Former investment banker turned entrepreneur Magdalena Gatzinska says her aim was to achieve freedom rather than become rich
Money & Me: 'Making lots of money was never my goal'
As one of the first women in Wall Street to work in derivatives, Magdalena Gatzinska enjoyed a successful career as an investment banker – and made an awful lot of money. Not so long ago, she was flying first class and earning a seven-figure salary. But, acting on a desire to launch something capable of disrupting industries, she gave it all up to set up bookanyservice.com two-and-a-half years ago with co-founder Zeina Khoury. The company offers users a single portal to book any service related to homecare, beauty, pet care, fitness, and more. Ms Gatzinska, who is half Polish and half Bulgarian but was educated in the US, moved to Dubai four years where she now lives with her two children, ages 6 and 7.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
There are two aspects of my childhood that helped me become who I am with respect to money. I grew up in a highly educated intellectual family that was also very pragmatic about money. The second thing is as a child I grew up in a communist country, so most people were equal. This system didn’t reward highly ambitious or hard working people, but it taught me patience and being street smart without compromising my principles. As I moved to the west I realised that money was important to achieve the higher goals I set for myself. To have freedom to do what you want in life, you need to have money. But although I chose investment banking, and obviously later venture capital and entrepreneurship - money focused sectors - money was never the goal.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
My first job was in college in the US. I was doing translations from several languages, and I was getting paid $25 an hour. I went to a top university in the US and the tuition was expensive as it gets. Although my parents had the means, I wanted financial independence, so I had to figure it out. That taught me the value of money. And several years later I was getting paid seven figures. And I think it was because of this discipline.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I am a spender when it comes to experiences and travel. But I don’t like to accumulate objects, so I am not a big spender on things. I am a very responsible person with money. I am not a person who enjoys shopping malls. I don’t buy many things.
What is your most cherished purchase?
It’s probably the money I have spent on travel. I have travelled extensively around the world, both for business and privately. I visited nearly 100 countries. I have skied, dived, hiked, kayaked and lived the city life in so many different time zones. I feel at home anywhere. If tomorrow I discovered a great opportunity in a different part of the world I would pick up my family and go without the emotional barrier of the fear of the unknown.
Where do you save?
I have a diversified portfolio of illiquid and liquid investments. In the public market I own Exchange Traded Funds, which is the cheapest form of getting market exposure, and separately I invest in privately held businesses or ventures, globally. I have a diversified portfolio. I own a little bit of real estate. On the risky side I invest in highly innovative technology companies in fields that need disruption, like Bookanyservice. My partner and I invested our own money. For two years we did not bring in any investors. We carried the risk on our own.
What is your biggest financial milestone?
By the time I was 30 I knew that I had not only the savings, but also the skillset, knowledge and the network that will secure myself and my family in the future. And since I went to college I have never been anyone’s dependent financially, not my parents, not my husband’s, ever.
How do you teach your children the value of money?
If they want to buy something, they need to understand how many hours it takes me or their father to earn the money necessary to buy that. So when my kids ask me to buy them something I tell them it took me three hours to get enough money to buy this. Do you want to spend three hours playing with me? Or do you want this object? Usually the answer is playing with me.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
Yes, I have had a month when I feared I couldn’t pay my tuition. After university I was working full time so I never had that issue, but during university I feared I could not pay my tuition because I was figuring it out from quarter to quarter. I just had to find ways to make money. Of course it’s stressful, but it teaches you how to cope with stress. At the time I had anxiety, but I never slept until I figured it out.
Do you plan for the future?
Always. I don’t stop thinking about my plans, because especially for our children, they will have to solve different problems. When I finished university I thought 'what is the best company I could work for - the most reputable company, the biggest blue chip company on Wall Street'. Our kids will have to figure out how to make money on their own. They will not be able to rely on someone paying them a salary. So I always plan for the future, but my plans are agile and they change with circumstances and the market. If you do not know how to adapt you will live a very unhappy life and you will fail financially.
What luxuries are important to you?
The biggest luxury is time - having the time to spend with family and friends without having business stuff on my mind, or just to reflect and be on my own for a bit. I am also setting up a venture capital fund to invest in these kinds of businesses and transformative technology, so I am literally sleeping three hours a day. Time is the greatest luxury.
How much do you have in your wallet right now?
I have Dh100 probably, and I have one debit and one credit card. I am not an impulsive spender, so how much I have in my wallet is really quite irrelevant. It is how much I have in my bank account.
What car do you drive?
On a daily basis I drive a Nissan Pathfinder, although I love fast sports cars. I am an adrenaline junkie. But I am very practical and I also very mindful of how my two young children grow up. I do not want them to grow up associating confidence with brands. I don’t want them driven in a Rolls Royce, I don’t want them to feel entitled to have things. They need to learn to value of money and how to make it on their own. Now I have kids I am very mindful of brands. They come back and they talk and talk about the wealth of other families, or what cars they drive and how much they cost. And I want them to have a different concept of value.
Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?
I use a credit card, which earns miles. But I have it automatically set up to be paid at the end of the month, so I never earn interest charges. I don’t have an outstanding credit card statement, ever. It’s like getting free miles. I do not use cash. We are in the 21st century and it is cumbersome to track your expenses using cash. It teaches you also what you spend on. So I can look at the data and the numbers and realise where I am spending more than I should.