Entrepreneur Taariq Ba’alawy says he worked at the Sharjah hotel for three months before they let him go because of his Dh600 salary
Money & Me: 'I got fired at 16 for earning too much as a housekeeper'
Taariq Ba’alawy is managing director of Inspire ME Sports Academy, which offers football, swimming and basketball coaching for children. After a career in recruitment and banking, he launched the business, based in Al Mizar, Dubai, this summer, partly to motivate youngsters through sporting activities during the hottest months. It is the second such academy he has set up. Born in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, Mr Ba’alawy has lived in the UAE since the age of five, but studied in the US and Liverpool – the home of his football heroes. Now 40, Mr Ba’alawy is married, a father to four sons, and lives in Sharjah.
How did upbringing drive your attitude towards money?
Coming from Tanzania, we’re not rich. We have a house there, a base just in case. But I’ve been here since 1981; I identify with the UAE more than any other country. It was always a fight to keep our heads above water, to keep the level of education that they had set for us, the reason we came here in the first place. We had a family of three kids, so our parents worked hard. The main earner was my mum, a school principal. My dad was into different kinds of businesses, different success levels. If he hit a brick wall he’d be ‘I need to change, go into something else’. That’s where I draw inspiration. I don’t think you become a millionaire working for somebody. When I do a job I’ll give it my all, but I also try to learn something from it.
How much were you paid in your first job?
I worked in housekeeping in a hotel in Sharjah. I used to clean rooms. I got fired. I was 16 and management decided they were paying me too much; Dh600 per month. I worked there for three months.
So it didn’t put you off hard work?
I went to the US for my college education in southeast Missouri where I had five jobs at one go. One was in food services, catering, and I used to eat for free. Another was in a computer laboratory. I also worked in a big theatre where they had basketball, monster trucks. I had a cousin studying there who told me about refereeing - we enjoyed the game and it paid well so we did classes. I managed to live a better life than otherwise could have happened. It taught me the value of hard work. All these jobs; I had to shape them so somehow I was able to do what I actually went there for, studying finance. I liked working with numbers.
How did you end up in the UK?
After my degree I worked in banking in the US for three years as a personal account manager. After September 11, things stopped for a lot of immigrants, so I went to Liverpool to do my MBA. I didn’t need much motivation to choose Liverpool … Liverpool FC.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I won’t call myself a spender, but saving to me is investing your money somewhere you can use it later on. I don’t mind spending on something that will benefit my children; I’m investing to benefit them.
Where do you save?
In a bank account. However, I’ve emptied that to open this academy. The previous academy I ran, I had to write off quite a bit of money. I have some for a rainy day, but I can’t say I’m strong in the savings aspect of things. I bought land in Zanzibar.
What is your philosophy towards money?
Money is a tool that can be used for good and bad. If you disrespect money, it will disrespect you. Money’s not something just to keep and hope it grows.
What is your most cherished purchase?
A pair of football boots I bought when I was nine. They were Patrick and cost Dh49. I used to collect a dirham my parents used to give me to take to school every day. That “investment” has led me full circle – finance, recruitment, real estate – and brought me into this. I value what I spent at that time as significant. I ended up being a player, referee, a coach. My previous academy started because I’m a coach.
Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?
Sometimes when you have plastic, the propensity to go overboard increases. Having been a banker, I have the discipline to make sure I don’t pay finance charges and so on. I prefer using cash – if I don’t have enough, I can’t have whatever it is I wanted to buy.
What’s been your best investment?
The academy I have just withdrawn from. I lost money – the license, uniforms, the facilities rental, equipment, payments to coaches, entrance fees to tournaments - but I gained a lot of education. I was quite exposed to the way it is in the US, and it is very different here. So the best investment…was the investment that failed me.
What prompted you to leave the corporate world?
In that world, when they say 9 to 5, they lie. If you leave at 5, people look at you funny. I’ve always wanted to do something that would allow me to spend time with the children and the best thing I could think of was this. I get to be around them, they get to play and “do their own thing”, but I’m there and can be part of their enjoyment.
Is there anything you regret spending money on?
I’ve made mistakes, buying a nice car on a couple of occasions. It wasn’t very intelligent, but you live once. Later on I said ‘OK, that’s done, let’s move on, use the money in a better way’. Dwelling on something is a waste of time.
Do you have a long-term plan?
To open a couple of businesses and hopefully get to a stage where they sustain themselves. I’m open to different things. This academy is called Inspire ME, as in Middle East; the goal is to set-up in a couple of countries, grow the brand. I am ambitious, but cautiously ambitious.
What prompted you to launch Inspire ME?
My eldest son. Since he was younger, I’d always put him in summer camps, in academies. A lot of former players - British, Spanish, Malian - have opened here, big brands and quite expensive. When my previous academy didn’t work out over the partnership situation, I brought it to a halt but I had to start something quickly so as not to lose the clientele I'd worked to build. This is an area I lived in for six years and I know a lot of people. Right now it’s swimming, art and crafts, football and basketball.
How did you fund this business?
I had worked at Dubai First for a while; I managed to accumulate savings and end of service benefits. I’m blessed in that very quickly I’m almost at breakeven. Hopefully in the next month I’ll be at the profit stage.
What would you raid your savings for?
If I view a particular opportunity for my children to benefit from as far as education is concerned, whatever it is they want to do in the future, I would happily empty my bank account, just like I feel my parents did in sending me to America.