x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Sometimes father knows best

For years, this Dubai dentist's carefree lifestyle took a toll on his bank balance, and a lack of savings delayed and nearly derailed his ambition to launch his own clinic.

Max Riewer, 39, the founder of Dubai Sky Clinic, had difficulty starting his business when banks were resistant to issue him a loan.
Max Riewer, 39, the founder of Dubai Sky Clinic, had difficulty starting his business when banks were resistant to issue him a loan.

My first job was on a production line in a soil factory. It was my task to catch big bags filled with soil and pile them up in a corner. After moving 5,000 bags a day, I was completely exhausted. If I managed to earn Dh400 at the end of a day-long shift, I considered myself very lucky. I qualified as a dentist in 1999. I studied in Munich, which we jokingly like to call Italy's most northern city. It's a lovely place and feels very different from the rest of Germany.

You don't have to pay anything to study at university - perhaps at worst a tiny fee of Dh1,000 a year. But don't forget we have very high taxes in Germany, so your parents do pay for your education in this way. But at least everyone gets the chance to study whether they are rich or poor. My first job as a dentist was in Luxembourg. A newly-qualified dentist earns a good wage, but it was always my goal to be my own boss. Coming from a family who has run a big flooring and parquet business for generations, one thing I always knew was that I didn't want to be working a seven-day week, like my father. Running my own business, I've followed in his footsteps in some respects, and despite my initial plans to the contrary, I am also working seven days a week. But I love it.

Although I initially came over to Dubai in 2003 to work for someone else, I think I always had in the back of my mind that I wanted to be my own boss. My first job as a dentist here paid about the same as a newly-qualified dentist could expect in Germany. Of course, when you are a young bachelor in a town full of other singles, saving money is not at the top of the list. My salary was enough for a small apartment and a car, but I didn't save anything at all.

With a new sensation opening every other week, I liked to spend my money on meeting friends and going out. When you have one drink and that costs you Dh40 or Dh60, you quickly spend what you earn. But I don't have a family or responsibilities, so I was making the most of living the life of a carefree bachelor. After a year, I decided the time was right to start thinking about my own project. I felt that I now knew the market better and had enough contacts to open my own business. But if you want to start a business in Dubai and borrow money from the banks to do so, they just laugh at you.

I found out that you need to be established for a minimum of three years in order to finance a new venture, such as a clinic. Plus, to open a dental surgery office, you need several million dirhams. It became clear to me that several million dirhams is quite a large amount of money to raise. Of course, I had none of my own savings. I realised very quickly that if you want to start something serious over here, you need to bring the money to town.

I am extremely lucky to be in a situation where my family runs a successful business; I am the only son, and so I turned to my father. We had a long discussion about my future and the future of the business. I told him that I wanted to do this project that would require several million dirhams and he looked at me and said: "I knew this would happen one day. I am going to give you the money." When I was growing up, we were never denied anything, and there were never any restrictions. If we were in a restaurant and I wanted the steak, there was no problem. My father would say: "Go ahead, have it."

But he also taught me respect for other cultures and people. When I was a young boy, we travelled quite a lot, and once I told him how much I enjoyed the five-star hotels. He took me out of our hotel and into the slums of Manila and told me that this was real life - here, where people were dying because they had no food. That left an indelible impression on me that you should be thankful for every day that you are lucky enough to be able to enjoy life and not worry about what you might order in a restaurant. Because many people are not so lucky.

Getting the money from my father was a very fortunate start for me, but it was also a risk. I didn't know whether the clinic would last. The clinic opened in 2006. Now we have seven doctors in the Dubai Sky Clinic Dental Centre, which is on the 21st floor of the Burjuman Centre, and by the end of the year we're going to open another clinic, double the size of the current one, in Jumeirah Lake Towers. I am now completely independent financially, and don't need to ask for money from my family or the banks.

The first time I really went into buying property was when I decided to open the second clinic. All my money at the moment goes into this project, every dirham I can save. I bought the office space for quite a few million dirhams and the construction goes on day and night. When I was looking around at which project to invest in, I thought "choose someone with a financially sound background". The tower is being built by a company owned by the government of Kuwait and they have a reputation to lose if they don't build it. Of course, the recession has seen property prices rise and fall, but because I bought off-plan at a good price, my investment there is still looking quite healthy.

I think I am old-fashioned about money. I was taught that it is better to buy property than go into speculation. I learned that from my dad. As I mentioned, I had always vowed to work only five days a week, but now I am working seven. So once a month, I disappear for four or five days. I'll fly to Thailand, Germany, or South Africa. That's how I burn a little bit of money. I still have my Jeep Wrangler that I bought seven years ago and I haven't moved out of my small rented apartment off of Sheikh Zayed Road. I was thinking of buying a small villa, but at the moment all my big investment priorities are for the business, not me.

People who know me know that I work very hard for my money, but these days I do try to spoil myself a little. If I see something in a restaurant that I want, I will order it. I think I spend a lot on clothes but quality always pays off - you have to do the calculation of how long something cheaper might last. My personal living expenses can easily run to Dh20,000 a month - this figure includes my travelling, food and clothes.

If someone's smart they can talk you into something, so I always go back to my family and ask them "what do you think". That's helped me a lot. I would have stepped in so many traps otherwise. It is very foolish of me, but I still don't have a pension plan. Germans are usually very conservative and my father is nagging me about it, but I don't have one yet. My only plan is to use the money from the second clinic towards a pension. I think I'm going to have to sit down with a specialist at some point and discuss more properly what I ought to do.

* As told to Jola Chudy