Money & Me: ‘A mother's intuition is the best source of financial advice’

Vandana Gandhi, of the British Orchard Nursery chain, says a mother's blessing for success goes further than any money jargon can

Vandana Gandhi, founder and chief executive of the British Orchard Nursery, started her nursery chain in Dubai in 2007. Reem Mohammed / The National
Vandana Gandhi, founder and chief executive of the British Orchard Nursery, started her nursery chain in Dubai in 2007. Reem Mohammed / The National

Vandana Gandhi is the founder and chief executive of the British Orchard Nursery chain. Ms Gandhi, 44, was at the height of a successful banking career when she decided to quit and follow her entrepreneurial dream. She began with one branch in Bur Dubai in 2007 and has now expanded to 20 branches across Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sharjah and the UK apart from teacher training centres. Born to Indian parents in Abu Dhabi and raised in the UAE, Oman and India, Ms Gandhi lives in Dubai and has two grown up children living in the UK. Her nursery chain has won several awards over the years, including most recently the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Award for Business Excellence.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I'm from a family of business entrepreneurs and my late father, Kumar Gandhi, has been my role model in shaping my attitude towards money, business and growth. As a family of expatriates living in the Gulf, we had a comfortable lifestyle. However, my father always instilled values in us of caring and saving. My parents always inculcated humility in us.

My father, who had a shipping business, always believed in diversification and expanding horizons geographically from Oman to Dubai to India. So we as children used to learn and understand currencies, fluctuations. Also, the family would discuss topics of economy, finance, current affairs and politics.

You have to plan for your future but for that you have to dream first.

Vandana Gandhi

How much did you get paid for your first job?

After earning my postgraduate diploma in international business, I joined the banking sector. I started with a single digit salary. I don't remember the exact amount but it was below Dh10,000 — that was the norm in banking.

How did you transition from banking to starting nursery schools?

[My siblings and I] always had the choice of entering the family business or starting another line. The idea came up while talking to a family friend and I knew it would be great for a country like the UAE where the working women population is growing. UAE has a great vision for the happiness and support to women. I realised I would like to bring a really good British curriculum system where we could develop curriculums for children from different expat communities.

What financial lessons did your banking career give you?

My understanding of customer service, compliance, legal frameworks, importance of policy procedure, paperwork, certification, trustworthiness, credibility, ethics — it all came to me from the banking sector. We were rewarded with bonuses … that shaped my vision for result-based actions. I brought in compliance and certification for British Orchard and I can say with total humility that my starting point of working with the banking sector helped me get a corporate structure to the nursery system.

Would you call yourself a spender or a saver?

I call myself a spender and when we say spending, it should be value spending. I believe it's good to save, but money is of no value if it doesn't bring you value. The money earned should either bring you happiness, a smile to your family members or benefit to society or future generations.

What has been your best investment?

My most prized investment would be my education — whether it was the master’s in education or my doctorate from the University of Birmingham. It was very well spent money that I pat myself on the back for.

What has been your most treasured purchase?

I can't specify any purchase but my treasured spending would be on charity. I like it when I can contribute — whether it's time, volunteering or money.

How important is CSR to you?

We do regular CSR [corporate social responsibility] projects supporting causes in the UAE and tie up with Dubai Cares, Rashid Paediatric Centre and Dubai Autism Center among others. In India, we support girls’ education, orphanages and old age homes. We've got a KPI (Key Performance Indicator) for every employee to support three CSR projects a year through time, ideas or any act of giving. We got the Arabia CSR Award and we also received the coveted CSR Label by the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry this year. We are a CSR-centric organisation.

Ms Gandhi says bringing British Orchard Nursery to the UK was a milestone for her. Reem Mohammed / The National 
Ms Gandhi says bringing British Orchard Nursery to the UK was a milestone for her. Reem Mohammed / The National 

What is your biggest financial milestone?

I personally don't take money as a milestone, it's a value. A milestone was opening my centres in the UK — taking a UAE brand there. But a financial milestone that brings a memory to me was when I bought my own house when I was in my late 20s in Bombay (now Mumbai). Financial milestones change with the person's age and their outlook.

Do you use a financial adviser?

I was a vice president of wealth management with multinational banks earlier and hence I always consider that my knowledge and continuous reading helps me. Also, a ‘mum’s litmus test’ is always a good financial advisory for anybody. I'll tell you why: because more than any financial jargon, a mother's intuition and blessings for success go a long way.

What luxuries are important to you?

I don't look at money like that. Sometimes sentiments are also luxuries. I still have cherished artefacts from my dad's time — those are luxuries for me. Time is a big luxury — and patience.

Do you have any financial regrets?

I can't say anything has been a regret. Either it's taught me the value of money, the value of time or the value of an opportunity. So there is no regretful decision when it comes to any business decision. You cannot have a 10 on 10 in your financial goals, but the two or three you may not achieve would have definitely taught you lessons.

Do you plan for the future?

I dream for the future. Yes, all of us have to plan financially for the next day, the next month, the next years — all of us do it and we have to be wise. One advice which my uncle gave me was always live within your means and surround yourself with value systems. So yes, you have to plan for your future but for that you have to dream first.

Do you prefer using a credit/debit card or cash?

I have a credit card and a debit card. I use my debit card with the wisdom of paying cash. I don't believe in using my credit card.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

Right now I have Dh100 in my wallet and some dollars as I just travelled. But otherwise, I'm not a cash-carrying person.

What car do you drive?

I don't drive actually. I'm driven in an Audi and a Mercedes — one is an SUV and one is a sedan. I drive, but I don't like to drive much.

What financial values do you pass on to your children?

The same values that my father passed on to me — that money has to offer you value. I would give them the empowerment of spending wisely and inculcate in them the habit of understanding value or earning the object they want to purchase. Children should understand the difference between needs, wants and luxury.

Updated: June 20, 2019 02:49 PM


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