Money & Me: 'My luxury is changing cars every two years'
The Nikon Middle East executive started with a Mitsubishi Lancer in 2003 and has since driven a Toyota Land Cruiser and a BMW 7 Series
Narendra Menon grew up in a village in Kerala and is now the managing director of Nikon Middle East, based in Jebel Ali free zone. Initially trained as an accountant, he followed in his parents’ footsteps and moved to the UAE in 2003. Mr Menon, now 46, lives in Jumeirah Village Circle with his wife, an HR manager, daughter, 13, and son, eight.
How did your upbringing shape you attitude towards money?
Up until the age of 12 my parents were away in Abu Dhabi, as my father worked in IT with an oil company. My mother was a housewife. They moved to the UAE in 1978. My elder sister and I stayed with grandparents in an ancestral house. We had a pond, cows and a small pet elephant. For 10 years, our two-month summer vacation used to be in Abu Dhabi. Getting in a plane was a dream come true.
With grandparents you have restrictions on fund availability. They had their eight daughters and sons, a great family, to take care of. They had to budget. That has helped me to plan my life. They had enough for what was required, taking care of sickness, eating good food. My father, the son in law, was sending money from Abu Dhabi to take care of our education. I remember the postman coming every month with a money order telegram. My father retired (to India) in 1988 and had enough money to buy a house. I’ve seen while growing up that money comes in the prime age, but it’s so important to plan for your wintertime.
I lost money, not big money, on shares in my twenties. I worked with a share broker - he said my timing selling was wrong, but I wanted the money at that point and had to sell.
Narendra Menon, Nikon Middle East
What were you paid in your first job?
We used to get power cuts in India. I was 18, at college studying commerce and finance; I’d sell battery packs you connect when the power goes. I used to make a little commission to take care of petrol for my bike. I made about 1,500 Indian rupees (Dh78) a year.
The first (proper) job was with Unilever - I was 23, a salesman for brands such as Ponds and Lux, earning about 4,000 rupees a month plus about 1,500 for an expenses allowance; I started investing it for my retirement.
What is your philosophy towards money?
It helps with good wellbeing. If you don’t have money, or plan with money properly, things can become a big problem in your life. Financial discipline is something we need to inculcate to the entire population. I’m not unhappy when I don’t have enough money - it’s a state of mind; it depends on your goal or lifestyle. If I have food in the Burj Khalifa every day I don’t have enough; if I have basic food I have enough money for three generations.
What brought you to Dubai?
Being from Kerala there is an ambition in everybody’s blood to go to the Gulf. In 2003 we came for the shopping festival for 15 days. I had relatives here. We started seeing the lifestyle - I realised Dubai was the place I needed to be. On the third day I started looking for a job; I secured one with Sony as a sales executive. I was earning Dh4,200; Dh4,000 was the minimum required to sponsor a wife and child at that time. We moved into Sharjah. I joined Nikon in 2011 and in 2016 became managing director.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I’m a saver. I always wanted to be independent. If you don’t save today you might come across things in your life that are beyond your control. It is better to have money to fight a situation.
Where do you save?
I’m not a person who takes a lot of risk. I did a lot of saving in India through mutual funds and share trading; you have to have time and patience to hold; I was not good at doing that. My investments now are more the retirement kind, insurance, bonds where returns are not high but are assured. Everything I’m doing now will start coming back at the age of 52 to 56.
What luxuries do you enjoy spending on?
Changing cars every two years. You have to motivate yourself. When I change my car it’s not for status, it is for my motivation. My first visit to Abu Dhabi was in 1978. We could see what money could buy. I became crazy about cars - each gives a different kind of pleasure. Four years ago I had a Land Cruiser, which for an Indian is the ultimate. I had a 7-Series BMW before I got promoted to managing director. I then got a car with the job, a Nissan Maxima 3.5L.
What has been your best investment?
Land in Kerala, bought in 2010. A close friend went into business in real estate. He partnered with me to develop flats. If the project finishes in 2019 I will get four times the investment. After I became managing director, we purchased our Dubai house rather than paying rent.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My first car, a Lancer 1.3GL; it was Dh37,500 new. Being a rally fan, Mitsubishi was always the car. When I moved to Dubai I bought it within six months of arriving. It was a landmark.
Is there anything you regret spending on?
Shares in my 20s. I lost money, not big money, but (I got) less than I invested. I worked with a share broker - he said my timing selling was wrong, but I wanted the money at that point and had to sell. That made me fear stocks and shares, even mutual funds. If I’d have invested in a bank savings account I would have earned more - at that point it was 15/16 per cent interest in India.
Do you prefer paying with cash or credit card?
Credit card. My bank offers 10 per cent cash-back if you spend more than Dh10,000 - I don’t get that paying by cash. I pay it off 100 per cent.
Are you wise with money?
I always believed it necessary to save before you spend. I’m very disciplined. After my graduation I did chartered accountancy. I completed three years of audit in India and understood it was not the job I wanted to do. But it helped me become what I am today.
I have an Excel sheet. Every weekend I spend at least half an hour posting my expenses; I have lots of headings I work under; contingency fund, car maintenance fund, education support. How much I am getting, how I am spending it. I share my Excel sheets with my son and daughter, give them that thought process. They don’t see my actual income, but they know how I am working.
Do you plan for the future?
I have funds kept for my daughter’s marriage and my son’s education in my Excel. There are funds that will come back as money to my son from the age of 18 to 23, for his education.
If you won Dh1m, what would you spend it on?
My debts are cleared immediately - the mortgage - and the balance goes into a fixed deposit account in India and I’ll spend the interest. I love Japan and want to take my family there, as well as to South Africa.
Updated: February 28, 2019 12:08 PM