Ashok Sawlani is a partner at Royal Traders, a textiles wholesale trading company, and its subsidiary Royal Fashion, a bespoke tailoring business that has six branches across Dubai.
Money & Me: Respect for money brings success
Ashok Sawlani is a partner at Royal Traders, a textiles wholesale trading company, and its subsidiary Royal Fashion, a bespoke tailoring business that has six branches across Dubai. From India, Mr Sawlani was 18 when he moved to the UAE to join the family business, which was started by his father in the 1950s.
Describe your financial journey so far.
It's been quite smooth, thankfully. When I joined the family business in 1969, for the first six years I worked as an employee and drew a salary. I never had any problem with money because my expenses were low and there was hardly anything to spend it on in Dubai back then. That changed in 1977, when I got married and my expenses started moving up a bit. I became a partner in the business in 1975 after the previous partner left the company. Because it's a family business, I was, in effect, already a partner. So although it was made official on paper, it didn't make any difference to me.
Why did you decide to join the family business rather than go your own way?
If somebody is learning to swim and you put him in the pool, he will struggle. But if you put him in a flowing river, he doesn't have to struggle, he will just float. Joining a family business means you can reach your destination faster. I was studying commerce at university in Mumbai and visited my brother in Dubai. He told me I could learn everything I was going to learn at college in four years in a year at the business. So I dropped out of university and I have no regrets.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I'm more of a saver. I've always had a cautious approach in terms of spending money. I've learnt from people who have been reckless with their incomes and have had to close down their businesses.
What is your philosophy towards money?
Respect your money and the money will respect you. I also believe in putting your money to good use. Over the past 15 years, I have given some of my income to charity. After the earthquake in Gujarat in India in 2001, I set up Shelter India to build houses for deserving families, with five of my friends.
What has been your biggest financial challenge?
During 2006, 2007 and even at the start of 2008, the subject was always property in Dubai. As a business, we'd never touched property. But in 2007, we were standing there talking to people looking like fools because we hadn't invested when they had made millions of dirhams. So we entered the market and, sure enough, what we bought suffered a huge paper loss. We invested in 15 properties, but, thankfully, we hadn't had to borrowto fund them. Some are being built, some are being handed over, and on two, the developers disappeared.
What has been your most valuable financial lesson?
We used to extend credit to wholesalers in Iran. Then in 1982, we lost quite a bit of money. So we decided not to give any credit to customers in that country. I'm happy that I did that because since then, a lot of my friends working in the textile market have dealt with Iran, given them credit and lost money.
What do you spend your money on?
I enjoy travelling with my family and take a minimum of two holidays a year. My daughters are both married - one lives in India, the other in Hong Kong - so they come to us and we visit them. But my wife is the one with the credit cards.
What was the worst financial advice you ever received?
Putting money into long funds with different banks. In the 1980s, I placed US$100,000 (Dh367,320) in one fund and five years down the line, they give me $54,000. I lost five years' worth of interest plus another $46,000. I've yet to see any banker who can give me a good return on my investments. I don't know if I should blame them or blame my own luck. It's not my destiny to make easy money - my destiny is to make good money, but from hard work.
What element of your business are you passionate about?
Royal Fashion. I set it up in 1992 because customers weren't happy getting their tailoring delivered from somewhere else after buying fabric from us. Before launching, I travelled to London and visited a couple of tailors in Savile Row. I filmed them, showed my workers and told them: "This is the standard we need to maintain." Our suits range from Dh1,200 to Dh45,000 because we have some of the best fabrics in the world. I have not bought anything ready-to-wear in the past 20 years; I only buy from my own shop.