Money&Me: Helping others is what counts

Marwan Tamari is the managing director of the Life Food Trading Company, a Jordan-based food import and export firm.

Marwan Tamari says opportunities can come from unlikely places.
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Marwan Tamari is the managing director of the Life Food Trading Company, a Jordan-based food import and export firm. Mr Tamari, who recently invested in a start-up tech business in the UAE, says it is his philanthropic work that gives him the most satisfaction

Describe your financial journey so far.

My family's approach to business and money has strongly influenced my financial journey. My family has been in business and trading for many generations and my grandfather, father and uncles travelled across the Middle East, Africa and Asia carrying out their business. I grew up in a home filled with talks of business dealings, of meeting interesting businessmen and hearing exotic stories of faraway lands. I learnt from an early age about the importance of respect, of being humble, of keeping your word and sticking to an agreement, even if a more profitable opportunity presented itself after the agreement had been made. From as far back as I can remember, money was always available - there was a chest of drawers that contained 100 Lebanese pound [Dh0.24 at today's rate] coins and my brother would line us up every morning and give us each a coin for a sandwich, a juice and a candy. If we needed more, we just had to ask; we rarely did, there was no need.

Your family set up Butterfly Tea in 1965. What has this taught you?

Butterfly Tea has been a brand within my family's portfolio of businesses for almost 50 years now and has wonderful heritage. I have learnt at the knee of my father about tea - growing, sorting, packing, shipping and about trading. It is still one of the brands I focus on and I have many ambitious plans to extend it even further. Butterfly Tea will certainly be spreading its wings very soon!

Tell us more about your philanthropic work.

Our family has been involved in what is today called CSR, or corporate social responsibility, since as far back as I can remember. There are so many charities and organisations that my family has supported over the years, including setting up the Wahbe Tamari Kindergarten in Amman, Jordan, for The Orthodox Educational Society and assisting in founding the Amman Orthodox Club. We support The Family Kitchen-Food Bank, which provides meals for the needy. We would like to increase our support for the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, which organises medical services for children, and the Four Homes of Mercy in Jerusalem for mentally and physically handicapped people. Supporting the less fortunate is an integral part of my family's approach in both life and business.

What has been your most valuable financial lesson?

Never close the door of opportunity. Sometimes, it is not clear where the opportunity comes from or where it will lead and often it is in the unlikeliest place or from the unlikeliest source. One day, a religious man wearing the traditional white dress came into my office and told me you don't know me, but I want you to benefit from this land. I stood up and told him lets go see it. We did and today we are building low-income housing buildings on that specific plot.

What is your philosophy towards money?

That money comes and goes. One should enjoy the ups and downs in business and appreciate the phases of the low so as to look forward to the high.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I am a cautious spender and believe in spending money to make money. I suppose it is the Arab in me - we have a saying that says enter into a transaction in a "half sane and half crazy" manner. For example, if the demand for Butterfly Tea is for 20 containers, I will buy 10 now and 10 after a short period of time. In the interim, the price might go up - or down.

What do you spend on?

I spend money carefully on things that are functional for me. I will buy a car, for example, that is of good quality and takes me from point A to B, but not because it is a status symbol. Our summer vacation will always include a fortnight in the United States so that I can visit my parents and my children can spend time with their grandparents and cousins.

Have you experienced any financial difficulties?

I have seen the bottom of the pit and have been at the top. As a trader, one day you are flush with cash and at times in debt. I have learnt to respect each position and learn from each experience.

What do you invest in and why?

I invest in real estate, particularly land for future development and income-generating assets. I also support entrepreneurial pursuits, particularly in the tech and social-enterprise arenas. My most recent investment is in a Dubai-based software start-up called Zeedna.