Adam Lalani, the head of IT for Tristar Group, says cold-calling advisers are out to sell products you don’t need
Money & Me: 'I distrust many financial advisers here'
Adam Lalani is IT chief for liquid logistics firm Tristar Group, which has a fleet of almost 500 vehicles delivering hazardous liquid goods across the GCC for oil companies. In his spare time, however, Mr Lalani likes to invest his money in technology of the old fashioned variety - vinyl records. The Briton, 38, moved to the UAE from London to work as an IT manager in 2009, before joining Emirates Ship Investment Company in 2012 as head of IT, which was purchased by Tristar last March. He now lives in Dubai with his wife and their six-year-old daughter.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I used to save my pocket money in the porcelain piggy banks that NatWest Bank used to give out to children in the UK, to encourage them to save. We lived in North London, and I remember at seven saving up for quite a long time for a £30 (Dh145.32) Arsenal football kit. I had it drummed into me not to expect things instantly. It’s the polar opposite to today’s world, where there’s all this instant gratification. When my daughter wants something, she doesn’t like to wait even a week for it.
Were you expected to earn your keep?
I lived in Dubai from the age of 12 to 16, as my dad owned a computer company here. In those days in the UAE, computers had to be assembled, and when I was 13, I started building computers for my dad’s business. I assembled hundreds of PCs as a teenager and used to install them in people’s houses and offices, all over Sharjah and Dubai. That was an unpaid job, but it taught me a lot about computers.
How much did you earn in your first paid job?
I moved back to the UK when I was 16, and the following year, in 1996, I worked as a post boy for the Royal Horticultural Society, for £3.50 an hour. They had two buildings on opposite sides of Vincent Square in Victoria in London. In those days before the advent of email, their staff used to communicate by putting papers into internal envelopes and putting them on trays, and I’d take them over to the other building. It’s amazing to think how the world has changed.
Did you then move onto higher education?
I left school at 16, and only completed my university education last year. Here in the UAE, professional people are expected to have a degree. So for my career prospects, I had to do that. At the time, we were living in Abu Dhabi, so I used to drive after work every night to Dubai for lectures for my Masters degree in Computer Network Management. I finally graduated last October. I always felt that I didn’t necessarily need the formal qualifications that a university degree would offer me, but I should have done it when I was younger.
How did you embark on your career in IT?
I was bouncing around from one temp job to another and in 1999, I got a one-day job counting shopping vouchers at the head office of Dewhurst the butchers. At the time, they had a store on almost every UK high street. It was noticed that I had better computer skills than most of their employees. At that time, companies everywhere were afraid that their systems would malfunction on January 1 2000. So I was put in charge of the year 2000 project, and very quickly became their IT manager. I was only 20, and that was my big break. I started implementing things we now take for granted, like email.
Did your salary rise with your changing roles?
Yes, quite dramatically. I started at Dewhurst on £5 an hour; then when I was made permanent, it was around £18,000 pounds a year and very quickly kept increasing every six to 12 months, as we were doing better in terms of the technology we were using.
What was your relationship with money like at age?
I was young to be earning that much, and I was very irresponsible with my money. Despite learning about saving as a child, I just wanted to have fun and buy nice clothes. I was definitely spending more than I earned. I had a credit card from Barclays bank with a £750 limit, which I soon maxed out and then would pay just the minimum £20 back every month. I started realising that when the next bill came, the amount I owed had only gone down by about £10. I was throwing my money away.
How did you learn to be more responsible?
When I was 23, my girlfriend and I talked about going to live in Australia. At that time, you had to demonstrate to the authorities that you had about £2,500 in savings to get a working visa. I set a target to save that in six months. I went from spending everything I earned, to analysing every penny. It seems infantile now, but I had a chart on the wall, which I would colour in as the time got closer. It didn’t work out with that girlfriend, and I never went to Australia but the experience taught me a good lesson about setting financial goals.
What do you most regret spending money on?
I spent the money I’d saved for Australia on a deposit for a new £12,500 Toyota Corolla car. For that money, I could have bought a very nice second hand car outright and wouldn’t have had to service any debt. But instead, things became quite tight for me money-wise. I had a bad accident with a police van, which wasn’t my fault, but it took two years for the insurance companies to fight it out, and because of that, my premiums rocketed. That caused me a lot of financial anguish. After three years, I had to let the car go, because I didn’t have enough to make the final finance payment. I learned the harsh way to only buy what I can pay for outright. Every car I’ve purchased since then has been paid for upfront.
How has life UAE influenced your attitude towards money?
When I moved here in 2009, it was so easy to get finance for anything. I had work colleagues on a similar salary to me who bought Porsche cars when we moved to Dubai. These were people who three months before that had been one step away from redundancy, and getting the Underground to work in London. I found that abhorrent. A wise colleague once said ‘those people would spend money they don’t have, to impress people that don’t care'. I resolved to do the opposite, and to save at least a third of my income. That became harder after becoming a parent, because of the cost of education, but now, I’m able to put away 15 to 20 per cent of my monthly income in a separate account.
What has been your best investment?
My Beatles White Album, pressed in Japan in 1982 on red vinyl. It’s one of only 5,000 pressed, part of a set of 10 Beatles LPs that I bought in 2015 from an eBay seller based in Mexico. I felt guilty at the time because I wondered whether it was stolen, as the value was so under for something so rare. The true value was around US$2,500 and I managed to buy it for half that. It’s doubled in value since then, as vinyl is so much in demand.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
I bought a two bedroom flat in London in 2000, which has been a great investment. One of my dad’s sisters bought up lots of rundown flats in London at around the same time, which are now worth much more, and I regret not investing more heavily in property as she did. Having said that, I wouldn’t like to be a slumlord.
Do you use a financial adviser?
I have one guy who came recommended who I work with on a few bits and pieces, but I like to feel I’m in charge of my own finances. I have a distrust of many financial advisers here, I feel they’re out to sell you products you don’t need. A friend started with one of the big financial advisory firms. He was given a six-week boot camp in Cyprus, then was sent here with a very small base salary and expected to make commission. I get these hard-selling phone calls from financial advisers all the time. I don’t know where they get my number from, but I always tell them politely that I’m not interested.
Where do you save?
Back in 2009, I made various high-risk investments in several businesses. I had £10,000 pounds of savings, which is not really much in the grand scheme of things, so I followed the advice of a Bob Dylan song – ‘when you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose.’ By the time I withdrew my funds in 2013, I’d broken even. But at least I didn’t lose anything.
Since becoming a parent, I’m fairly risk-averse. We live in a disposable society where when you buy a product and it stops working after a year, you just throw it away and buy another one. But when I buy things for myself, I like to feel that the utility of those items will last longer. For example, I’ll buy a watch I know is going to work for 30 years, which might cost a bit more but it might also appreciate in value. I’ve built up a collection of 300 records with have a value of around US$20,000, which is double what I paid for them.