Money & Me: Dubai coastal engineering consultant surfing the highs and lows

Marine entrepreneur Lachlan Jackson started out in a surf shop earning Dh16 an hour. Today he can afford to spend Dh20,000 on a coffee machine, which he says is his best ever purchase.

Lachlan Jackson is the founder and managing director of Ecocoast Contracting, a UAE-based marine construction company he launched in 2009 and Ecobarrier Manufacturing, a marine manufacturing firm he set up in 2012. The Australian, 34, began his career in finance before launching several businesses, including a fashion label. Mr Jackson moved to Dubai 10 years ago to launch a branch office of an Australian coastal engineering consultancy.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

Even from when I was young I always had to work for my pocket money. My brother and I had a list of chores on the wall which had a set fee beside it and the maximum frequency we could do it per week. So for example 5 Australian cents (14 fils) for taking out the rubbish, but I could only do it twice per week to prevent me taking advantage of the system. It taught us the value of what we earned. I would save everything. As I was older, we were also incentivised in the same way to read books.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

When I was 15 in 1997, I worked in a surf store on the Gold Coast; I earned A$6 or A$7 an hour. Aside from a brief and uninspiring stint as an accountant, I kept this job until I graduated from university. I was the manager by this stage but I left it to start my own clothing fashion label. The store I’d worked at became one of our early clients.

Are you a spender or saver?

Definitely a saver. Not for anything in particular, I just need a safety net to weather the shocks you experience in business and to get through those rainy days.

What is your most cherished purchase?

A La Marzocco GS3 coffee machine about three years ago. It was around Dh20,000 – an obscene amount for a coffee machine – however hands down, the best purchase I have made.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

Too many for comfort. As a business owner I think that fear is always there in the background to varying degrees. You just learn to live with it.

Where do you save?

Quite a lot is tied up in my business, although I try to keep a good amount of cash in savings accounts to access if needed. Lately more and more is tied up in real estate or in higher interest investments such as Beehive, which I think is a great platform for the region.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Credit card wherever possible. I find it easier to manage than cash; you can track all your spending to budget, plus the points are a big draw for flights.

What has been your best investment?

Around three years ago I made a conscious decision to start devouring books on any subject that interested me; business, meditation, self-improvement, travel. Looking back I can see the cumulative change and the result of this. Any time spent on self-education and learning is a good investment.

What do you most regret spending money on?

Impulse purchases. For this reason I usually try to stall on decisions. If I find the idea grows, I go with it but quite often I find a week later some of the shine has worn off, which indicates it wasn’t a great idea.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

To always do your due diligence on an investment. It is easy with the online world to lose sight of the fact that electronic money is the same as physical money when you are moving it around. Imagine every investment or expense as if you are paying for it with physical cash.

Do you have a plan for the future?

At this point, my three-year focus is solely on the business and taking it into a new phase of our growth internationally.

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

Help other SMEs in the region. I would find a start-up with a cause I believed in, real potential and invest in them.

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