Ian Palmer is general manager of the Capital Club Dubai, a private members’ establishment in Dubai International Financial Centre. A Briton born in South Africa, he ran prestigious venues such as The Club at Cafe Royal and Devonshire Club in the UK before moving to Dubai in late 2016. Mr Palmer, 46, who has a 12-year-old daughter at school in the UK, lives with his wife, Jeanie, in Downtown Dubai from where he e-scooters to work.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My father was British Crown agent for Botswana Meat Commission and we lived in Botswana for five years. We moved back to England and started a village butcher's shop. My mum and dad had difficult times getting the business up and running, but nothing that affected my younger sister or I. We always had a beautiful roof over our heads, a 13th century cottage my father renovated. We were a working family. Dad made us work for our pocket money. I would come home from school, be there a certain time, have certain jobs to do, such as mopping the shop floor. You saw the source of the household’s money. It taught me the value of that, how difficult it is to come by sometimes. My work ethic and value of money is, ‘you have to earn it’.
Did you have other jobs while young?
I worked at a hotel as a head waiter, part-time while I was doing A-levels and also started a small business selling T-shirts and sweatshirts. I made a fortune, for a 16-year-old. The top figure one month was about £5,500 (Dh23,225). That was my first entrepreneurial thing and taught me the value of introductions as my dad introduced me to a businessman who had a shop that printed T-shirts, corporate merchandising. I got designs made, a price, and started selling to students and the school.
For my first real job … I'd been working for a high-end local catering firm and decided I wanted to go into hospitality. I was 18 and selected as a Savoy management trainee. For a five-year period you did your degree while working – £9,000 a year and up to 60-70 hours a week. That’s where I learnt the trade.
Why did you want to enter your profession?
It’s a people business. You're not only providing a glamorous, comfortable environment. In London it wasn’t just about being able to produce the most fantastic beef Wellington; in clubs you get to introduce people to each other, so I ended up being more of a catalyst and introducer, and that’s what happens here.
How did it lead you to Dubai?
I’d been running clubs since 1998, in London and had been in touch with some of the investors here for a few years. They needed a general manager to come in and re-look at the business. It’s a business club; members come to be entertained, to entertain, to meet other business people, to attend events we put on. We’ve recently refurbished and it’s much nicer for people to sit and relax.
Are you a saver or a spender?
I’m definitely a spender, because of my passions in life, because of my work … good food and going to the newest restaurants to see what they are doing. Because I enjoy it, it also gives back to my work; I can be more informed.
I spend on things that make you happy. You're here once, you want to get out and enjoy yourself. Money is there to be enjoyed and when you do save, you’re saving for security. You have your security blankets in place, take care of later life, mostly importantly loved ones.
What is your financial strategy for getting through the coronavirus?
At the Capital Club we are forensically looking at our business to see where we can save money. Pairing back our operating times, looking at all unnecessary expenditures and using the time to do all the housekeeping in all departments you wish you had the time to do when you are super busy.
We are adhering to strict hygiene and sanitisation guidelines to keep the club open for our members as a ‘working home from home’. Equally as important we are using this time to build content on our online platforms to ensure our members are kept up to date with online seminars and forums with business leaders to help in these unprecedented difficult economic times, also to ensure the club and our members get back to business as quickly as possible when things go back to normal, which they will.
What about your personal finances?
At this very difficult time the coronavirus is having a positive effect on our spending habits and forcing us to be more frugal with our money. There is considerably less time and opportunity to socialise and therefore going out at the moment is not really possible. It has given us the time to budget properly in the event that this crisis does last longer than anticipated also in the event that we may well need to look after family and loved ones.
I am also spending time with my gorgeous wife who is working from home and doing all the things we never have time to do. For example we are clearing out the clothes cupboards and giving a lot to charity and tidying up the paperwork I haven’t looked at in years.
Is the club a barometer of the economy?
Without a doubt. What you see is spending habits so you would see people coming less often, spending more time in their office, or a certain firm’s offices close – we notice the movement in our membership.
But this would be the membership you would give up last in hard times because here’s where you build and grow your business. Something significant must happen to give membership up, like relocation. The people who use it less see it as a badge of honour; the people who use it more, it is part of their DNA, part of their lifestyle.
There are some very influential and big business players in this club on a daily basis. The spending patterns of some members can indicate bad times and good.
What is your best investment?
Property. In 1995 I went into a business deal with a friend. We bought an apartment in London for something like £20,000, refurbished it and more than doubled our money within six months. Where my daughter lives, I cleverly bought a five-bedroom house; that over the last 15/16 years has way more than doubled.
What luxuries are important to you?
Holidays and art. Because I was involved in The Arts Club in London I met people from the Royal Academy of Arts and ended up collecting nice pieces. The largest amount spent was £5,000. It’s not only an interest, but investment. Almost every piece, 20-odd, will have appreciated in value considerably.
Where do you save?
There are two funds, basically pensions related, and every month a certain amount goes away. I have a small savings account in the UK and one here. The bricks-and-mortar and artwork is also where it (the saving) is.
What is your philosophy towards money?
It’s like your best friends; you can fall out sometimes. You upset them, they could upset you. As long as you’re treating them well … you have to respect money.
Is there anything you regret spending on?
I invested in a UK hospitality business a few years ago. Unfortunately the other person wasn’t so honest. I had the wool pulled over my eyes. If there’s anything I regret, it was not seeing that. I got burned for a considerable sum, considerable to me. I learnt the hard way a great deal about character judgement, taking stock and looking at things in more depth before you take the plunge.
Do you plan for the future?
We came to Dubai with that real sense of ‘come make your fortune, the streets are paved with gold’, go back two to five years later. The reality is, we’re looking at starting a family here and staying for as long as we can. We’re invested in what we’re doing, we like the lifestyle.