Money & Me: UAE cosmetics entrepreneur says earn it before you spend it

Cosmetics entrepreneur Aly Rahimtoola faced hard times for the first time when he switched from a stable career in shipping to setting up his own business.

Aly Rahimtoola says he is focusing this part of his life on building his brand. Victor Besa for The National
Powered by automated translation

Aly Rahimtoola is the managing director of Harmony Cosmetics. The 45-year-old, from Pakistan and the UK, grew up in London, continuing his education at Brown University in the US. After moving to the UAE 20 years ago to work in the family shipping business, in 2006 he founded Herbal Essentials – a UAE-based consumer beauty brand, which retails in more than 200 pharmacy chains.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was taught that if you want something then you have to earn it. Whether it was earning extra pocket money for washing the family car on weekends or taking intern jobs during university to add to my allowance, nothing is, or should be, given away for free.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

My first summer job at university in 1990 was as an office clerk in a London shipping company and I earned £10 (Dh53) per week. When I graduated in 1992 I got a job as a corporate finance analyst for a Wall Street investment bank in New York earning around US$30,000 annually - or about Dh9,000 a month before taxes – I was thrilled.

Are you spender or saver?

I’m naturally inclined to spend and enjoy the fruits of hard work, but am learning to be a saver especially with a young family – including a wife and son – and school fees ahead.

What is your most cherished purchase?

I’m not naturally a watch person, but I recall seeing a classic Dunhill timepiece and spending some of my first bonus on that. I still have it today, although it needs to be serviced.

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

Yes. I ran a shipping business for 17 years from 1994 to 2011. During that time we never really had an issue with cash flow, but when we switched full-time to building up Herbal Essentials in 2011, we had some issues, especially when the 2009 recession hit. At that time, getting paid one’s trade receivables from the market became almost a full-time job. The lesson from that experience is to limit your business dealings to counter parties that are solid on the credit side, which isn’t always that easy to fathom in the UAE. It’s a useful piece of advice this year as economic headwinds seem to be gathering again.

Where do you save?

A lot of my wealth is in the business as well as real estate, but I have several savings plans being built up from my monthly income.

Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?

Earlier on it was always on the credit card until I realised that it’s better to use cash. I rarely remember to carry cash, but debit cards are a saving grace. Try to live within your means and keep the credit card for emergencies or the odd indulgence.

What has been your best investment?

Switching from an established career in shipping to creating Herbal Essentials. I might not have seen the cash payout yet but the business has grown and will continue to do so. And in time it will give me a financial return that will far outstrip investing in equities or bonds. More importantly, the amount I’ve learnt in how to build a brand is actually my greatest asset or return. It’s Invaluable.

Do you have a plan for the future?

I’m in my mid-40s and right now I’m focused on building my brand into something special. I do have a 10-year plan to build this – after that, who knows? Maybe I’ll try to take it easier and spend more time with my family as I would like to turn the running of the business over to a team by then.

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

Give a certain amount to charities helping children. The world we live in is a mess and I think everyone should try to make it a better. I’d also take my family somewhere new; the rest would be invested safely for a rainy day.

Follow us on Twitter @TheNationalPF