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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 17 December 2018

Money & me: 'The basic life was not enough for me'

Canadian Rohan Nathan started buying mutual funds and stocks as a teenager with his income from a part-time accountancy job

Rohan Nathan, of Nathan & Nathan, secured his first job at 15 doing a newspaper round in Toronto, Canada.  Pawan Singh / The National
Rohan Nathan, of Nathan & Nathan, secured his first job at 15 doing a newspaper round in Toronto, Canada. Pawan Singh / The National

Rohan Nathan became an entrepreneur at the tender age of 24, co-founding the HR and employee outsourcing company Nathan & Nathan fresh out of university, in 2012. The other ‘Nathan’ in the company title is his father, Gabriel Nathan, who is the chief executive. Their Dubai-based company has now grown to a staff of 260, and generates annual revenues of over Dh50 million. As well as being managing partner of Nathan & Nathan, the Canadian Mr Nathan, 29, oversees two other subsidiaries under the Nathan & Nathan umbrella - Dynamic Employment Services, which specialises in recruitment and contract staffing, and GN Document Clearing Services.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I come from an upper middle class Indian family, so my parents were fairly conservative when it came to money. I grew up in Canada until I was nine, when we moved to Dubai. My dad was a bank employee back then, so my parents were always focused on saving for the future. They taught my younger sister and I to be fairly frugal, but not to compromise when it comes to spending money on life experiences.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

When I was 14, I moved back to Toronto to finish high school, returning to Dubai for vacations to see my family. At the age of 15, I did a newspaper round for about eight months, for which I was paid around CAD$30 (Dh87) a week. The hard part was doing it in the Canadian winter – it got down to minus 20 some mornings. But it was a good learning experience. Newspaper delivery is such a small job that it's almost invisible to the public eye, but still supports the distribution of large corporates.

What other jobs did you have as a high school student?

For 18 months, I earned up to CAD$400 a week as a part-time accountant at a supermarket chain close to my house. I invested most of my earnings directly myself - I had a local bank account, and through that I bought mutual funds, as well as shares in the New York and Toronto stock exchanges.

What drove your interest in finance at such an early age?

I just had this real passion for stock exchanges. I was gearing up my life towards becoming an investment banker, which is why I went on to study finance and actuarial sciences at the University of Western Ontario. I did a number of unpaid internships in Dubai during my university years, such as at KPMG and Merrill Lynch. But when I was about to graduate, I realised that I’d rather be sitting at the other side of the financial table - I wanted to start up a business of my own.

What made you make that jump to becoming an entrepreneur?

In Dubai, I could see people around me doing really well, and a lot of businesses growing quickly. The basic life was not enough for me, I wanted more than that. I quickly realised that being employed was a difficult way to make it, because you have limited revenue potential.

How did you make sure that you weren’t overspending as you grew the company?

We needed about Dh120,000 to initially set up the business, which I borrowed from family members. Luckily, there was more intellectual capital than infrastructure set up required, so our overheads weren’t too high. We funded most of our growth through cash generation in the business – getting more clients on board, and expanding.

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Read more:

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Did you pay yourself a salary?

Not for the first three years of operation. I’d take out money from time to time for my living expenses, but the bare minimum, because everything had to go back into the business. We had no loans and didn’t take on any equity investors, and we maintained a fairly frugal lifestyle so we could keep putting money back into the company to grow it. We only took out what money was required for life’s necessities. I do reward myself with a regular salary now, and we’re able to generate profits and take out from that at the end of the year.

Are you also planning for the future?

I got married a year ago, which means a lot has changed in my life. But since we don’t yet have kids, I don’t have to put in place any kind of financial plan for a child yet, so I’m still able to really focus on continuing to grow the business. Much of the money I spend is on travel, and getting recharged to keep running the business at the extremely fast pace that life requires.

Where do you like to travel to?

I just came back from London. Generally, at least once a year, I like to travel to Europe, and also to a place I’ve never been before. I usually try to upgrade to business class if the airline gives me a special deal, but I don’t feel I require it - I’m still young enough to sit at the back of the plane.

What’s your philosophy towards money?

I think people have very emotional sentiments attached to money, and a lot of the time that’s a very negative thing. I don’t think money brings peace of mind or freedom. Money is a measure of somebody’s choices in life. I find that people who are employed focus a lot more on saving money and managing their revenues. The business perspective on the other hand, which is my formula, is to grow your income stream substantially, so that savings grow automatically. You earn much more than you have to spend, and you save as a by-product of that.

What’s your most cherished purchase?

My Porsche sports car, which is white with red interiors. I do a lot of sales work, which involves driving to different offices and hotels to meet people. It’s nice to drive around in something comfortable. My other car is a Mercedes.

Where do you save?

I believe that real estate is always a good investment, especially in Dubai with its high rental yields. The fundamentals are very strong - the tourism boom is really supporting the economy, and there are so many new people coming in. I own a house in Dubai that I rent out - we don’t live there because it’s too big for two people. My wife and I rent a house on the Palm to live in. I also put money into mutual funds and expose some money to high-risk stocks in emerging markets.

Where do you see yourself 20 years from now?

We’re keeping our options open, but definitely buying more property is on the agenda. I see myself living out of Dubai and possibly one other place in the world, having kids, investing and growing more businesses. I’d love to own a house in the mountains of Austria because I like to ski, and because my wife is German so we have strong ties to Europe.

What’s been your best investment?

Definitely real estate, and also my business.

What luxuries are important to you?

I like watches. My most expensive watch is my Audemars Piguet – I don’t want to say how much it cost, but it was over Dh50,000. I also like to spend money on keeping myself socially active and engaged with the community, because it helps to expand my network in the city. That generates more business, which increases my earnings.