Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 16 June 2019

Money & Me: 'My whole financial mindset changed the moment my daughter was born'

Advertising executive Jamie Atherton reveals how he went from feckless spender to cautious saver

Dubai resident Jamie Atherton sold his business AdZouk and is now the digital trading director of GroupM Mena. Leslie Pableo for The National
Dubai resident Jamie Atherton sold his business AdZouk and is now the digital trading director of GroupM Mena. Leslie Pableo for The National

Jamie Atherton, 41, recently became the head of digital trading for GroupM Mena – which is responsible for one in three adverts globally – after selling programmatic digital advertising business AdZouk, which he co-founded in 2011. His wife Karen is executive assistant at Shell and they have four children, Mila, 9, Archie, 7, Ella, 4, and Arlo, 2. Mr Atherton has lived in Dubai for 17 years and represented Great Britain as a triathlete in 2008-09. He also holds several world records, including one for being the only man to swim solo around The Palm Jumeirah.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I lived in Kuwait until I was 10 and dad, an engineer, was away a lot around the Middle East. Mum would always say that dad was working to give us a better future. That had a real impact. He taught me nothing is out of reach as long as you’re prepared to do the hard yards. The reason I had so much sporting success, have a lovely big family and have had business success has come off the back of him teaching me that.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

For a ridiculously early newspaper round, aged 13 or 14 and getting up at 5.45am six days a week, £3.25 (Dh15.27) a week. I will always remember cycling that route. Every Saturday, I would buy a mountain biking magazine and a bag of Skittles with my winnings.

Are you a spender or saver?

Certainly a saver. When you become a dad, your priorities completely change. Before, I didn’t budget, I didn’t even know how much disposable income I had. I had a flat share with my mates and I was partying, training and spending. My whole mindset changed the second my baby girl was born. That was in my early thirties. I didn’t even have a savings account. I was a real late bloomer when it came to saving.

What is your most cherished purchase?

I treated my brother to a trip to New York last year for his 47th birthday, Our favourite band, The War On Drugs, an indie rock band from Philadelphia, were playing on his birthday in Central Park. For flights, a hotel room, tickets and spending money, I think I paid Dh15,000. I would have spent twice as much. It was the most perfect holiday, one I’ll tell my grandkids about.


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

Plenty. In the last seven years I was not only growing a business but a family. Having four children in one of the most expensive cities in the world is a lot of financial commitment. People say you must be earning a fortune and I earn pretty good money, but it all gets swallowed up in outgoings, not having a Ferrari. In the early days of AdZouk, we would have to wait six months, sometimes a year, for agencies to pay us but we had to pay our partners and our staff’s salaries upfront, and I sometimes struggled to make ends meet for the family.

Where do you save?

I just save a little cash – and I do mean a little: Dh2,000 to Dh3,000 a month, Dh7,000 on good months. I’d love to be able to put my money into property but to buy property in Dubai is pretty expensive as an initial outlay. I can’t stand paying rent but there’s no other option.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

I hate putting money on a credit card. Just after we had Mila, I had accrued Dh25,000 on a credit card. I have no idea what I’d been spending it on. After paying it off, I decided: no more credit cards. I pay everything by cash or out of the account. I have a credit card, for emergencies only.

What has been your best financial investment?

Sports and educational classes and schooling for the kids. Mila swims with a professional coach, Ella has gym and athletics, Archie has extra-curricular maths. They go to a brilliant school, Foremarke. Schooling costs Dh275,000 a year in all and classes around Dh3,000 each per term. Whether they do sport in the future or not, it teaches them to work hard to achieve, never to quit and that nothing is impossible.

Mr Atherton says he regrets buying a BMW 3 series for Dh105,000 and selling it five months later for around Dh70,000. Leslie Pableo for The National
Mr Atherton says he regrets buying a BMW 3 series for Dh105,000 and selling it five months later for around Dh70,000. Leslie Pableo for The National

What do you most regret spending money on?

Before I met my wife I bought a BMW 3 series for Dh105,000 and sold it five months later for around Dh70,000. My mates had nice cars but I had a little rental car. It was me adhering to the social idea of Dubai, even though I couldn’t afford it.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Budget earlier. It was only once we had our first child that I really looked at my bank account and knew what was coming in and out. If I’d have done it earlier, I’d probably have property by now. Having a few thousand dirhams of disposable income left at the end of the month gives you peace of mind.

Do you have a financial plan for the future?

I just sold the business and made a few quid – not hundreds of thousands. It’s not like I made so much money from AdZouk that I can live on a beach for rest of my days. I took a few out to pay for some nice things. I’m still working out what to do with the rest.

Any ideas?

A year ago I was in a cafe and I started sketching a pair of sneakers a lad had on. I did art in high school and always wanted my own clothing brand, and I thought maybe I could make some T-shirts up. An hour later, I had a trade licence, a brand name and some guys working on a logo. I’ll Write You Letters is a passion project, Japanese street style. I get fabric from Japan and the US and have it sent here to be stitched. It’s built on fair trade and has massive potential. I put Dh100,000 in and any money it makes goes back in. Financially it’s not making anything of value right now but I have no doubt it will in the next two to three years. Potentially it’s the end game for me and the family.

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

I’d take the whole family on holiday – a holiday for six is pretty expensive. I’d take the kids to Disneyland Paris. My parents live in the south of France, so they could join us. The rest I’d stick in the bank – boring.

Updated: December 15, 2018 05:53 PM