Nancy Ozbek is general manager of Times Square Centre, a Dubai mall she is revitalising through experiential outlets less vulnerable to e-commerce, including a music school, yoga and photography classes, Japanese model-making and board-game and wood-working stores. Born in Turkey, Ms Ozbek, who lives in Dubai Marina, is married to a sustainable fit-out contractor and is mum to two sons aged 14 and 16, and step-mum to two "bonus kids".
A keen triathlete, the 44-year-old previously worked at Dubai’s Al Ghurair Centre and Ibn Battuta Mall, and Abu Dhabi's Deerfields Mall.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I come from a low-middle income family and have three sisters and one brother, all older. My father had a street kiosk selling newspapers and nuts near an Istanbul city-bus stop. I liked to help [packaging nuts] from six-years-old. My mother was a housewife, but worked with my father from home. I was involved from 16 to 21, including while studying business administration at university. I upgraded the kiosk and production. My parents spent all their money on our education. That’s why I’m sitting here today. I had Dh5 pocket money per day, for transportation and food at school. I was careful with what I was spending. My parents were always having financial difficulties. Now I’m very comfortable, but there was a time it was really difficult.
What were you paid in your first job?
I started university and gave maths classes to younger kids, charging Dh5 an hour. I had five/six students and was earning about Dh35 a week. Then and still in life, my policy is to save 60 per cent and 40 per cent I was spending on luxuries, such as cinema, eating, coffee with friends. In my third year, I started working for one of Turkey’s biggest beverage companies as a merchandiser. I graduated at 21, went full-time there as a sales executive, earning 4,000 Turkish lira (Dh2,463) a month. I came here when I was 22.
Why did you move to Dubai?
I couldn’t see enough opportunity in Turkey. Everyone was coming to Dubai, so I was researching the salaries. I had an offer in 1997 with a food and beverage company; the job didn’t happen, but I still received three months' salary. Fortunately I also came with money to survive. My goal was to collect $1,000 (Dh3,673) a month for three years and go back. Then I met a Turkish lady in 1998 and we opened the first organic supermarket in Dubai. After that, I became a leasing executive at Al Hanaa Centre in Satwa.
Are you still a saver?
I’ve earned good money and lost good money, but I also save. I have an Excel sheet with my mortgage and any other loans and my retirement plan. I have a one-bedroom apartment near Global Village I bought for investment in 2006. My career was improving and I was getting a good salary and wanted to save [that way]. In two years that mortgage is finished.
Have you had any challenging investments?
I bought an apartment in Discovery Gardens in 2007 when the price was really high and I was a single mum. It lost about 20 per cent of its value, but I was living there, so it was OK. It was a roof over our head and I wasn’t paying rent. Now I have tenants there, my loan finished two years ago and I’m receiving rent. This year I will break even. But it is a regret … if I didn’t have to pay that loan I could have put that money to one side.
Are you wise with money?
It looks like it, but I really enjoy that 40 per cent of my income that I don't save. Four days a week, I’m very careful. Two days, Thursday and Friday, no one can keep me at home. I go out, eat and drink and enjoy. When I spend I’m going to spend on a really good time with my friends, husband, kids. It’s my reward.
After turning 40 I promised myself I would travel around the world. I saved for my kids, I have that emergency fund, I have savings plans should something happen to me, so they are secure. If God gives me health and time, I’m going to spend from now on. I’ve done enough. I was wise, but not anymore.
What is your most cherished purchase?
My bike - it cost more than Dh20,000. My passion is taking part in triathlons and I love spending on my helmet and gear. It should be matching – I’m very much a pink lady. On Fridays, 4am we are at Al Qudra. Sometimes I run, sometimes bike.
What has been your best investment?
My retirement house in Turkey I bought two years ago. Property prices were down, now it is worth almost double.
The home we live in now was also a good opportunity for us, because we see ourselves in this country another nine years. Then I don’t want to work anymore. When I started a new [married] life in Dubai Marina we merged our houses, five years ago. In this country, if you can make a plan for yourself of a minimum five years you should think about buying, if you are going to live in it. We merged our budget, bought a four-bedroom apartment and we’re spending Dh30,000 less per year [than when renting].
Do you prefer cash or credit card?
I have one credit card. It’s for convenience and I pay it off automatically. I’m not a good client for the bank because when they wanted to increase the credit limit I stopped them.
Would you have financial advice for your younger self?
I would save less; not 40/60. I pushed myself to the limit until I was 40. I don’t regret it, but I didn’t go to certain places because I had to save. I would recommend until a certain age to spend 60 per cent, save 40 and later change that direction. Life is enjoyable until you’re 35 because your responsibility is less. I recommend to my kids, ‘spend, live your life, always save a little, but not aggressively’.
Do you plan for the future?
I always have to have an amount in the bank – an emergency fund. I never touch it. For the last 22 years [living here] I’ve also paid taxes in my country so I have a retirement plan in Turkey. I’ve finished all payments to my government and when I reach 50 I will get my pension from them. Financially I’m really strong.
If we had this interview seven years ago I would tell you I’ll work until I die, if my health allows me, because I love what I am doing. But seven years ago I was a single mum, married to my job. Then I met my husband. He is 10 years older than me and doesn’t want to work when he’s over 65.