Money & me: Dubai entrepreneur with a taste for five-star dining

Earning $40 an hour as a polo groom during his teenage years is still a proud moment for Dubai entrepreneur Khatch Mikaelian as the minimum wage in the US at the time was $4.95.

Khatch Mikaelian has also lived in the United States. Victor Besa for The National
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Khatch Mikaelian is the founder and managing director of Kalian Branding, an agency he launched in 2009. The 37-year-old, from Armenia, grew up in Egypt and the US and has lived in the UAE for 14 years.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I’m not sure if it’s an Armenian thing, but money was not really talked about at home. I only started having a relationship with money once I started making it. However, what it takes to make money was often the subject. Watching both my parents work hard and stop at nothing to achieve their goals entirely shaped my attitude towards my own career. My focus has always been the work; the money somehow always followed.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

I was 14 and lived in Dallas, Texas. I used to take care of polo ponies at the stables and prepare them for polo matches. A polo player can use up to four different horses per match. I would be the kid who gets the ponies ready and helps the players with the swap mid-match. I made US$40 an hour at a time when the minimum wage was $4.95 an hour. I have always been proud of that.

Are you spender or saver?

I’m a good balance of both, however sometimes I’m confused as to what I’m saving for. I don’t see myself ever retiring and living off my savings. I constantly want the thrill of growing and earning. Saving is so tedious and safe. We all get one life. Making it count and enjoying experiences with loved ones is what it’s all about. If that makes me a spender, so be it.

What is your most cherished purchase?

In 2004 I made my first property purchase, a one-bedroom apartment in “new Dubai”. It proved to be a great investment and I refinanced it right before the crisis in late 2007. I used that money to start my branding agency in 2009. That one-bedroom has been the launch pad for my entrepreneurial career.

Where do you save?

My father at some point in my early twenties gave me a brief talk about saving money. He told me to figure out what’s “my thing”. Is it property, bonds, gold bullions and various other options? I wouldn’t say I’ve figured it out completely, but what I do know is I’m not an “all eggs in one basket” kinda guy.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Always cash. I recently visited the Apple store in Mall of Emirates and almost had a stroke when the Apple genius informed me that all purchases are done through the online store and directly debited from your account. There’s no cash counter in the entire shop.

What has been your best investment?

My branding agency. I put everything I had into it and couldn’t be happier about it. Over the years it has grown organically and has proven to have a life of its own. It might sound crazy but my business and I have a dialogue going. I listen to it and it guides me as much as I lead it.

What do you most regret spending money on?

It pains me to confess the kind of money I have spent on fine dinning in Dubai. Every other day there is a new five-star restaurant opening and it’s become normal to constantly be at one of these hot spots. And you inevitably start referencing the money you spend as the benchmark to what’s affordable. “I can afford to buy this treadmill, it’s like a night out for dinner”.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Don’t let it get to your head. Money says nothing about who you are, what you do with it says everything.

What would you raid your savings account for?

A dream home. I’m not talking about an MTV Cribs type of home with dolphins in the pool, cinema room and a 20-car garage but an actual home. Where I live has always been the most important aspect of my life.

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