The chief executive of an architecture and design practice says you never know when life will end
Money & Me: 'I hate saving and spend most of my income enjoying life'
Medy Navani is the chief executive of Design Haus Medy, an architecture and interior design practice based in Dubai Design District. The German, 37, first came to the UAE as a young architect in 2006, founding his company Creative Living Service in the same year and changing its name two years ago to Design Haus Medy. The company's portfolio of projects includes Ras Al Khaimah Hospital, Dubai Financial Market and Skyview Tower in Dubai Marina. Mr Navani has two sons and lives in Dubai International Financial Centre.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My parents emigrated to Germany from the Middle East when I was 2. They didn’t come from a very rich family. We’ve always had strong family values that hard work gets you a long way, and I learnt early in life that money is crucial if you want to live well. My father was an electrical engineer and my mother a beautician with her own salon. She was only 15 when she had me, and my father was 18. Because they were so young, it was always OK for me to be actively taking responsibility at an early age too. All the way through adolescence, I loved working. I was always asking them: ‘can I go out and earn a little bit of money?’ Whether it was delivering newspapers or working in a shop, they always liked the idea of me being active.
What was your first job?
I was about 7, working in a drinks shop in Hamburg. My first job was to fill these three big refrigerators with Coke, Fanta and Sprite. I worked for 50 pfennig per hour, which was half a German mark (Dh1.1). It was quite an easy job, but I learnt a lesson there that I never forgot. After the first time I filled the fridges, the shopkeeper asked me to take everything out again and refill it, this time making sure that people could see all the brand names. He told me “people buy what they see". This really stuck in my head and shaped the man that I became. It's something I still believe today really matters. If you get something visually right, it’s not difficult to sell the idea to the client.
How has your attitude to earning money changed?
I used to be much more of a workaholic than I am today. When I went to university to study architecture, I worked at the same time at an architectural design studio, an interior design studio, and also in a restaurant and bar. I was making a lot of money while also studying.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Spender, definitely – I hate saving. Life is too short not to be. I spend most of my income on just enjoying life because you never know when it will all end, so I think it’s really important to see the world and always try new experiences.
What prompted the move to Dubai?
I was an architect with a lot of ideas and dreams, and Dubai was a huge playground for young architects. It was the boom days for construction and design, and there was a euphoria here about getting a piece of land and designing anything that it was possible to design. There were no limits to our ideas.
Did you ever have a month when you feared you could not pay the bills?
Actually, yes. My first six months in Dubai were very challenging. I will not lie to you, my first pay cheque I took in Dubai was a project where I was making, after all the expenses were paid, not more than Dh2,500 a month. Its crazy but that’s what was left to us. Luckily, I could live in a house that my parents owned, and I also had a car, so I didn’t have too many outgoings.
When money was tight, what luxuries did you forego?
I’m a huge lover of travelling the world and seeing different places, and I spend a lot of my money on that. But when I initially moved to Dubai, it was the first time in my life that I went for almost a year without travelling anywhere. I could always get by with the things I had, and food and healthcare were always covered. But restricting myself from being able to travel was very difficult.
What’s your most cherished purchase?
The first house that I bought, near Emirates Hills in Dubai, which I still own today. It was in 2005 and I was 24. I think it was one of the proudest moments in my life. This house was different to all the other purchases I’d made before. It was about taking a mature step, and it changed my way of life. Very shortly after that I got married and had my first child, so a lot of other serious decisions followed it.
Do you have any financial regrets?
I was investing a lot of money in the dot-com bubble in early 2000, which was a very big mistake. It was hard-earned money which just disappeared overnight from the stock market. I think it was around 20,000 marks, which was a lot for me considering I was a student at that time.
What did you learn from it?
Don’t invest in something you have absolutely no idea about. Four years ago I read a very interesting book, The Richest Man in Babylon, by George S Clason. In it, on the advice of a friend, a brick builder tries to import jewellery from another country to sell on. But instead, he mistakenly buys coloured glass. The moral of the tale is that a brick builder should invest in bricks, sand and cement, but not in jewellery which he has absolutely no idea about. This is what I learnt as a young architect investing in tech companies that I had absolutely no idea about.
Do you regret it?
I don’t know if I would call a regret, because I don’t have any. The only thing in life which comes and goes very fast is money, so I never regretted losing money. But it certainly wasn’t the smartest move I made.
Do you use a financial adviser?
Not really. I believe in making my own decisions after evaluating the situation from multiple perspectives, so I listen to a lot of different people’s advice. But I don’t believe in getting one person to advise on one subject, I would rather make my own decision.
Where do you tend to invest your money?
In properties - developing them, and putting innovative new ideas on the table. A lot of the properties on the market are of very low quality, because there is always a conflict between making profit and creating something meaningful. But I think technology and design will change the market, and this is why we invest a lot of money into creative minds and fresh ideas – young people who think things a little bit out of the box, which helps us also to see things out of the box too.
What would you raid your savings account for?
I have one property in mind right now, a Second World War bunker in North Germany, which is a beautiful piece of history. We are considering buying it to keep it for ourselves. I think if it does go on the market, I would spend every penny I have for it.