Joanna Lynch is centre director of The Tutoring Centre, an American franchise she brought to the UAE in 2011 upon recognising a need for regulated after school teaching. The Canadian-born mother of two daughters, aged two and three, has branches in Knowledge Village and Sustainable City. Ms Lynch, 39, reveals her money background and outlook.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I was born in Vancouver and my parents grew up in a time when money wasn’t abundant. Though we always had a very comfortable life they made me understand the value of money by giving me chores. My father was an entrepreneur, running different businesses, while my mother was an educator, at dean level at colleges and director of vocational colleges in Canada. She would say ‘a pair of jeans costs Canadian dollar $50 (Dh144), if you want designer jeans, C$100 – here’s your 50, go make the other 50’.
How much were you paid in your first job?
At 15, doing gift-wrapping at Christmas at my mother’s friend’s gift shop, I was paid about Dh20 an hour. Before that, I delivered papers mainly on a street that had aged people’s homes. I was 11. I would collect the weekly dues from them, sit and have cookies. I don’t remember what it paid, but it was an incredible first job; my first exposure to real responsibility.
What brought you to the UAE?
My mother was a director of the Higher College of Technology in Al Ain. I was finishing high school so I stayed in Canada but I came to visit my parents and fell in love with the place. That was 1997. We lived in an Emirati neighbourhood. Every day we’d go for walks, get invited into somebody’s home and have camel milk. I was fortunate to have such strong exposure to the culture. I then went to university in Vancouver, did a bachelors of commerce and finished with international business and accounting, gaining my Chartered Professional Accounting certification. At that time my parents were in Oman where my mother was an adviser to the minister of higher education. I came as soon as I finished the exams, but the market was flooded with low-cost labour for accounting.
So you switched from accounting to the education sector?
There was an opportunity with the College of Banking in Muscat, so I joined. When my mother passed away I decided to go back to the emirates and work at Abu Dhabi University, in 2005.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I was a spender and have become a saver. I liked high fashion and the Dubai lifestyle. Before I was married I enjoyed a lot of fun dinners and cars for a while. I went through a little phase. Since I’ve married I had a shift in my values to saving for my children’s future, our retirement.
So you’re wiser with money?
I was always wise; I just gave myself more of an allocation towards luxuries that I now don’t place value on. I always understood my finances and not spending more than I make. You always put aside first, then spend on yourself. I have a positive relationship with money. It’s the thing that makes everything happen.
What has been your financial milestone?
Before I turned 30, it was important to me to have assets worth up to Dh1m, self-made. I did that. I had a lot of bonds, savings and money in cars. If I’d wanted to liquidate, I could have walked away with Dh1m.
Why did you bring The Tutoring Centre concept to the UAE?
Getting into business was the next step in my life and I wanted to be involved in education. I researched to see what was happening in the UAE. Regulations were going to stop private tutoring, random people freelancing. Every centre has to be regulated - around 10 actually have a tutoring license and are allowed to do school curriculum work.
Where do you save?
I invested in property in Canada as well as funds for retirement and education funds for my kids. I have basic savings here, including National Bonds.
Is there anything you regret spending money on?
I saw a nice car model in 2008 when I was travelling in Barcelona. I went back to the UAE and bought it fast, wasting a lot of money. It was an Audi A5 and I was driving a two-year-old BMW 5 series so in no need of a new car.
What is your best investment?
My business. It’s all been self-funded. The returns are there and I’m doing something that I love. We help children change their lives, almost on a daily basis. The stories we hear from parents about children over-coming challenges, getting back on track…I get to help kids flourish. That’s a big reward.
Why would someone use your service?
We work with children aged from five to 18. At four, five, six, parents realise maybe we can make their foundation stronger so they go into primary years with confidence and don’t fall behind. Other students…parents have identified they’re struggling in a certain area so want extra support.
Did you struggle as a child?
I went to a French immersion programme school in Vancouver because my father is half French. I was good in any subject taught in French. We didn’t get taught English at school until grade four, but we moved to another city halfway through grade three. I couldn’t read or spell in English, so for years I struggled. It affected my confidence.
What gives you most pleasure when spending money?
Travel. I love to explore new places, stay in nice hotels and just allow myself a break from Dubai, from the city. It’s what I reward myself with. I work very hard, six days a week.
Do you prefer to pay by cash or credit card?
Credit card, I love my Emirates Skywards rewards, but paying off the card every month is important.
Do you plan for the future?
We’re looking at expansion, how we can grow The Tutoring Centre in Dubai, maybe GCC. I’d love to retire at 55. I will never stop working, but I don’t want to be dependent on employment. When I was 20 I had cancer. I was given six months to a year to live … I completely overcame it. It shaped who I am, my outlook on life, the way I do business, the values I hold. I don’t make a lot of plans; I’m loving what I do, but I don’t take it for granted or get too set in my ways, because I know in the blink of an eye ... You need to be flexible. I know what I want to do, but how I get there - I allow the universe to give me energy and the push.
What would you raid you savings for?
For a crisis - either for me or a loved one. Or I would buy a house in Vancouver, prepare for retirement.