Money & Me: The UAE nursery boss who knows how to string out a sandwich

At times in their financial journey, entrepreneur Tania Siddiqi and her husband have been so broke, they had to make a Subway sandwich last for two meals.
Tania Siddiqi plans to extend Masterminds Education across the Middle East. Victor Besa for The National
Tania Siddiqi plans to extend Masterminds Education across the Middle East. Victor Besa for The National

Tania Siddiqi is the co-founder and director of Masterminds Education, a business offering a nursery and kindergarten-level education which is headquartered in the US. Ms Siddiqi holds the regional licence and plans to develop schools across the Mena region. The Canadian, 39, has been in the UAE for seven years and is married with an eight year-old daughter.

Describe your financial journey so far:

There have been times in my life, like when I was working for a private bank, that I had plenty of money. And there have been times, like when my husband and I started our first business in New York in 2001 and things didn’t go as planned and we were com­pletely broke. We had to live on splitting a US$5 Subway sandwich for lunch and dinner. This was for about a year and I think the “hunger” and lessons of that time taught us well.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My dad was a self-made man who didn’t really have the best of health. His entire focus was to have enough savings so that when he passed away, his three daughters and wife would be very comfortable. He met that goal but also died at 52 and I never saw him do anything for himself. For a long time, I rebelled against saving only because I would hate to die tomorrow and not fulfil my dreams. But I am also a parent now, and I have become better at balancing between saving and living life. Money will never control me, though. You can make it, spend it but it shouldn’t define you. People put too much emphasis on their self-worth by the amount of money they make.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

My first job was with ABN-Amro Bank as an HR relationship manager. My monthly salary was the equivalent of Dh2,500, but with a fresh undergraduate business degree, landing a job at a top multinational seemed like a dream come true.

Are you spender or saver?

I am a spender and a giver. I don’t spend as much on luxury items as I used to, but on things that add value and richness to life. As a family, every cent we make, we split it four ways – spend, give, invest and save. My daughter knows these four values well. From day one, the money that she receives on Eid and birthdays is split four ways. She regularly sends money to support a school that provides free education to 250 girls from struggling backgrounds. She is also proud to be the first investor in Masterminds Education; she gave us Dh100 to start things off.

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

A few times. When we started the journey of Masterminds Education about four years ago, we thought it would be relatively easy but we faced a lot of challenges and had to dip deeply into our savings. We had our electricity cut off and at one point didn’t know how we would pay for rent but have managed to turn things around with hard work. Looking back, it’s been very enriching.

Where do you save your ­money?

At the moment, we need liquidity as we are a new business, but we make sure that a fixed amount every month is invested in a diverse investment portfolio with a long-term focus. There is no point in just keeping money when you have the opportunity to make it work for you.

What has been your best investment?

Masterminds Education. We have invested many years of our life in it – financially, emotionally and spiritually. It took us over two years to secure the exclusive regional licensing agreement with our partner institute.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Never live paycheque to paycheque and never hesitate to invest in personal development.

Do you have a plan for the future?

We have ambitious plans for Masterminds to become the premier provider of next-generation early years education in the UAE and across the region. Our plans are already in motion and we plan to make major investments in the education sector over the next few years.

mfahy@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF

Published: September 30, 2016 04:00 AM

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