Yunib Siddiqui, 52, is group chief executive and owner of Jones the Grocer, the Australian casual-dining brand he brought to the UAE.
Born in Pakistan, Mr Siddiqui was a chartered accountant in London and established a business sourcing and distributing African interior accessories to retailers including Bloomingdales and Harrods before becoming a brand development director, operating stores in Pakistan for the likes of Next, Mothercare, and Accessorize.
Mr Siddiqui mortgaged his London home to open the first UAE Jones the Grocer franchise in Abu Dhabi in 2009. More followed in Dubai before he purchased the brand's global intellectual property rights two years ago.
He is father to three adult sons and lives with his wife in Umm Suqeim, Dubai.
Where did money figure in your upbringing?
My father emigrated from India to Pakistan in the late 1960s. He was an engineer and worked his way up. There wasn't a lot of money but we never felt a lack of it; we never really talked about money. We moved from Karachi to Abu Dhabi in 1978, when he was recruited by Adnoc as a mechanical and plant engineer. My mother was obsessed with sending me to school in England. My father submitted my allowance for the term, about £130 (Dh637). My house master had a book and we had to fill out this ledger and draw money when we needed it. I had to make do with what I had, I couldn't run out of money.
Did you boost your budget?
My father would give me £330 to come home at the end of term. It was up to me as to how I would use it, so I'd buy the cheapest air ticket and keep the difference. When I started going to London School of Economics, I took summer jobs at a law firm as a muniments clerk, taking case files to barristers, for £7 an hour. With that money I bought a 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Colt for £750. During summer, LSE used to rent out halls of residence to American and European students – I used to drive them to Heathrow Airport for £20. When I graduated, I got a job training to be an accountant and was paid about £7,900 a year.
Why Jones the Grocer?
When your senses are wide open, you can smell opportunity. I stumbled across Jones the Grocer while reading a magazine on a flight from Vietnam where I had a small business. I just thought: “Great idea.” I liked cooking and you’ve got a restaurant that’s a grocery, cafe, a bakery … I got in touch with the owner. We grew very quickly as a franchise partner and ended up owning the business 100 per cent two years ago, running the operation out of Dubai.
What is your spending and saving strategy?
I'm not really much of a shopper and I used to own a couple of classic cars in London, but gave that up when I moved here. I'm not driven by material things.
I've always ploughed back into the company and I draw a decent salary, which allows me to save. We've been putting aside money into different policies, mutual funds and I have some equity and bonds. We pay into a scheme and a financial expert advises us where to allocate funds. Quite prudent, in a sense. I used to do stocks and shares in London, less actively now, but recently I opened a trading account to start buying a bit on my own, a little cryptocurrency, some tech stocks.
I actually got my first pension when I was 22. Some guy accosted me in London. I started paying into a scheme, about £80 a month for a long time, then I got compensated about £15,000 for the mis-selling (part of a UK government clampdown).
Can you name your best investment?
Myself. In the past 49 years, I rarely allowed myself the pleasure of time, the ability to think and to meditate, but it's become more of a ritual. I walk every day, do yoga. Also, we bought into a “holiday club” with Anantara (hotel brand) and use that to go to different places. I travel and read a lot and also write short stories. I don't have aspirations to publish, I just write because it's fun.
It's important to have distance between work and yourself; often the only way to get a bird's-eye view of your business is to be distant from it; this investment in myself has given me distance to observe.
Is there a key financial milestone?
We bought a couple of small buy-to-let apartments around England, but I wanted a “second home” apartment in London. I’d sold my house that I mortgaged for this business, but now I can go to London and be in my own place. My eldest son lives there along with my middle son when he's not working as an opera singer.
Do you have cherished purchases?
I used to do business in the Philippines. There was a typhoon in 1994 and we were in a Manila backstreet. There was an apprenticeship for boys to fix old watches to sell and raise money for their church. One teenager was fixing a 1966 Omega and a Tag Heuer; I paid $150 for the Tag and $180 for the other watch. I had them valued recently because I needed one to be serviced; they’re worth in the tens of thousands.
Also, on my 50th we went to Kenya and did a safari with 40 friends. That was a purchase of a memory, I guess.
What is your philosophy on money?
It's in no way directly correlated to my happiness. I see it as a utility, as a way of doing things that I hope I can continue when I'm old. I'm not interested in collecting money for the sake of having a big bank account. It's just about what I can do. Can I go somewhere and write and not worry about the cost or if my sons want help? I'm not interested in a big house or a flash car.
Did the pandemic impact you?
We all took a 50 per cent pay cut. We went through a budgeting exercise as to what we spend and where we could cut costs – things that we used to sometimes do like going out for dinner – just to make sure we could live within this new salary. You have to lead by example.
Food businesses generally were super affected, but we were lucky our business has a retail component, so we recovered quite well. Grocery sales went through the roof but there was a problem with that, too, because our margins are much lower on retail, but the good news was we had cash coming into the business.
What are your future goals?
We're expanding. We currently have 23 branches and are adding six next year, maybe one more. We have eight company-owned stores. Our strategy is to grow through franchise. The right thing to do is find strong partners, like-minded operators and investors who can do justice to our brand. My future income is linked to what's going on with the business. I like living here, but I also fancy having a house in the Balearic Islands, in Spain. I would very happily go and live somewhere in the middle of nowhere.