Money & Me: ‘My family taught me the importance of working hard’

Keshav Maheshwari, managing director of Allen Overseas, says he has a diverse portfolio of mutual funds

Keshav Maheshwari, managing director of Allen Overseas, says he comes from humble beginnings and does not live extravagantly. Antonie Robertson / The National
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As managing director of Allen Overseas, Keshav Maheshwari represents the second generation of the Allen Career Institute family business.

Founded with just eight students in 1988 in India, it now has more than 100,000 in numerous countries, including the UAE, and was an offline-only coaching operation until Covid lockdowns galvanised online classes.

Mr Maheshwari, 27, who recently married, led that transition and helped to further expand his family's multibillion-rupee empire with seven physical centres in the GCC, as well as the online programmes.

He also runs a podcast featuring senior executives discussing topics on entrepreneurship, and plays guitar, including occasional unpaid gigs for fun.

Mr Maheshwari joined the business after briefly working as an Ernst & Young investment banking analyst and now divides his time between Dubai, where he did an engineering degree, and Rajasthan in India.

Was there always wealth around?

My upbringing was humble. I was born into a middle-class family when my father and uncles had just started the business.

Sweat went into making it larger and slowly we became more comfortable in our lifestyle. By the time I was 15, we could have a better standard of education, a better house.

It’s been only eight or 10 years where we have started to live a life different from what was seen in childhood.

The business grew sustainably, but I was not exposed to the wealth and fame that my family had in these [later] years. I was put into a school with people who were grounded.

Are you grateful for that?

The place from where I come from, Kota, is not a “tier-one” city, but it is the “coaching hub” of India, 250 kilometres south of Jaipur, with 250,000 students.

Because I knew I had to come back and work here, it was very important for me to have that upbringing. We have a vast diversity of people taking services from us.

But you saw hard work translate into success?

Absolutely. My dad and his three brothers have been the pillars of the business, who started it and made it what it is today, with me seeing them working hard, day in and day out.

We didn’t have to resort to marketing or campaigns, we just focused on teaching well and that’s how it grew; you do good work and people will come to you.

Post-Covid, we decided that to take another leap, we had to get into a mutually beneficial partnership with partners who could help the business change the course of a journey seen for three decades. We have changed with time, as and when required.

What do you bring to the business?

When I joined, I had only one thing in my mind; that I wanted to be a learner.

I was very energetic, had just come out of college and was bringing international experience because of my exposure in my academic [life] and when I was working in Mumbai and Dubai.

When was your first brush with commerce?

My third year in college in Dubai. Students were crazy about posters for their rooms, so I sourced a local printing vendor and used to take orders.

That extended to printing T-shirts and flags and I got my first hard-earned money as an individual, about Dh20,000 per semester [about four months].

I was about 20 and was driven to earn on my own. I had previously worked casually at Gitex and at Zomato as an ambassador in college; students ordered using my coupon code, and I got a cut.

Was returning to Dubai a natural consequence?

In my final year, there was an opportunity to teach kids from grade six to grade nine.

I realised that more organised, structured coaching was needed in the region to uplift the academic potential of the entire student [Indian] diaspora.

We didn’t have an international arm of the business, so I dived deeper into this market.

We bridge the gap between what a student learns in school versus what is expected in an exam.

Is affordability a consideration?

Not really. In education, if you deliver value, your programme is making the student perform better in school, then parents would prioritise [that over] any other expense.

Affordability does not become an issue if we are doing a good job.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I am more of a saver. I keep it in the bank and a good chunk goes into my investments, a diverse portfolio of mutual funds, which have been giving premium returns … stocks in Tata Group and banks, and some physical assets in India.

I plan to make property investments in Dubai as well. I am open to risk and speak to consultants who manage my portfolio.

At the same time, whenever I see an option, I make my own judgment by looking at statistics.

Are you wise with your funds?

I do not have expensive, prized possessions. I prefer not to have a high-profile life [in India] and do not enjoy any sort of extreme luxury.

We are teaching kids and you have to be humble. What we teach, we also have to follow. So, my lifestyle is simple. I do not spend on a lot of things I don’t need.

But I love spending on a holiday, planning something that has more experience to it than just a tangible element. I recently went to Australia for the Boxing Day Test [cricket].

How do you feel about money?

You have to make it and delivering results is related to making money. At the same time, you shouldn’t get too pompous with it as it’s a consequence of what you do.

I don’t feel that we have to work day in and day out just to make money
Keshav Maheshwari, managing director of Allen Overseas

I don’t feel that we have to work day in and day out just to make money.

What makes me happy is when the business is doing well and we achieve our targets. But it doesn’t change a lot of emotions in me whether I make money or not.

Is there anything you regret buying?

A phone, in 2016, which I used for just six months and then had to switch. I paid Dh3,500 and thought I would be more compatible with it.

I had to sell it for about Dh1,200. The lesson was, before you order a phone online, put your hands on it.

I have also made some impulsive [holiday] bookings that I have lost a good chunk of money on … I should have just taken a moment before deciding.

Any early financial lessons that stuck with you?

None of the kids in our family have been brought up with a silver spoon. We never had a pocket-money culture.

If we wanted a PlayStation, for example, we had to do something for it. We were given tasks or asked to perform well in exams.

We learnt that any reward, be it financial or a gift, never came freely. Money will not come easily; you have to do something for it.

Does the institute teach kids about finance?

No. But we work in the 11 to 17 age group and we constantly tell them how much blood and sweat has gone into putting them through school and through our coaching classes, so they realise that missing class is actually missing out on that portion of value their parents have paid for.

Updated: February 12, 2024, 5:32 AM