Sally Alshakarchi founded Bumble Bee Nursery, in Sharjah, 10 years ago and added Honey Bee Nursery, in Dubai's City Walk, last year. The 38-year-old was born in Baghdad, an only daughter with two younger brothers, and moved to the UAE 12 years ago. She previously lived in Egypt, and Jordan, where her parents remain. A single mum, Ms Alshakarchi now lives in Mirdif with daughter Yara, 13, and son Yamin, seven. She says she got her entrepreneurial spirit from her father, although he would, she adds, rather her have an "easy life". Here she talks to The National about her attitude to money.
How did upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I have a wealthy family. My mum was at home; she didn’t work. My father has his own company in Baghdad, Jordan and in Jebel Ali. He started in 1975, a franchise for Toshiba in Iraq and the UAE, brought the brand over. My dad is not the kind who would give me everything, but we lived a good life in Iraq. We travelled. Now, every summer, we go around Europe or the UK as a family. My dad supports me but doesn’t want me to work, especially when I’m running two businesses as a single mum. He said it’s better ‘You stay at home, enjoy life, go to the spa’. He’s 65, still wakes up at 7 or 8am and runs his business, but believes women need to rest and enjoy life.
So why not have an easy life?
I needed to find my career. When I finished my university bachelors degree in computer engineering, even when I got married, I said I would never sit at home; either I work or do my masters degree. My dad helped me with some amount when I opened (the nursery) in Sharjah. And then left me to it. I want to continue to show I can do something. I don’t want someone telling me I’ve failed.
Why did you start your business?
I love children. I wanted to open something that can improve them. I was looking for a nursery for my daughter. I wasn’t really satisfied with ones I visited. I felt there was something missing. I needed a place where parents could feel like it was a home, so the children will love it like home. Now we have 120 kids in Sharjah and 25 to 28 staff. After five years it was my dream to open in Dubai. I believe this is a service. I want people to know the quality, not feel it is a business.
Was it difficult to turn your idea into reality?
At the beginning anybody could open a nursery. I wanted to but I didn’t have the knowledge. I studied a lot, attended around 50 workshops and seminars. I’d finish class and then implement new things. When I got my diploma in early years education I was crying because I wanted to quit for the first three months. I didn’t have time to do homework and be in class, but teachers kept pushing me. I’m willing to finish more qualifications because it’s really helped the business. Bumble Bee has built a reputation.
What did you get paid in your first job?
I’ve only worked for myself. When I opened the nursery, it was my first job. Maybe because between me and my youngest brother there is 11 years, when he was born I took care of him, played with him. Maybe that’s why I love children. But a part-time job … no.
Are you a spender or a saver?
I spend. On myself, for sure; clothes, travelling, shopping. Like all women I feel happy if I’m doing shopping. But I also spend on my children. And I spend for the quality of the business. I want parents to feel there is quality in everything, the training, the staff, equipment. I could save half the money, but I want to give a good salary, good equipment and hygiene. My auditor said, ‘One year I hope we will save something.’ I didn’t open to save.
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Where do you save?
I don’t. Maybe because I know my family is always there to support me. They remind me, ‘We don’t want you to work.' They find any excuse to tell me 'Close the business and enjoy life’ but I’m happier than if I have a million dollars. When I do have savings, it’s for a holiday, although I wish I could save to buy a house.
What is your philosophy towards money?
I like a normal life. Money is for enjoying, not saving. In Dubai with all this entertainment … I want to enjoy it. I am not here for saving. I’m not sure how long I will stay in this life so I want to enjoy every moment and buy anything I really like. I tell my children, ‘Even if we have money, you need to work and find yourself.’ It doesn’t matter if you’re a doctor or engineer, it is important you do what you love. It doesn’t matter if you have money or not, the more important thing is how you improve yourself. It gives you value. If you have money and don’t do anything, one day the money will be finished.
What is your most cherished purchase?
I’ve never bought something to make me feel happy. When I change my car I feel like it is value for me. I feel happy if my son finishes his swimming class and achieves something in karate class. You purchase everyday shopping, you feel happy for a while. But when we achieve something … I feel happier.
Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?
About the same. I have one credit card. I had four before and within a month I cut them up. I kept on purchasing online and received a lot of bills. I don’t carry a lot of cash so I use debit card. Sometimes my daughter tells me if we’re going to Dubai Mall, 'Can we hide the credit card – don’t bring it with you.'
What is your best investment?
The business and my studies; my diploma. I like to improve myself. If one day I close my business, with my qualifications I can work anywhere. When I spend money on my studies, I get something from it; any workshop or seminar is improving skills. In September I start my masters degree in early years education. I love to invest in myself and my children; to improve us.
Do you plan for the future?
I have a lot of dreams. One is that I open many nurseries. I’m thinking after five years I will go to the UK because I want my daughter to finish in university there and I’m going to continue studying. I want the business here to get settled so I can monitor from afar. I went to the UK three years ago. My friends try to convince me to open a nursery there.
What would you raid your savings for?
My children. Every time I spend money I’m thinking at least save something because you don’t know what will happen or where they will be [when older]. I want them to feel happy. We need to invest in our children, their school and activities.