Subodh Shah is managing director and founder of Grani Marmo Classic, which supplies natural and engineered stone to GCC interiors and construction projects.
Mr Shah hails from four generations of entrepreneurs, including his father who was an early influencer in India’s cotton and construction industries. After securing a computer science degree from a New York college, Mr Shah noticed a gap in the marble market.
He established a company that now employs 1,000 people in India and expanded to Dubai in 2013, then launched Grani Marmo Classic a year later.
Based in Dubai Techno Park, GMC has supplied developments by Nakheel, Emaar, Sobha Realty, Damac and Landmark Group, including malls, residential and commercial towers, and private homes.
Mr Shah, 51, is a father to two daughters, aged 22 and 27, and lives in Dubai Hills.
Did childhood influence your money outlook?
My great grandfather was a moneylender in the village, my grandfather was into business, my father moved to Mumbai and was also in business. I have continued, but in a different industry.
I came from a decently well-off family, but was never spoiled … wealth was never showered on us. We were asked to live at a level where one needs to value money and learn how to grow money.
We lived in a small apartment, in the 1970s to 1990s, a joint family of my father and my uncle, all living together. As the family grew, we expanded our scale of housing and today, we have one of the largest and most beautiful penthouses in Mumbai, as a family.
Has family helped you?
My father knew about the stone business, he was into real estate a bit, but he never gave me money for free, of course. He said: “I will give you money to start your business, but I want this back with interest.”
It teaches you the right way to earn because the money was not free. Wealth has grown generation to generation, and I’ve continued the legacy.
When did you first earn?
I was in college in the US in 1991. After four months, I said to my parents I wanted to try to make my "pocket money" myself; my daily needs or expenses, I’d try to earn myself.
I started doing part-time jobs. One was in a school laboratory, the other a weekend job in a beverage distribution company. I was making $200 a week.
Was that good discipline?
Computers were my passion and although I never pursued a career in the software industry, it was fascinating to learn something different, live life on my own and see the hardship of managing yourself … going from a family home being taken care of by everybody in the house, to doing things by myself.
Why venture into marble?
When I came back to India, there were only three people in Mumbai doing Italian marble, so I said: “Let’s try this and see how the software market goes.”
The stone business got me so engrossed that I never thought about that other side, but my American education did teach me business management skills.
In India, it’s an end-user market, here it’s a developers’ market, and I’ve been growing every year.
What led to Dubai?
My business in India was doing very well. We needed to scale up, to get into exports, so I came to see the potential, start a sales or marketing office to tap into the Middle East market.
But I fell in love with the place and found good potential. Expo 2020 was announced and I said that there was going to be a lot of construction happening, so let’s make a base and a distribution centre … I’ve never looked back.
Are you a saver or a spender?
A mix. I spend when I like something, as long as it’s affordable. I would not spend lavishly for the sake of showing that I have something. But something I need and know I’m going to use, I would buy. So I’m a spender, at a mediocre level.
How do you grow your wealth?
Since I have two daughters, as per culture, there are things you need to do. One is saving, which I started doing more than 20 years ago when my kids were born, buying gold for them, buying insurance policies for them.
Secondly, I buy real estate, which I lease in Dubai (for rental returns), and a few in India. Thirdly, I work a little on the stock market portfolio, not short-term speculation, I keep long-term investments. Also, I have fixed deposits in my India accounts, which I don’t touch.
Any star investments?
In the past 12 months, the best investment I’ve made was buying my villa in Dubai Hills. Today, I am getting almost 60 per cent higher value than when I bought it.
This valuation is only on paper if it’s a home for you, but you can be happy to know that the value has grown so much.
How do you like to treat yourself?
I’m a foodie, so I like great dining experiences. Also, I’m a music lover, so I go at least once a year to music festivals. I just came back from Tomorrowland in Brussels.
Music is a good rush, it gives you a little energy to work. It’s a good thing to pamper yourself with.
I started doing this at the age of 40. I told my wife I was going to do a once-a-year boys’ trip.
How do you feel about money?
Money is important to live a good life. But it is not the size of the money which is important.
Money does give certain satisfaction and happiness, but I put family first, money second.
Without money, though, how do you make yourself happy? How are you going to take your family out to make them happy?
Are you wise with it?
Definitely, I don’t splurge or spend foolishly. I learnt the value of money.
Even though I had access to investing from my father to start and grow the business, I had the pressure of giving back that money, so I know how much effort it takes to make wealth.
And it is not easy to keep that wealth if you are not going to be a sensible guy. To make money is easy … to lose money is much easier.
Any other financial lessons learnt?
In the year 2000, there was the dot-com boom and being a software programmer, I said I must at least try once to put my hand in and see if can do something in the IT industry.
I had a website called Savingsforever.com where you could download discount coupons. It was innovative, but I think it was premature … the market didn’t support it.
I decided to wind up operations. I lost some money, but I don’t regret why I lost money. It was a learning curve.
I was seven years out of the industry, my programming skills were half gone, so I shouldn’t have done it, but I’m happy I tried something with what my education was all about.
Do you have a retirement plan?
You don’t retire in life … you slow down.