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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Money & Me: 'My electricity got cut off and I spent a night without power or water'

Leva Hotels owner, JS Anand, reveals the cash flow challenges that come with being an entrepreneur

JS Anand, the owner and founder of Leva Hotels in Dubai, says there have been many occasions when he could not afford to pay his bills. Reem Mohammed/The National
JS Anand, the owner and founder of Leva Hotels in Dubai, says there have been many occasions when he could not afford to pay his bills. Reem Mohammed/The National

Canadian JS Anand is the owner and founder of the new Leva Hotels brand in Dubai. Mr Anand, 49, has lived in Dubai for six years with his wife and their 16-year-old Yorkipoo dog. The hotelier was born and raised in India before working in the Philippines, Thailand and Canada, at the Marriott, InterContinental Group and Hilton hotels. His first apartment hotel opened in the Mazaya Centre in November, with further hotels planned in Dubai Marina, Al Jaddaf and Barsha.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in Mumbai with two older brothers. Money was scarce in the beginning; we were living off basic amenities and my father, an anaesthesiologist, moved to Basra in Iraq to work. For the next 10-12 years my mother, a gynaecologist, stayed at home with us but then they moved to Saudi Arabia together after she retired, while we stayed in Mumbai with a maid servant for a couple of years. My father believed nothing should be handed over on a platter and we had to do a lot of chores - the washing up, making our beds and even, occasionally, cleaning floors and the toilet.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

It wasn’t the culture in India back then to have part-time jobs for pocket money. By 25, I was working at the Leela Kempinski in Mumbai earning 3,500 rupees (Dh179) a month as a sales executive in management training. I stayed for two years.

Are you a spender or saver?

Initially I was a spender; I’m now a much more practical saver. I have always liked looking after other people. Back in school I used to buy snacks for classmates and rack up bills on credit. In my mid-twenties and early thirties, before I moved to Canada, I got multiple credit cards - I did not understand credit and thought you just spent it and don’t have to return it. I ended up with five lakh rupees of debt (500,000 rupees) (Dh25,517) and settled with the banks eventually when I went back to India, paying 3.2 lakh rupees (320,000 rupees) (Dh16,330) over two years.

What made you change your ways?

Moving abroad and seeing the lifestyle in the West was quite the change for me, to understand the value of money, of living on your own with no parents to support you. I moved there with my wife, as sales manager of the Renaissance hotel in Vancouver… and then I got retrenched. I ended up working at a call centre for $8 (Dh22) an hour and pumping gas in minus 40 celsius. It made me realise how difficult it is to be on your own and survive.

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What is your most cherished purchase?

My wife gave me a Dh2,000 Mont Blanc pen five years ago for my 45th birthday.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Many times in Canada. But even in the last year, too. When I was trying to set up my first hotel in Deira, the market took a beating from an economic standpoint. As the operator, I was getting Dh35,000 a month in pre-opening management fees a month from the owner - but then the fees stopped in December, after six months, and I had no incoming monies to run the house, the office, to pay salaries. My Dewa got cut off and we spent one night without electricity, with candles, the doors open and no water, until friends helped us out. A month later I got funding from an Abu Dhabi businessman to lease a hotel and I took over half the Mazaya Centre to set up 178 serviced apartments.

Where do you save?

I am most comfortable as an investor in real estate. I’m not a bonds-and-wealth management kind of guy. I own my three-bedroom house in Arabian Ranches as well as a two-bedroom apartment in Mumbai and - my inheritance from my parents - one floor of their house in Mumbai. We keep cash in the bank, always in the UAE, nowhere else. I live here, I’ve started a business here, there is no reason to put money in Canada or India.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

For the last five to 10 years, always cash. I do not prefer credit. Especially in this part of world. If you don’t pay it back, the repercussions are not very healthy.

What has been your best financial investment?

I bought the apartment in Mumbai for 30 lakhs (three million rupees) (Dh153,000) 10 years back and it’s worth 2.5 crore (25 million rupees) (Dh1.28 million) now. And I got a great deal on the Ranches villa - a 7,000 square-foot plot for Dh2.7 million. It’s probably still worth the same.

Mr Anand says he won't retire until he is 75 as he would not know what to do with his time. Reem Mohammed/The National
Mr Anand says he won't retire until he is 75 as he would not know what to do with his time. Reem Mohammed/The National

What do you most regret spending money on and how much was it?

I don’t have any regrets. I’ve not made wrong decisions financially, because I never had enough anyway. I always wanted to have a good life with the wife - and it’s working out.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Don’t go overboard. Live within your means. Work hard. Understand why you have money. Understand that life will get tougher once you grow up. Take responsibility, take on challenges. Keep some money away for a rainy day. Make wise investments. Don’t take credit. I’m following all of those now…

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

I’d like to buy a retirement home in Europe, probably Spain, Portugal or Cyprus. When will I retire? 75. I love working, I do 18-hour days: I wake up at 3.30am and go to sleep at 11pm. I wouldn’t know what to do with myself if I retired.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

I’m madly in love with animals so I would probably build a stray centre for animals. If they’re abandoned, nobody’s there for them. I might even take some revenues from the hotel business to support some Dubai animal organisations. It’s our responsibility as humans to look after animals.

What would you raid your savings account for?

Only if someone else needed it - my wife, my in-laws or if my parents, if they were still alive. I do stuff for other people.