Simone Lawrence is an executive leadership coach for Diversitas, a consultancy dedicated to inclusiveness for women. It's a new role for the 45-year-old Australian, who started her career cutting hair in her local salon at the age of 16. Ms Lawrence, who moved to Dubai 15 years ago, lives in Dubai’s The Springs with her husband and their eight and nine-year-old daughters. She has also held jobs in sales and HR, including working as a sales manager for L’Oreal in Australia.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My parents showed me the different roles that men and women can play. My mum, who was quite a strong-willed character, did office clerical work and when health issues with my dad came into play and she had to step up and take charge, she just got on with it. She was a really strong female role model for me and taught me the mindset that anything is possible.
How much did you earn in your first job?
Very little. My first job was actually as a hairdresser and then I made that my career. I’m a bit of a rebel, I’ve done everything backwards. I had an independent streak and a burning desire to earn my own money from a very young age. At the age of 14, I picked up the phone and called our neighbourhood hair salon, asking them for work after school. I wanted financial freedom to make my own choices. I started out sweeping the floor and fell in love with the vibe of a salon environment, listening to people’s stories about their lives. Now that I’m a leadership coach, I realise that I’m a bit of a sponge. I love listening to people, asking them questions and learning through their eyes, and that’s what I was doing back then too. I ended up leaving school at 16 and doing my hairdressing apprenticeship. Very quickly after that, I went on to become a salon manager.
How did you spend your earnings back then?
I ran a hairdressing business for many years, and with that came a big jump in salary. It was a great time financially because I was still living with my parents, so I always had a lot of disposable cash. And in the beauty industry, I always had access to freebies. I was also responsible for the education programme in the salon, so I’d stay back very late after hours, teaching everybody to become better hairdressers. The rewards I received weren’t always financial, there were a lot of other incentives in place – I went to London for training at Vidal Sassoon, for example. Rewarding me with experiences made me realise that finance is not the only driver in a career. As a boss, you have to find what people’s drivers are, and motivate them on an individual basis.
What is your philosophy towards money?
I’ve always been quite careful with money and very non materialistic. I have always liked to spend money on travel, so in my early twenties, I indulged my curious mind and took off by myself backpacking around the world.
What has been your lowest point financially?
After travelling all around Europe and then ending up in Turkey, I waited until the very last minute to get on a plane and go to London to find work. I remember realising that I had very little money left, so I had to get the cheapest flight and then get a job very quickly. I’ve never been in a situation where I think ‘oh no, this is doom and gloom’ - I like to push my boundaries.
How did you end up in the corporate sector?
When I came back from London, I decided to finish high school, so I attended night school and went on to university. I then worked for L’Oreal in Australia, starting at the bottom on reception, and ending up as their top area manager for sales in Australia. I never prided myself on being a good salesperson, it was more about work ethic. I’d just show up to work every single day, and pound that pavement.
How did you manage your outgoings on a fluctuating sales salary?
I had to learn to balance my budget. I was always careful with that because by this stage, I was renting a flat on my own. I got a reasonable retainer and then commission on top. I also got a company car, so there were other perks that made life more affordable.
What brought you to Dubai?
Ultimately, it was the adventure. I was getting restless. I married 15 years ago, and my husband and I travelled here together shortly after that. He was in construction, which was booming at that time in Dubai. Like most of the city’s long-term residents, we only thought we’d come here for a year or two, and now here we have two children and mortgages.
Are you a spender or a saver?
Probably a balance of both. I was more of a spender when I was younger, but as I got older, I became a bit more responsible because I had more to be responsible for.
Where do you save?
Since moving to Dubai, we’ve bought a property here and one in Australia. Coming to Dubai has given me financial flexibility and enabled me to invest both in property, and also in myself. I’m not sure I would have had that opportunity if I’d stayed in Australia.
What has been your best investment?
I think the travel I’ve done, and also educating myself with constant learning and up-skilling. More recently I’ve had the transition to becoming a leadership coach, and to do that, I’ve had to invest a lot of money on my own personal development. That’s an area in which people don’t always put themselves first, and that’s really important, particularly with globalisation and the pace of change. We need to keep staying relevant and almost in front of what the trends are.
What do you spend your money on?
I spend a lot on self-development books, because I want that continual learning. If I had an endless supply of money and time, I’d spend all day in bookshops buying books. I collect them because they’re an essential aspect of my profession, in terms of recommending resources to people. I love that surprise element of having read something relevant, and then when I’m coaching a client on the same topic, being able to gift them that book. It’s very much about paying it forward and sharing the wisdom.
You specialise in empowering female leaders. Do you think women manage money in a different way to men?
In our home, my husband and I balance the managing of the long-term investments between us, but I probably play a more active role in the short-term managing of our budgets. I think for most women, it depends on their support network. If a woman is on her own, then she’s got to be more financially astute than a woman with a support network and a dual-income.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
We’ve been living away from my extended family for a long time, so I’d buy everybody a holiday on a tropical island where we could all just relax and be together. Time together is precious and everybody is getting older — there are a few generations in play — so I’d use the money as an opportunity to connect everybody and have an amazing time in an amazing location.