. It’s a very humble area where everybody has their own businesses, very small streets. Most of the people there have small shops, small workshops, small factories. And growing up in an area like that, you learn a lot of things from doing small odd jobs at an early age.
My dad was a police detective — he was very strict — and my mum was a housewife. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so at an early age we learnt to do small jobs in the neighbourhood. What was important for us [was learning] you need to work hard for the money and nothing comes easy.
We don’t live to work and save, because if you save a lot of money and don’t enjoy it, I think it’s a waste.
Joseph Ghosn, NRTC Group
How much did you earn in your first job?
My first job was working in a shoe factory, so I learnt how to make shoes. That was at the age of 15. Another job was learning to make handbags. These were summer jobs for a month or two. It was decent money. At that time I was earning around $45 (Dh165) to $50 a week. It was during the Civil War in Lebanon [which lasted from 1975 to 1990], so it was not safe. We wanted to get out of the house and our parents didn’t want us to be on the streets, so we thought we would do something useful.
For a while, I also used to sell ice blocks. We bought ice blocks from a small factory not far from our house, because at that time we didn’t have electricity or water in Beirut, so people needed ice blocks. That was at the age of 16. Me and a friend of mine, we used to have an old car, so we removed the back seat and would fill it with around 50, 60 ice blocks and go around selling them.
When did you leave Beirut?
I was there until 1993. Then I went to London from 1993 to 1996. I had uncles and cousins living in London, so I did hotel management courses and started working there with my uncles’ businesses. One used to have a deli and the other one used to have shoe shops.
What brought you to Dubai?
I came to Dubai on vacation for five, six days and decided to stay here and get a job. I was meant to go back to London. Then the one year became five and the five became 10 years [and so on]. My first job in Dubai was a supervisor with a catering company. I joined NRTC in 2017. It's a 40-year-old company with around 60 factories around the world and a team of almost 1,000. We are a wholesaler, we are a retailer and we supply around 1,000 customers per day, so it’s a busy operation.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m in between. I’m not a big spender, but also I’m not a big saver. I like to spend money on vacations, mostly between Lebanon and Europe.
How do you save?
I budget small amounts of money on a monthly basis to a savings account, but most of my savings goes into real estate. I don’t believe in keeping cash in the bank, I prefer to invest in real estate. I have a villa in Dubai and have invested in a couple of real estate [assets] in Lebanon — a land plot in the north and a summer house. In Dubai I’m living in an apartment and own a villa in Al Furjan that is currently rented.
What luxuries are important to you?
I like to spend more on the house — having a comfortable living room, comfortable bedrooms. I also like my summer house to be spacious and nice and to spend on my bikes — I have a few motor bikes. I have a Ducati 1979, which I keep in my living room. And I have a BMW 1200, which I use in the winter. Also I have a KTM Enduro, which I haven’t used in a while.
I've been into bikes since my teenage years in Beirut. At a young age, we used to ride scooters and motorbikes. I got my first motorbike at 16. I saved for six or seven months for that. I hid the bike in the next-door building, so my parents wouldn’t see it. They [found out] a year later when I had a bike accident and broke one of my legs.
What car do you drive?
I have a Ford truck because I like scuba diving and camping, so when the weather is good I put my diving equipment in the back and we camp. I know it’s not a luxury car, but I’m not into that yet — maybe in the future. Some of my friends say, ‘you should buy yourself a nice luxury car or sports car.’ But it’s suitable for my lifestyle. I can put my bikes on the back of the truck and take them with me. It’s convenient, good value for money.
What has been your best investment?
My summer house in Lebanon. I started building it almost two years ago and it took a few months to finish. It was a good investment, because it makes me want to go home more. My parents are happy because they see me more.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
I wish I started investing in real estate at a younger age — at 20, 21. I started investing in my 30s.
Who manages the family finances?
[My wife and I] talk about it, but it’s not something we really discuss everyday. I take care of all the expenses.
What is your philosophy towards money?
If I keep a lot of money in the bank I’ll just find a way to spend it. I think we should always have a good work-life balance. We don’t live to work and save, because if you save a lot of money and don’t enjoy it, I think it’s a waste. I think one-third of income should go towards savings and one-third towards expenses and one-third towards fun stuff, like outings, vacation, shopping … buying stuff you don’t actually need.
Do you have a retirement plan?
In terms of financial security for retirement, I think it’s a little bit too early. I’m planning to retire between the age of 60 and 65, so I’m working towards that. I didn’t decide where yet — most probably between Lebanon, Scotland, Dubai.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you spend it on?
Well, that’s not enough. I think I’d keep Dh100,000 for gifts for my wife and the family, and the rest would go towards investments.
Updated: August 1, 2019 08:52 AM