Money & Me: Dubai businessman learnt lessons from near-bankruptcy

The co-founder of German Imaging Technologies reveals how he turned his company's fortunes around from near bankruptcy.

Sassan Dieter Khatib Shahidi survived an early crisis with his ink company. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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Sassan Dieter Khatib Shahidi is the co-founder and chief executive of German Imaging Technologies (GIT), a toner cartridge manufacturer in Dubai that launched in 1999. The 47-year-old German-Iranian says the company’s fortunes have been eventful. GIT now has 80 employees.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I was educated as a corporate attorney and started by practising in Frankfurt in one of the top-10 law firms. By 26, I was earning more than Dh300,000 a year and was well-off as an employed person. After 10 years of working as a lawyer, I changed careers and became an entrepreneur. I used to come to Dubai on business trips, as my expertise was the Middle East. In 1999, along with two co-founders, I set up GIT with Dh1.5 million from our own funds. Low labour costs and taxation advantages in Dubai were attractive. We started by catering to one company, which was in Germany. But in 2000, it went bankrupt and we accumulated debt of about Dh2.5 million. I personally had US$20 in my pocket and we could not pay salaries for five months. We started with 40 staff members and went down to nine employees. We still have five or six employees from that time who believed in our vision. In the past five years, the company’s average growth rate was 25 per cent per year in revenue.

Are you a spender or saver?

I am a smart spender. I like spending, but its value for me lies in the experience. I don’t like looking at a pile of money and watching it grow like Scrooge McDuck.

What is your philosophy towards money?

For me, money brings convenience, comfort and most importantly experience, whether it is travelling, dining, adventuring or mountain climbing. I value a car that I like to drive, a famous red brand, but I thoroughly enjoy driving and that’s why I chose that car, not because it is a status symbol. A certain amount of money is required to cover the basic needs, and that depends on the person. Everything beyond that need level is a luxury.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

I am quite fortunate that I haven’t make any big mistakes. But in the first or second year of my legal career I had some savings and gave $15,000 to a private banker who invested it into the stock market. That $15,000 melted to $1,500 on paper, but in reality I never saw any of it again because his fees ate it up as well. I have shunned stock markets since. Business is the No 1 area where I put my money, and the second is property. I do not consider the near-bankruptcy we faced in 2000 after our client collapsed a mistake, because it was a valuable experience. It taught me the importance of cash flow.

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

It would go into my property portfolio or into my other investment portfolios.

What has been your best investment?

Definitely GIT. In the past 15 years we have grown to have six offices. It gives me the energy to get up in the morning. And we will be expanding in the Arabian Gulf and Africa in the next 10 years. Also, I invested in a mobile health platform in England last January, and within one year it grew six-fold. I became the key investor by acquiring 3 per cent of the company.

Do you plan for the future?

Of course. I have a 10-year-old son. We build for the family and the next generation. You want to give the best possible education to your children.

What do you enjoy spending money on?

Experiences. Last year, I climbed Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya in seven days. That was the most fulfilling experience of my life.

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