Money & Me: ‘I plan for the future to provide a cushion during uncertain times’

Lina Malas, co-founder and managing director of Aventura Parks, learned from an early age the importance of work and saving

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 4 JANUARY 2020. 
Lina Malas, founder of Aventura Adventure Park.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter:
Section: MONEY AND ME
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From management consultancy to adventure parks, Lina Malas has made a huge move in her career path in Dubai. As the co-founder and managing director of Aventura Parks, the American-born mother-of-two is following a desire to help develop the region’s youth. An adjunct professor at the American University of Dubai and active on many regional youth charities and education boards, the 56 year old has sought a life of impact in her latest transition.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

My father is Palestinian and arrived in the US with $30 in his pocket. He worked as a teacher, a research fellow and in sales for oil and gas, moving up to company vice president. I’m number three of four children and he managed to put all of us through university. My mother was a homemaker. We were lucky to have parents who’d give anything they could to provide. At times, things were tough, but they never made us feel it. They taught us the value of money. My father was prudent about saving, but it was a struggle to save. He truly believed in education and wanted to make sure he could provide for that. We all worked early in life because they wanted us to understand what it is to earn.

How much did you get paid for your first job?

At 16, I worked as a salesperson for a clothing store, making $3.10 an hour. My parents encouraged independence – I had to earn any extra money I wanted – so I went out, got a job and really enjoyed it. It was long hours at times. I learnt a lot about working hard, what money could buy and how important it is to save. I would save half of what I earned and got good discounts on whatever clothing item I wanted. My first professional job after my undergraduate degree was as a systems consultant. I was 21, making $28,000 a year in Detroit.

Are you a spender or a saver?

A little bit of both. I enjoy spending on the people I love, especially through shared experiences and travel. At the same time, I am quite disciplined about spending only within my means and understand that we need to save to manage the uncertain times. Covid-19 has taught all of us that there are always uncertain times.

What made you leave the corporate world and follow the route you’ve taken with Aventura?

After raising two children through high school and working on a variety of projects and initiatives over the years, it was important to me that my next venture connected to a purpose and aligned with my values. Aventura Parks is about nature, adventure, community and education, all of which give meaning to my work.

You are heavily involved in work with youth. How do you teach your own children about money?

We encouraged our children to work as soon as they were of age. Both of them worked in high school, which not only taught them about the value of money but also gave them purpose and a lens into what makes them tick. At 23 and 25, our children are both independent (except for the indulgences we like to provide) and they are working in fields they enjoy.

You’ve done a lot of work with non-profit organisations. Why is that important to you?

Working with non-profit organisations was a vehicle to fulfill the responsibility of making a positive difference in the communities I lived in, as well as helping me learn more about myself and others.

As we have seen recently with Covid-19, there are always surprises and the more prepared one is, the better chances of surviving difficult times

What is your most cherished purchase?

My camera, a Nikon D800. It helped me document the lives of my children, their journey and helps me live through all we’ve done here. I love to capture moments. When I lived in India, I went into slums and took photos of all kinds of human experiences. You’d see more smiles there than you see at many malls.

What is your biggest financial milestone?

Our biggest milestone is supporting our children through university. In our family, education, both formal and informal, is a foundation of success as it provides options and helps us navigate through difficult circumstances.

What has been your best investment?

Our first house [in the US] in 1992 because it led to stability. We saved diligently for the down payment and started a path where we could move and navigate to different properties as we grew in our careers. In Dubai, it was our apartment in Business Bay four years ago; it was a good time to buy and Dubai is a wonderful place to live.

Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?

As an entrepreneur, there were many times at the beginning of Aventura’s journey where we had to scramble to find the funds to pay vendors and obligations. Managing cash flow is the most critical element of starting a new business and ensuring that it is sustainable. Aventura faced a very difficult period recently with a forced closure during the first months of Covid-19. We were closed for four months with very little savings and the team had to work together to survive.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 4 JANUARY 2020. 
Lina Malas, founder of Aventura Adventure Park.
(Photo: Reem Mohammed/The National)

Reporter:
Section: MONEY AND ME
Ms Malas says her biggest financial milestone was supporting her children through university. She also encouraged her children to work as soon as they were of age. Photo: Reem Mohammed / The National

Do you use a financial adviser?

My husband is my financial adviser.

Do you plan for the future?

It is important to me to plan for the future to provide a cushion during uncertain times. As we have seen recently with Covid-19, there are always surprises and the more prepared one is, the better chances of surviving difficult times.

What luxuries are important to you?

After starting a new business, time is very scarce. To me, time and meaningful experiences spent with friends and family is the ultimate luxury.

How much do you have in your wallet right now?

I have Dh675 and some loose dirhams in my wallet. With smartphones and credit cards, I've been told by my children that it is no longer necessary to carry cash. I still do in case I'm stranded or if I need a cart at the grocery store.

Do you prefer using a credit card or cash?

Credit card because of the reward programmes, but I’ve learned to be very disciplined by paying it off every month.

What car do you drive?

I drive a Range Rover Sport (most of the time) and also own a Maserati Granturismo convertible. The convertible was a 20th anniversary present from my husband as he knows I love to put the top down during Dubai’s beautiful winter months and enjoy the ride to anywhere.

What financial advice would you offer your younger self?

Pay more attention in accounting classes, pay all bills immediately, they don’t run away, and learn how to balance your cheque book. If you start a business, make sure there is enough capital for at least two years of operations as cashflow management can make or break a business.

What would you raid your savings account for?

If we had a savings account, I would raid it to help our children or a friend, depending on the situation. The fact is we do not really have a savings account as most of our money is invested.