Orkhan Mustafayev is the president of Ideal Concept Holding, a group of companies in construction, retail, advertising and fast-moving consumer goods, operating in the UAE, Azerbaijan, Turkey and China and employing over 500 staff. The Azerbaijani, 29, has been married for seven years to a painter and they have two children, a son, aged 3, and a 2-year-old daughter.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
Growing up in a Soviet and Communist country, the priority was on contributing a value to society rather than on making money and becoming rich. My family was academic so, for them, money was not very important. My father wanted me to study human rights - like him. I was going to do so until the ninth or tenth grade of school, when I started hearing a lot of success stories about the Middle East, especially Dubai, and decided to take steps into business instead. I believed I could contribute a lot to society by gaining a name for myself. So I came to Dubai to study business administration.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
Nothing; it was a six-month internship for an engineering company I got through the university. Students knew they needed a good CV, so there was big competition – 50 people applying for one position. But at that time Dubai was not that expensive, like now. I was not living a luxurious life; I was in dormitories in university. I was also selling mobile phones and accessories on to CIS (Russian Commonwealth) countries. My second job was part-time, in customer services, also while at university – I earned Dh3,000 per month working 9am-1pm for three months.
What is your most cherished purchase?
With my first profit from selling mobile phones, I bought a 1990 BMW convertible car for $3,000. That was a very important purchase for me. I kept it for two years until I graduated and moved back to Baku after my studies.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
Yes, after graduating, for the first few months when I set up Qala Group (a design consultancy in Azerbaijan and the first company in Ideal Concept Holding). We started small, with apartments of around 50 square metres, to build a portfolio – it was low-cost, but good quality work and we designed 15-20 apartments in that year. It was profitable after five months. We were all young, with a new vision in design, and experience from Dubai, that our competitors did not have. More recently we did the beachfront for The Beach mall at Jumeirah Beach Residence – the concept of cafes, water sports, piers, kiosks and a water park.
Where do you save?
The best use of my funds is reinvesting them into the business, but I also look at crypto-currencies and stocks. I wish I had invested more in cryptocurrencies two years ago, but it’s a very tough market and hard to forecast. Maybe 60 per cent of my savings is reinvested. In the last three to four years I have been investing in new start-ups in other fields, to help grow the business horizontally and vertically – for instance, a digital wallet start-up in the Balkans.
What cryptocurrencies have you invested into?
I invest in Ripple and Tron because I believe in their values. Cryptos are in a deep correction but I believe that it's time to buy and wait for the next uptrend. My suggestion is not to keep your investments for the long term; as soon as you gain 20 per cent, sell and get ready for next correction in the market.
Are you a spender or saver?
I like to reward myself when business is good.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
Credit cards, because I can track my expenses and get additional benefits from purchases. I have two cards: one gives me points, which I use at the travel agency for tickets and one is for Skywards air miles.
What has been your best financial investment?
A few years back, a couple of friends and I did a kind of Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) [pooled funds] to buy a barely surviving supermarket in Dubai, Freshberry. It took some effort to train and change the team and add new streams of business, but now there are three branches – there was one when we bought it - and two more upcoming. Now, with a proper team and systems, it doesn’t take lots of my time, it’s profitable and one of my best investments.
What do you most regret spending money on?
I honestly don’t regret anything – I either enjoy it or consider it a learning experience. I don’t like regrets. But I’ve had plenty of learning experiences. A couple of years ago, for example, I bought a used BMW X5 from a wholesale car market for Dh100,000. The guy selling it promised me the car was perfect and there was no need to check it. I believed him. After two days, the car was vibrating and making noises. A couple of months later, I sold it for Dh80,000 … to the same guy. So I learned that, whatever you do, there should be a contract. Now, if I buy anything, I check the contract 100 times - whether in business or my personal life. It was better to have this experience with a car than in business, where you risk much more.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
At the beginning of my career, I opened a company with a couple of investors – they were insisting on low operating costs, which pushed me to not hire the best team that I wanted. I was trying to resist but I was too young. As a result, I couldn’t delegate any task and it consumed a lot of my time. If I could, I would advise myself to resist, to hire a better team. Now, six or seven years on, I never grow a business if I don’t have the right people. First, I search for the people then we grow, based on them.
Do you have a financial plan for the future?
I’m young so the plan is to keep growing the business. I have a personal account where I save a percentage of my income for the kids’ education; I’ve not yet finalised my decision – whether the children study here or elsewhere. My exit plan, for when I am near to retirement, is an initial public offering when it’s the right time, to guarantee me some peaceful and relaxed years with my family, probably back in my country.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
I’m very unlucky with lotteries and competitions. But if I won, we have internal funds we give out during holidays like Eid, to team members who really deserve or need them – we employ around 300 labourers in the construction companies. I’d put it in that and increase our gifts.
What would you raid your savings account for?
That’s a negative question - I hope there is no reason to.