Money and me: Importance of a safety net

Retail executive's entrepreneurial spirit was learnt from his father who worked hard and transformed the family's fortunes in the process.
Stephen Holbrook says he got where he is today because of his education. Victor Besa for The National
Stephen Holbrook says he got where he is today because of his education. Victor Besa for The National

Stephen Holbrook is the executive director of apparel at the Kamal Osman Jamjoum retail group. The 45-year-old, from the UK, who moved to the UAE two years ago, has more than 20 years of apparel industry experience managing brands such as Playtex, Wonderbra, Gossard and Shock Absorber.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I grew up in a family where my parents were very young and often struggled to make ends meet. We did not have a lot, but my father, who has been my biggest influence in this regard, worked incredibly hard and persevered. After some years he became very successful and this completely transformed our lives as a family. We learnt how to live without, but equally, learnt how to appreciate it when those circumstances changed. I am now an executive director of apparel at the KOJ Retail Group (Dh 1billion-turnover company) and my financial journey continues every day. We are a successful and cash-rich business, and do not hesitate to invest that money on expanding with new innovation and territories. But we are also a lean organisation, ever aware of how we spend our money.

Are you a spender or saver?

When I was younger I was without a doubt a spender. I lived for holidays and spent a fortune staying in amazing hotels, experiencing the unique cultures of countries around the world. Now that I have a wife and family, I have changed my ways somewhat. We still have amazing holidays, but now the accommodation looks slightly different. I need to raise three daughters and plan for their education and future, so the focus has shifted.

What is your philosophy towards money?

Money gives you options; it’s just how the world works. And when I need more money, I work harder. This stems from an entrepreneurial spirit, and the example my father provided.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

Who hasn’t? In the 1990s I was destined to become the next dot-com millionaire and invested what was a substantial amount of money for us at the time in internet shares. Destiny had other plans for me though. When the company went bust, I lost all I had invested. Lessons I learnt from this: don’t buy into hype, it’s an idea and probably not real. Look for the substance behind the idea. If that is sound, the rest will take care of itself.

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

I would buy property, without a doubt. It would be great if that property happened to be a cosy ski chalet, perched on a powder-white mountain side.

What has been your best investment?

My education. I am where I am today because of it; it expanded my horizons, opened doors and transformed my thinking about business, finance and the economic world that surround us. I refer to not only formal education, but also the learning you receive while working for industry leaders in large organisations. Every day I learn and I try to pass that on to others through mentoring. The other great investment I’ve made is a property we bought in the UK in 2008. It was a frightening amount of money for us at the time and took real commitment, but it’s provided excellent returns.

Do you plan for the future?

I do plan, but I also try to stay flexible. Getting too caught up in following a plan can result in missing out on opportunities too. My approach is: don’t be scared of the future, but always put a little bit of money by (you won’t even miss it). The day your plan takes an unexpected detour, you know you can take care of things.

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Published: December 26, 2014 04:00 AM


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