x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Money & Me: Nothing came easily for Jelena

The multitasking mom Jelena Jakovijevic bin Drai works hard so her children will not have to struggle.

Jelena Jakovijevic bin Drai wanted only the best when she designed Asya's Nursery, which she co-owns. Pawan Singh / The National
Jelena Jakovijevic bin Drai wanted only the best when she designed Asya's Nursery, which she co-owns. Pawan Singh / The National

Jelena Jakovijevic bin Drai is the co-owner of Asya's Nursery - the first and only nursery for children aged six months to four years to open on the Palm Jumeirah in Dubai. Mrs Jakovijevic bin Drai, from Serbia, who has lived in the UAE for 11 years, also owns three salons and is launching a luxury couture-dress range called Duchess

Describe your financial journey so far.

My parents were both highly educated and for them, the most important thing was that I study architecture at university. However, the situation in Serbia was really bad at the time and they were not able to pay for both my brother and I to study, so I decided to become a model. I worked at an international level for almost 10 years, helping my parents to pay for my brother's studies in traffic engineering. During the last three years of my modelling career, I did distance learning in management, economics and diplomacy. I've always been very determined and never like to leave things unfinished.

What is your philosophy towards money?

All of us need money to live and you can't survive if you don't work. Money is important to make your life easier and I'm doing all this hard work to make my daughter's life easier. At the same time, I work because I can't sit at home and do nothing. I am not a slave to money, but I am using it to have a better life.

Why did you decide to set up a nursery?

I wanted a nursery for my 20-month-old daughter and despite visiting several, there was something missing from all of them, whether it was the hygiene of the place or the level of knowledge of the staff. People told me I was too picky, but I wanted the perfect place and if there are hotels in Dubai with seven stars, why don't we have seven-star nurseries? So, one day I told my husband I could not find what I was looking for and we had to open a nursery for Asya. He told me: "If you think you can bring something new and really special, why not?" On the Palm, we could open in the ground floor of a building we already owned, so it was a great opportunity to introduce something new.

How did you ensure your nursery was different?

Starting from the interior, everything is either custom made or from Pottery Barn. The wallpaper is from Portugal, the carpets from the US and the padded flooring from Germany. For a full day, we charge Dh16,400 a term, including meals, and while 70 per cent of our parents come from Palm Jumeirah, we're also capturing the Marina, Tecom, Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa. This nursery appeals to parents who are looking for that one step up from the rest.

Are you a spender or a saver?

A saver. Some people will say I'm stingy. But I think I am wise because I know how hard my staff work to earn their dirhams, so I can't just go and splash my money around. I'm not someone who likes to show off. There are certain luxuries I do like, though, so if you asked me to choose between spending money on luxury jewellery or a business-class flight, I'd choose the business-class flight because comfort is more important to me than materialistic goods.

Have you experienced any financial difficulties along the way?

When I launched my first salon, Vanilla, everything went smoothly until I delivered my first child and couldn't look after the business properly. It was during the height of the financial crisis and the salon wasn't doing very well. When you have a business, you have to be there 24 hours a day. Now I have managers who run the business like it's their own and it's working better than ever.

What has been your biggest financial lesson?

Learning how to manage money during the war in Serbia in the late 1980s and early 1990s. During the war, we went from living a nice, normal life to living on tomatoes and potatoes within a few weeks. While I can live in wealth, I'm not scared of starting from the beginning again because I've done that already.

What do you like to invest in?

My businesses. I like to watch my businesses grow. I once told myself that before I turned 30, I would establish a proper business and invest all the money and knowledge I gained from working in the modelling industry into something worthwhile.

What financial advice do you want to pass on to your children?

I am about to give birth to my second child and am doing all of this to make my children's lives easier. They don't need to go through everything that I went through, but they have to learn that nothing comes easy in life. You can't build somebody's personality properly and make them a good and wise person if you give them everything on a plate.