Business is a vehicle for my art

From an early career as a graffiti artist, this enterprising German tailored his talents to the automotive industry, and now enjoys splashing out on shoes - and dog food.

June 11, 2009 / Abu Dhabi / (Rich-Joseph Facun / The National) Jan Swen Thomas Roters (CQ) of Foliacar poses for his portrait Thursday, June 11, 2009 in Dubai.  *** Local Caption ***  rjf-0611-foliacar005.jpg
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I was born in the beautiful city of Münster in 1973, one of the oldest towns in Germany. After high school I travelled a lot, studying creative urban arts and working as a freelance graphic artist in different parts of the world. From Tunisia I went to the US, where I lived in New York from 1992 to 1993. From there I made it to Moscow in 1994. Visiting South Korea, Australia and back to Europe made my journey around the globe complete. Now I have two gorgeous kids - my son, who is 12, and my daughter, who is nine.

I live in Germany but operate my automobile business, Foilacar, from here in Dubai. The cost for flight tickets to commute back and forth runs up to ?20,000 (Dh104,000) each year. I see myself as a self-made man, as I have always made my own money, even from an early age. Although during my childhood my father worked at the West German Federal Bank, I don't feel that he taught me any specific life lessons about keeping money or making money. Starting at 16, I worked part-time after school in small fashion shops. In my first job I earned about Dh25 an hour and would save diligently to see the money pile up.

Operating a business and being in charge of my own finances and salary has taught me enormously about money. I started my own business in 1994 at the age of 21 when all my friends were still at school or university. Back then, I was a graffiti artist earning about ?5,000 a month by designing and creating graffiti for companies and private customers. Then I slowly began re-investing the money I made into my own car advertisement and sign-making business by buying some automotive machinery and tools. In 1995, I hired my first employee - a professional sign maker - whom I paid ?1,600 per month.

While financial security is a motivating factor in my life, I moved to the UAE in 2005 for an entirely different reason. I was keen to explore the history, culture and lifestyle of the UAE and the Middle East, and to stand out from those who remained in my hometown for their entire lives. I arrived in the UAE not knowing a single person. But now, three years on, Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasir Al Ahmed Al Thani - a member of the royal family in Qatar - is my business partner in the region, and we are currently expanding our business on a worldwide level.

I own five companies in Germany, the UAE and worldwide - all related to automotive machinery and tools. I decided to branch out to Dubai because I feel the most demanding car enthusiasts in the world live and drive in the Emirates. And this clientele demands nothing less than the best automotive technology in the world. I describe Foilacar as a high-quality foil wrapping system for the protection, colour design and window tinting of exceptional automobiles.

For me, Foilacar stands out due to its uncompromising German quality; Foilacar films are all developed and produced in Germany, and represents value for money. Starting at Dh20,000 for glossy, regular colours, the Foilacar treatment increases to Dh25,000 for black or gold matte and Dh75,000 for a chrome colour. A unique Swarovski Crystal skin colour costs Dh300,000. In terms of my business, my biggest investment so far has been Foilacar Premium, our new Dubai workshop located in Al Quoz Industrial Area 1.

Importing our films from Germany is no problem at all with present-day logistics; the costs for shipping by air vary on a day-to-day basis depending on delivery deadline, weight and size. Our major overhead cost is the workshop rent, which is unbelievably high. This is a company secret, and all I can say is it's very expensive. Debt and financial risk go hand in hand with owning a business. I have made a few decisions, especially in the early stages of my career, that I have later regretted, but have always learnt valuable lessons from them.

In the initial phase of setting up my first company I had to borrow small amounts from my parents and friends, which in turn meant I never had to borrow from a bank. I was always able to pay back the full amounts, and looking back I never had major issues with being in debt. I don't remember the exact amounts I borrowed. My career is driven by a passion for the profession and the idea to create a strong company so that in the future my kids will be financially secure. To me, money does not necessarily equal satisfaction and happiness. It is, however, necessary in order to operate a proper business and give you some security.

Managing my personal expenses is a balancing act. Living in Dubai can cost the same as living in Germany; some costs are higher, while some are lower over here. As I have two homes - a two-bedroom apartment in a historical building in Germany, and a modern, one-bedroom apartment in Dubai - I am now facing the problem of having double expenses. I usually spend 10 per cent on bills, 20 per cent on rent, 50 per cent on savings and 20 per cent on living.

The most important financial responsibility I have back home in Germany are my children, who live there with my wife. Transferring money to Germany for their short-term needs and to build up their assets is not a problem from the UAE. As the euro is my home currency in Germany, which is luckily very stable, I try to keep most of my assets in that currency, as I always have good luck with the euro-dirham exchange rate. I normally do bank transfers from my UAE account to my German one.

In Dubai, my greatest extravagance is my dog, Carlos. He's a miniature bull terrier. This is not about spending money but about spending my very rare leisure time. I spend up to about Dh1,000 a month on the best dog food I can find. As I am also a fashion addict, I spend quite a lot of money on clothes, and especially on shoes. I would spend up to Dh5,000 on a good pair. The global economic downturn has not affected my business or personal life in a negative way. In the UAE, rents for apartments have finally come down to a reasonable level, making it easier for the company to provide our employees with good housing. I now pay around ?2,000 rent per month for my apartment. In terms of the business, we target really wealthy customers with a luxury product. As they can still afford first-class fashion and jewellery, they can afford first-class car coatings as well.

We should all strive to perfect our money management skills in order to live without the added pressure of financial burden. Try to maintain higher amounts in your bank account at all times, since banks reward higher assets with lower fees, higher interest rates, and, ultimately, higher returns. * As told to Inga Stevens