Mohammed Sultan is the chief executive of Luxury Explorers’ Collection, an upmarket holiday rentals platform offering high-end properties for as much as Dh65,000 a night.
Born in Egypt, he joined the hospitality industry in 2004, evolving from working on reception desks to founding Luxury Explorers in 2012, which initially specialised in travel and events for VIP and corporate travellers.
Mr Sultan worked for Fairmont in Saudi Arabia before transferring with the brand to Dubai in 2005. After completing a master's degree in business administration, he set up his first business, later adding close-protection services and specialised services in the meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibition sector, as well as holiday homes.
A father of two, Mr Sultan, 40, lives with his wife and their one-year-old daughter in Jumeirah Village Triangle, Dubai.
Were you engaged with money during your upbringing?
The first 11 years of my childhood were in Sudan, part of my dad’s deployment from Cairo University in accountancy and administration. It was basic, there were no fancy things and when conflict between Sudan and Egypt arose because of the Iraq war, we moved back to Egypt. We were a middle-class family and I was involved in family financial decisions from a young age. Dad would make a kind of democratic decision on how we spend and also gave us understanding if we did not get a certain thing one month because of a certain financial commitment. My mum, also an accountant, encouraged me with savings. The house was all about numbers.
How much did your first job pay?
The tourism industry has always been glamorous for me. I was studying hotel and tourism in college and used to do summer jobs, three months in food and beverage at the Sheraton Cairo, or guest relations for about $50 per month, but mainly for the learning. I understood that to have better pay you need to sacrifice and learn until you reach your goal. I got my first job at Le Meridien Pyramids as a receptionist in April 2002. By 28, I was assistant director of global sales for Fairmont, Raffles and Swissotel for the region.
What led you into business?
My sole purpose of doing an MBA was to have a sound understanding on how to run a business, not only from an aspect of finance. My dad wanted to discover the business world. He did not have successful adventures and it made me cautious. I am very scientific when I run a business.
I started the master's degree at the beginning of 2008. When the financial crisis arrived in Dubai in 2009, it was very painful as I was seeing co-workers losing jobs. Independence and having your own thing is crucial. Since then, I define the success of any business not as doing great in good times but navigating well and reinventing yourself in bad times. A lot of opportunity has been created from a crisis.
Failure teaches us a lot; it makes you more determined. I would love to see courses on this … how you learn from it. We are very good at doing assessments for success. Everybody says failure is painful and to “just move on”, but I do not think we should, so you are always ready for whatever could happen.
Are you wise with spending?
I understood overspending is not good from a very early age. I do not think I have changed my attitude to spending. Maybe I do not worry as much about money as before because I have lots of security, thankfully. I am savvy in the way I do things but I enjoy my life to the max in the way I like it to be. A restaurant that serves a good meal and has a friendly environment is what makes me happy. Same thing when I travel – I do not enjoy the most expensive hotel, even if I can afford it. If there is a good deal on business class, I do it, otherwise it's economy. Capturing value is extremely important for me.
How do you grow wealth?
Property, mainly in Dubai and Egypt, and investing in my business are the major things. I rent out the majority of my properties; the ratio of rent versus price of asset … it is one of the highest in the world in Dubai.
One thing I am starting to do is help people like me, as a kind of angel investor. When I see someone has the passion and determination and only needs a little money and expertise, I supply this. We have a very interesting fit-out company and my wife loves flowers and chocolate, so we help her in business. Nothing can grow your money more than a business. Money should be a tool for you to achieve something higher.
What are you happiest spending on?
I believe in the value of education. When I look to my children, I would like them to have the best opportunity. I could not think of better “equipment” for them than being in a certain environment where they can learn, explore and pursue their passion. I know they [my parents] went beyond their means to secure a great education for me and my sisters.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My first apartment in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, Dubai. I bought it at the end of 2008 on a mortgage with a very high interest rate. By 2009, it lost more than half of its value. It was extremely painful but the learning that came out of this was fantastic; to be cautious and not be over optimistic. Nobody saw that the price would go down. I bought this apartment for Dh1.1 million and in four months got an offer for Dh1.4m. My friends said: “Don’t sell, it will go very high.” I never let it go. I remodelled it and it is in high demand on my website.
Does your business give value for money?
At this time of year (New Year), what you pay for a one-bedroom suite in a luxury hotel by the beach, you can take a four-bedroom villa from us with a private beach and pool, a chef, butler and housekeeping.
Many clients are people looking for privacy; a celebrity, sports stars, mainly, big business as well. And politicians or heads of state; security take over the space. High-net-worth individuals come with their families and want to enjoy it with their kids without being exposed to cameras or Instagram. The elite like to get the best of the top. And since it is rare, they are willing to pay more and see it as something valuable.
How do you meet expectations?
Our business model is built on long-term commitments with owners. The villa or apartment has to be in mint condition at all times. We invest heavily in the upgrade, even though it is their property. The value of the asset has been increased and the owner does not worry about this property any more. They are discovering opportunities with us. We have to be very careful what we invest in. It is a risk but if you look into the model, it is a win-win situation for everybody.
What is your idea of retirement?
Having your own hotel, very boutique, high-end in a favourite destination such Vancouver or Cape Town; cities that come with beautiful nature. When you love your job, you would not give up this profession. I have lots to achieve with the companies I am running. I wake up every day and want to achieve something.