Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 21 September 2020

Money & Me: 'Robert Kiyosaki changed the way I think about money'

Entrepreneur Prem Ramachandran says the Rich Dad, Poor Dad author once told him 'schools teach us how to learn but not how to earn'

Prem Ramachandran, of White Water Public Relations, says he was 'atrocious' at maths at school but got a handle on money when he did a commerce degree at university. Leslie Pableo for The National
Prem Ramachandran, of White Water Public Relations, says he was 'atrocious' at maths at school but got a handle on money when he did a commerce degree at university. Leslie Pableo for The National

Prem Ramachandran is the founder and chief executive of Dubai-based White Water Public Relations, which manages more than 165 brands in the technology, health care, consumer goods and entertainment sectors. Mr Ramachandran, 46, moved to the UAE 18 years ago from his native India. After working for a couple of companies, the global financial crisis in 2008 prompted him to quit his communications job in real estate and go into business for himself. The entrepreneur is married and has two sons, one attending university in the UK and the other at an international school in Dubai.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I grew up in the western Indian city of Pune, outside Mumbai. When I was 13, we moved to Afghanistan for four years, when my father was posted to the Indian embassy. My parents worked for the defence forces and they didn’t have a business background, so we were not financially prudent as a family. We never had discussions on how to save money or multiply it. On top of that, I was an atrocious maths student and bad with numbers.

I put roughly 10-15 per cent of the income aside as savings. I try to save by cutting costs that can be avoided.

Prem Ramachandran

So how did you learn about money then?

My commerce degree was a personal turning point: I was forced to deal with numbers both in economics and finance. I also learnt to deal with money in those years. On some days I used to save those few rupees by not taking a bus and walking to college, so I could spend the money on a sandwich and tea instead.

How much were you paid in your first job?

My first job was in sales, while I was pursuing my MBA in Pune in 1994. I joined Standard Chartered Bank and sold 57 credit cards in the very first month. I earned Dh400 per month, including sales commissions.

What has been your biggest financial inspiration?

Besides learning from life, my biggest financial inspiration is Robert Kiyosaki, whom I met in Dubai. His book, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, changes the way you think about money. He told me that 'schools teach you how to learn but not how to earn', and it is very important for everyone to know how to earn money.

What is your most cherished purchase?

That would be the three-bedroom apartment I bought in Pune in 2016. It has a view of the river and green fields and a golf course. It’s perfect because I love nature. This is probably my best investment so far — not from a monetary perspective as it has only appreciated by about 5 or 10 per cent in the short term, but I see it appreciating in the longer term.

Where do you save?

I put roughly 10-15 per cent of the income aside as savings. I try to save by cutting costs that can be avoided. Sometimes 'need to have' is better than 'like to have'.

What prompted you to launch your own business?

It was always on my radar, but I took the plunge in 2008. I was working with one of Dubai’s largest property developers and the real estate industry had been severely impacted by the global recession and the subprime crisis. I mustered up the courage to move out and start White Water Public Relations in Dubai at the peak of the recession and we’ve survived 11 years.

How much start-up capital did you require?

I started with roughly Dh50,000, using a mix of personal savings and funds I had received as a gratuity. When you start your business you always cherish your first big order. Ours was from a bank in 2010, and it was worth over Dh250,000 annually.

Mr Ramachandran says expatriates that plan to be in the UAE for even five years should buy a house to save on rent. Leslie Pableo for The National
Mr Ramachandran says expatriates that plan to be in the UAE for even five years should buy a house to save on rent. Leslie Pableo for The National

What is your biggest financial goal?

My money aims are to keep my company completely debt-free, to create some assets back home in India, and to save some funds for the rainy day. I have bootstrapped and never raised funds but now the business is planning to scale up its operations on a fast-track basis and we hope to offload stake in the company and further capitalise on the opportunities.

What has been your best investment?

Family vacations, particularly a cruise to Spain, Italy, France and Monaco. Life is all about memories and it’s important to create a canvas that you will remember in your old age. Another investment has been my kids’ education as that’s one of the best investments parents can make to secure their future.

What financial goals have you already met?

I still have a long way to go. I am currently focusing on my children’s higher education and on growing the business. Higher education abroad, such as in the UK or US, is easily at least Dh500,000 for a four-year course per child depending on the university and their chosen stream. So, you need to have a budget in place if you want to send your kids to international schools.

How many properties have you invested in?

I have three properties in India, including one in Kerala. I bought my first house in India, back in the late nineties, as I never thought that I would be moving out of the country.

I rent my property in Garhoud in Dubai. The UAE is a great and safe place to raise a family. But if you plan to be here for even five years I’d advise buying a house so you can save on rent. Even if you sell it, you’d still get a good return on your investment.

What financial lesson have you learnt as an entrepreneur?

Never take your eye off the smallest of expenses. For instance, if you are having a recurring [monthly] expense worth say Dh2,000 then it is actually Dh24,000 per year. That’s just one of the many overheads. Is that necessary? Can you look at a cheaper package?

Do you have any financial regrets?

Yes. If you take a personal or a business loan without submitting any collateral, then the rate of interest is going to be a whopping 25 per cent per year or higher. I did so on one occasion for personal needs, and I’ve learnt the hard way. I’ll never tread that route again.

What has been the biggest financial hurdle?

When clients delay payments because of their internal situations and market challenges. This impacts the immediate cash flow situation, and on one such occasion, I had to dip into my savings to ensure smooth sailing. These are lessons for life and we now have a strict payments policy.

What luxuries are important to you?

I love watching movies, travelling the world and meeting people from across different cultures. They’re simple luxuries.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

Dh2,150 and 75 fils.

What car do you drive?

I drive a Land Cruiser Prado for its off-roading capabilities.

Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?

I swear by cash and advise everyone, especially entrepreneurs, to be really careful when it comes to credit cards. You can get into a financial whirlpool if you don’t know how to use your credit cards.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Save money and spend on a need-to-need basis. Appoint a financial adviser early in the game. Read up on future market trends earlier to be better equipped.

What would you raid your savings account for?

An emergency, otherwise I don’t intend touching it.

Updated: January 23, 2020 08:57 PM

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