Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 19 March 2018

Money & Me: "I was paid $5 a day in my first job, now I run my own business'

Anisha Butaney secured her first role at 13 but today her proudest achievement is running her own trading company

Anisha Butaney is the founder of Aliya Trading, which handles organic, sustainable and ethical baby products.  Antonie Robertson/The National
Anisha Butaney is the founder of Aliya Trading, which handles organic, sustainable and ethical baby products. Antonie Robertson/The National

Anisha Butaney founded Aliya Trading after spotting a gap in the market for organic, sustainable baby products. An Indian born in Singapore, but raised in Sri Lanka, Ms Butaney, 43, completed her degree in business administration and an MBA in the United States before working in the hotel industry in Colombo and London, then moving to a multinational company in Singapore. A love of children and their wellbeing, and growing demand for non-allergenic products, led her to create an import/export firm bringing niche parent and baby brands such as Four Cow Farm from Australia and RICE from Denmark into the Gulf. Ms Butaney lives with her husband - a financial adviser - in Dubai

How did your upbringing shape your attitude to money?

My father grew up with nothing. He worked very hard to provide us with our education and life that we had. My upbringing has always been, ‘a dollar saved is a dollar earned - don’t spend it unless you need to spend’. He’s a garment manufacturer, initially textiles and garments, then he expanded into property development. Mum was the perfect, awesome housewife who kept our home together so he could do what he had to do. She’s the backbone of our family. I lived in a war-torn country. My school was blown up, bombs shook our home. I was harassed by police officers, had guns pointed at me by army security. You learn to keep your head down, do your work and get on with life. I remember times when things were not easy and that is one of the reasons security is very important to me now; I know good times can come and go, but foundations have to be firm. We need the roof over our head, the food on our table. You couldn’t always get what you wanted, you had to wait; I learned very young in life, things will come to you at the right time - be patient and things will come in abundance.

How much did you get paid in your first job?

Pocket change; $5 a day. My first job was a summer camp aide to one of the ladies at the American embassy in Sri Lanka. She was one of the wives and ran a camp for all the kids. I helped her teach them to paint, cleaned up and supervised them. I was 13 at the time and it was more for the experience. Even at that age I loved kids.

What brought you to Dubai?

My husband. He is Indian, same as me, but from England. When we got married he was living here. I moved to Dubai six years ago and started working for a company, organising events. I was grateful for the job, I loved the work but the company and I weren’t a good fit. I’d been working and travelling all of Asia, so I couldn’t just sit at home. Aliya Trading was born in 2014.


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Why did you set up this type of business?

Trading is in my blood. My ex boss once said I could sell ice to an Eskimo. It’s something I enjoy. Family is the foundation of my life and we want one of our own. This will let me do both; give me an entry into that market and prepare me for what’s in store - I can learn about kids items while I’m waiting. I love the business of buying, finding products, finding a market. There is a story behind all the products; a reason why I love them. Today’s children have a lot of problems with dry skin, eczema. My skincare line was made by a midwife for her grandchildren. They are products I would use on my own and was tested on my nieces; I have a brother who has three girls and lives in Sri Lanka. I’m very proud of what we’ve done. We have a warehouse, but my office is just me right now, although we’re expanding; we’ve just signed a contract with a new supplier so I will be hiring a team.

Are you a spender or a saver?

A saver. My husband says I am a spender and a saver. He says ‘you love to have good things, but you will find the most-effective way to have what you want’. I won’t walk into a store and because I like it, buy it. I will walk, look, think, come back, decide if I really have to have it. I don’t just buy everything I see. I’m a sensible spender. I’m a woman; I love my clothes, my jewellery, my home.

Where do you save?

I save in property, in high-yield bonds. My husband is an international financial adviser. We are saving and we’re planning for the future with money for our kids.

Ms Butaney says her best investment is a property she owns in London. Antonie Robertson/The National
Ms Butaney says her best investment is a property she owns in London. Antonie Robertson/The National

What is your best investment?

Property, in London - an apartment that has appreciated in value over the last 12-15 years and now it really is an asset. I was young and went to see if I liked living there, but I hated the winters. We’ve got assets here and I’ve got something in Singapore.

What’s your most cherished purchase?

Going to Australia to go to a concert. I took my mother. People laugh at me - it was Lionel Richie. I was living in Singapore at the time and it was a seven-hour flight, to Sydney. His song Angel is my favourite, but he didn’t sing it.

What are you happiest spending money on?

Experiences, travelling. The Northern Lights is on our list for this year. I’ve been all around Italy, taken trains from one European country to another. I want to be able to say I’ve lived my life and seen the world. I don’t backpack. I like being spoiled.

What’s been your key financial milestone?

The fact that I can invest in my own company, independent from everyone. The company is owned by me, run by me - that’s a massive achievement. I invest back in the company.

Do prefer paying in cash or by credit card?

Credit card. I pay it off every month, but I accrue points and can get airline tickets. I’m very good at working that system. I have cash, but I’m happiest with my card.

Do you plan for the future?

I have to have a plan A and plan B. Financially we’ve got policies - insurances, critical illness cover, education policies - everything is covered. The business - I can run it but I won’t have to be there for the day-to-day operations. That’s the plan - for this year the business will expand so that I can oversee it, but not manually do it.

What would you raid your savings for?

I keep the savings for a rainy day - I need to know there is money for that. I’m cautious. We budget for things like holidays, but I need to be able to sleep at night.

If yon won Dh1million, what would you spend it on?

I would probably indulge in something extravagant with my family; my parents, in-laws, kids, treat them all to an experience of some sort. Then I would save the rest.