Don’t put a price on talent, says Dubai entrepreneur

Former investment banker turned entrepreneur Fadel Belmahdi says he tended to overspend until making the decision to launch his own gourmet shawarma business.

Fadel Belmahdi went from living as an investment banker to being an entrepreneur. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
Powered by automated translation

An investment banker turned entrepreneur, Fadel Belmahdi is the co-founder and chief executive of S’wich, a gourmet shawarma retailer based in Dubai. The Algerian-born 30-year-old worked for Merrill Lynch and Credit Suisse in London and Dubai before forgoing the bonuses to launch S’wich with his business partner in May. The business has a delivery outlet in Dubai Marina and plans to expand by opening other outlets and a restaurant over the next 18 months.

Describe your financial journey so far.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster. As a student you learn how to manage your money and then I moved to investment banking, where you go from living from one bonus to another. After that I started my own business. Without the money I saved in banking, I wouldn’t have been able to start my own business. Entrepreneurship is rough as cost-cutting is everywhere to ensure you can stay afloat before you start. I always wanted to start my own business and be my own boss but I started off in banking first as I thought it would give me an edge.

Are you a spender or a saver?

It’s a bit of both. When I was in finance I sometimes tended to overspend but as soon as I knew I was going to start my own business I started saving more than spending. Generally, I think you go through phases where you spend and then save to be in a better financial position and to spend again.

What is your philosophy towards money?

It’s important but not that important. It gives you the flexibility and options to make decisions, especially in business. But it is not the most personal thing. It certainly gives you peace of mind, which is important when you’re starting a business.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

I have made so many. As a student, I completely mismanaged my money and, although my dad gave me financial advice, I had to survive on my own finances. Then as a banker I tended to overspend. As an entrepreneur now, I have to manage my money very carefully. The No 1 rule of starting a business is to save your money. As you get older the effects of your financial decisions have less of an impact.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

Right away, I would invest in my business. I believe in it 100 per cent and wouldn’t think twice about investing more in it. I would also consider investing in other entrepreneurs, as I see a lot of potential in the region. There’s a lot of good ideas here but sometimes they don’t see the light of day because what’s lacking is the money. I would invest as I’d like to help them and offer the advice I’ve gained from starting my own business. Obviously, I would look for a return on my investment.

What has been your biggest financial lesson?

That you cannot cut back on talent. I’m not really afraid of spending on the right people as you cannot put a price tag on talent. Talent is undervalued and you have to compensate staff to keep them motivated. We try to develop a culture at our business that encourages them to work but also stay happy. The beauty of a start-up is that there’s room for staff to grow and develop.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

Travelling. Travel keeps you sane and helps to clear your mind and it is always good to take a step back. My biggest challenge is finding the time to travel. Since university I have not had enough time. During banking I was working 20 hours a day and as an entrepreneur you never really stop. When I have the time I would like to visit South America, as I haven’t been and it’s somewhere I’ve always wanted to discover.

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF