Money & Me: 'I’ve been incredibly rich and poor throughout my life'

Nazar Musa, the founder of Spartans Boxing Club, says he spends money like a champion but also invests in property

Nazar Musa first started working in a fruit and vegetable shop in Wales at the age of 12. Antonie Robertson / The National

Nazar Musa founded Spartans Boxing Club with the aim of creating an inclusive environment after taking up the sport to lose weight when he was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.

Born in Sudan and raised in the UK, Mr Musa opened his first branch while living in Singapore, where there are now 13 outlets of the gym.

Mr Musa, also chief executive of a company formation group, recently opened the UAE’s first Spartans Boxing Club in Arjan, Dubai, near his Arabian Ranches home.

He started his career with UK tour operator Airtours in Spain and Jamaica, then joined Holiday Autos where he helped grow the UK car rental brokerage globally, before it was sold to Lastminute.com in 2003.

Mr Musa relocated his family to Dubai in 2005, starting and exiting businesses in the travel and online sectors, before moving to Singapore in 2012. After two years in Australia, Mr Musa, now 50 and a father of four, returned to Dubai in late 2018.

How did money feature in your childhood?

My father was a doctor. He was part of a student revolution in Sudan in the late 1960s and was imprisoned. He managed to get a route to the University of Wales, a secondment, and I went to the UK in about 1974. Dad was a struggling doctor, mum a Sudanese Arabic-only speaking woman, six kids, suddenly in South Wales. My dad progressed his medical career. We were far from poor as we grew up, but we were not rich. Mum and dad were careful with money.

Did you work while young?

I got a job when I was 12 – a 5am start at the local fruit and veg shop. I had three jobs at university. I mean this in a positive way, my dad was socialist in his mentality. You used to get means-based grants – we had means – but he said: “You have to pay for yourself.” Once you’ve got a little something in your pocket it’s difficult to not have it. It did breed a desire to make money.

What did you learn from those experiences?

It made me understand the value of money, but also didn’t stop me from spending it like water. I was overdrawn and it made me not frightened of debt. It’s not just about making money, it’s being able to lose money as well.

Throughout my life I’ve been incredibly rich, incredibly poor. You’re not scared of debt. Secondly, you’re scared of risk but you’re prepared to go through that, those sleepless nights. Others maybe feel more comfortable to have a pay cheque and a pension scheme. I don’t sit well in organisations, therefore this route I’ve taken in my career has proved the best.

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Throughout my life I’ve been incredibly rich, incredibly poor
Nazar Musa, founder of Spartans Boxing Club

What brought you to Dubai?

I joined Holiday Autos in London. We worked hard, built the business from 14 people to close to 500 in 23 offices around the world from 1996 to 2003 and sold it to Lastminute.com. I made money with that, bought a flat in Manchester and came on holiday. I stayed in Burj Al Arab for a week. I fell in love with Dubai.

Eighteen months on I spoke to Lastminute co-founder Brent Hoberman, said I was moving to Dubai. We set-up a joint venture in 2005, launching Holiday Autos in the region, 50 per cent me, 50 per cent Lastminute. I didn’t exit that relationship until 2011.

Why did boxing call?

I was going through a separation, was very overweight and became diabetic. The doctor was clear: “Lose weight or you’re going to die.” That was February 4, 2008. Somebody said to try boxing, so I went to a gym in Al Quoz.

This 18-year-old Ghanian called Richard Commey (later an IBF lightweight world champion) told me to skip, do this, do that; it was horrific and I loved every second. I signed up for a white-collar boxing event and had to lose circa 34 kilograms, learn to box … Richard helped me through the whole process. He recently fought in Madison Square Garden in New York and I went over to be ringside.

One of the Dubai exits took me to Singapore. I wanted to open a boxing gym because I was travelling every day from where we lived. We broke even in four months. We are in the process of raising money to go hard, not just in Dubai but the GCC and expand further into Australia. Our plan is to get to 118 by the end of 2024.

Nazar Musa says money can't buy true happiness but it helps. Antonie Robertson / The National

What is your spending and saving outlook?

I don’t save; I know I should. Luckily, my wife is very good at it. She’s got a corporate job and looks after some of our joint finances. I’m due a liquidity event in Q1 and I’ve already spent the money; we’re buying a house in Greece.

Property is a good way of saving, I guess, but I just wanted a place to escape to in the summer. I’m not your archetypal person, my pension would last maybe a year. When the time comes, maybe I’ll sell a property. I don’t consider myself about to stop what I love doing, which pays me money.

I’ve got four businesses I’m involved in. Something will happen in those that will give liquidity events that mean the traditional pension mechanism most people are comfortable with isn’t the way I need to go. I get it, invest it in something; some of those work brilliantly, some lose it all.

What is your most effective personal investment?

I bought property in Dubai super early: the Marina in 2003 and Jumeirah Islands in 2004. It was a very good investment, five bedrooms, with a pool, I paid Dh1.4m. It was just desert then and people who gambled made the money. We exited it five or six times what I paid for it and kept the Marina place.

Do you have key financial milestones?

The two exits from Holiday Autos. The first one to Lastminute, it wrote a cheque that allowed me to buy property outright, to pay off some of my mortgage, and those things change your life. I bought a flat in North London, flipped that. The second event was a meaningful amount of money. That meant that Jumeirah Islands was bought with cash, the Marina was cash.

Do you have any cherished financial decisions?

I sold Jumeirah Islands so I could ensure my two oldest kids, at a time of flux when me and their mum were separating, could go to the best possible school, irrespective of money. I was able to make sure they were stable, had a really good, solid international education and set up with the right mindset and upbringing. The rest is up to them.

How do you feel about money?

I’m not scared of it. I absolutely love money. I spend it like a champion. It comes and it goes and there are times when you should borrow and times you should not. People say money can’t buy you happiness … it can’t buy you true happiness, but it helps. It means if you are sad, if you have trouble, you can afford to try to get yourself through it.

There’s an orphanage we started in Sudan and money I send back to support wider family members less fortunate than myself. I’ve made sure that’s instilled in my older kids.

Are you wise with money?

If you’re just asking me, then yes. My ego will tell you all the decisions I make are solid, whether they’re right or wrong. I’ve always backed myself. If you ask my wife or those who are much more corporate, they will say “absolutely no”.

What happens if you lose everything? The older kids have fled the nest. For the two younger ones … we’ve got money nested away, you go into one of the houses that you own and work at McDonald’s. Nothing I do scares me about money, nothing that would stop life going on. You go through cycles of success and there’s been much more success than failure.

I’m wise with money because I use it in a way that makes me and those around me happy, at the same time building security around the next part of my life.

What are your financial goals?

I want to be in a position where any money I have works for me instead of me working for it. I hope I can reach the age of 55 and spend more time in Greece, the UK, the US, Sudan, but still have input into work life that means my money is generating money.

Updated: January 31, 2022, 4:34 AM
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