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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 20 November 2018

Money & Me: 'I was a cash millionaire by the age of 25'

Omar Jackson, who made his fortune in the e-cigarette industry and private equity, started his UAE career as a 'cold-calling financial adviser'

Omar Jackson is a partner at private equity firm Berkeley Assets and a director of blockchain advisory Cryptech. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Omar Jackson is a partner at private equity firm Berkeley Assets and a director of blockchain advisory Cryptech. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Omar Jackson is a partner at private equity firm Berkeley Assets and a director of blockchain advisory and investment business Cryptech. Born in the UK to an Indian mother and English father, he quit university after one lecture to pursue a business and finance career, and became a millionaire at 25. Mr Jackson, now 27, lives on Palm Jumeirah, but regularly works in London where he also nurtures aspiring business youth as a Young Enterprise Ambassador.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I didn’t have a dad around from when I was two, so I was used to seeing mum working hard to provide for my older brother and me; give us the best education she could. She had two jobs at some points, working at Heathrow Airport also at an IT company. She eventually started a mortgage company, so I was around that business environment and working attitude. I would be in her office at the age of eight years, watching, trying to help her build from nothing. That shaped the way I think. My drive and fire was built on that. Money for me was something that had to be earned, from hard work, because we didn’t come from it. I had two avenues to go down, either the study route or … all I wanted to do was make money. That’s what I started do when I was 13.

How did you start earning so young?

My little business at school, selling cakes. I got mum to buy ingredients, but I would bake. I had a menu. Other students would order a slice or a cup cake, then teachers and parents. I made £50 (Dh240) to £100 a week - my first taste of earning - and from then I didn’t stop. Then I was selling clothes on an eBay store, ordered from China. I started turning over £1,000 (Dh4785) a month when I was 14, 15. At 16 I got my first actual job, earning £4.23 (Dh20) an hour at Primark.

What led you to Dubai?

Mum came to Dubai to work. She closed her business in 2008 because the recession hit. I came to see her after dropping out of university, did work experience in an independent financial advisory firm, cold calling for two or three months. Then I moved back to the UK to set-up an e-smoking business when vaping was just starting, I was 19. One of the guys I’d met here I really got on with - I pitched this idea. He said ‘I’ll put in £200,000 as long as you put in £50,000’. Putting up everything I had was a big deal. We made some good money, made huge progress in pushing that industry. I moved to Dubai seven years ago, doing work as an independent financial adviser but also working closely with Berkeley Assets as a consultant. My move into private equity full-time happened quickly after my move back to UAE.

Many UAE residents have been stung by 'cold-calling financial advisers' mis-selling products. What did you sell?

In my very brief time as an IFA, I mainly focussed on SIPP transfers, life insurance and lump sum bonds. From time to time I provided a savings plans but I was not a fan of these due to the charges and difficulty in managing them. I would also always consider alternative avenues for clients that were cheaper, shorter term and more reliable. I always favoured anything that was backed by physical assets rather than just the standard mutual funds. I didn’t have a “cold caller” working under me so I was taking on clients mostly organically, meeting people and being referred to their colleagues/friends etc. It was a good experience and as I’m sure many would agree, you don’t quite realise completely how the industry works until you are in it. That’s why I can say first-hand how difficult the insurance companies are to work with and how expensive their products are.

What is Cryptech?

There are a lot of entrepreneurs with ideas based around blockchain technology. Every company wants a bit. Cryptech was born because people want to understand blockchain and make money off it, like a venture capital platform for clientele to place money in and be exposed to the technology without risking too much. We directly invest. The predominant amount is put into blockchain start-ups.

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Do you plan for the future?

I want my own family one day and to give them more than I was given. I don’t want to be one of these people that lives to work and then doesn’t have time for family. My mum had no choice. For me it’s work as hard as I can, take the risks now. I want to make sure I’ve got everything secure. I’m creating the foundations. On the flipside, I believe in enjoying life. I’ll do anything spur of the moment to have fun, build memories. I had an allergy attack in my late teens and stopped breathing. My throat swelled up. I was on a life support. When those things happen you have an appreciation for life.

What else made you respect money?

I went to Tanzania and built a school in a village when I was 17. I was allowed a month off school; if I didn’t already have respect for money, I definitely did after that. You’d see conditions people were living in but children were smiling; they’ve got literally nothing, but they’re happy just living life in the simplest form. All this extra stuff around us, the things you chase, it actually makes life more difficult, especially when you’re never satisfied. I was a cash millionaire when I was 24, some made through the electric smoking industry, but also a business development firm in the UK I was involved with. I owned a licensed shisha bar in London and a large amount has been earned through Berkeley Assets and as an IFA. Saying you’re a millionaire, I don’t think that’s a big deal, though, because a lot of people are millionaires these days. If you own a house in London you’re a millionaire.

Are you a spender or a saver?

By definition I’m a spender. However, I’ve always got my head screwed on. I’m a spender but a saver.

Where do you save?

I’m real estate focused. I’ve got houses (in the UK) and rental income. I don’t like keeping money in the bank. You need something there, but money sitting in the bank is losing value. If you think of property, you think of security.

Mr Jackson likes to reward himself with luxury purchases, such as cars and watches to "incentivise" himself. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Mr Jackson likes to reward himself with luxury purchases, such as cars and watches to "incentivise" himself. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Are you wise with money?

I’m wise with money during my work hours, and probably not always as wise in my personal time. I can be quite extravagant. I like luxury things, but make sure I’ve got my priorities in check.

What luxuries do you value?

I love cars and watches, Audemars Piguet and Rolex, predominantly. I’ve got two IWC. In the UK I’ve a Ferrari 488. I’ve recently bought another two Ferraris: a Portofino and the Pista - you have to be invited by Ferrari to buy it. It’s an investment. I’ve a Range Rover Vogue here and an Audi A8 limo spec. Everything I get I have to earn, like rewards, I incentivise myself. I wouldn’t be where I am if I didn’t have discipline.

What is your most cherished purchase?

Recently I went to Sri Lanka, staying in this area called Tangalle. The concierge emailed to say the journey was going to be five hours; I was only there for three days and I’ve got to spend one day in a car. So I had a helicopter waiting at the airport and instead it was 40 minutes. I did some charity work on that trip, sponsoring an orphanage in Colombo, a complete refurbishment. I didn’t set out to do that; I said I’d like to visit one. But I wouldn’t have had time had it not been for (the helicopter). Time is the thing I cherish most.

Do you prefer paying with cash or credit card?

I like cash. When you have cash, you have more respect for it. With a card it’s swipe, worry about it later.

How much are you carrying right now?

I always make sure I have Dh2,000 to Dh3,000 in my wallet, just because you never know what you might need to do.

Is there anything you regret spending money on?

Regret is a strong word. Making mistakes, failing, spending on ridiculous things, especially when young, showing off … you’ve got to enjoy the process. I’ve made money, lost money. When I was 19, 20 and had a lot of money from that electric smoking company I had an apartment by Regent’s Park, was in clubs all the time. When I look back … having those memories is priceless.