Money & Me: 'There’s no point being the richest guy in the graveyard'

After a sudden cardiac arrest that left him clinically dead, Paul Sowerby, co-founder of dog park My Second Home, realised the importance of finding the right financial balance

Paul Sowerby, co-founder of My Second Home, says it is important to save for a rainy day. Pawan Singh / The National
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Paul Sowerby is co-founder of My Second Home, the world’s largest indoor dog park and Dubai’s first luxury pet resort for day care and boarding.

His career began in newspapers, before moving into trade magazines, media relations, and a web design and digital marketing business.

Mr Sowerby, from Britain, advised an Australian sports software group, and created a copywriting agency in Perth, before a communications role with mining giant Caterpillar led him to Dubai.

A chance discussion with another dog owner about inadequate off-leash facilities resulted in My Second Home at Dubai Investment Park and in Al Quoz, as well as an impending small dogs branch as part of $10 million expansion plans.

Now 63 with three adult children, he lives in Dubai Marina with his wife, Joanne.

Did childhood shape your money outlook?

I wasn’t terribly well-prepared for money management. My parents were professional musicians, dad a trumpet player with big bands, mum a mezzo-soprano opera singer, 300 to 400 TV performances and money rolled in.

We were at the best private school, big homes and no real insight into how you make sure you’ve still got money when you’re old.

My father subscribed to the outdated belief that if you haven’t made it when you retire, then you haven’t made it and the idea is to live life while you can.

It was a medieval approach to saving. We lived a very affluent lifestyle, cruises every year. I don’t know that was necessarily the best preparation for life.

What did you take from that?

It sent me off with a fairly cavalier, adventurous spirit, which has been a hallmark of my life … quite entrepreneurial, a risk-taker.

But we had a good blend of traditional values; mum and dad instilled a good work ethic, something I’ve managed to instil in my kids. They’ve got their own homes and are avid savers.

I didn’t do that, didn’t do a lot of planning, but my attitude has evolved.

How did you first earn?

I was sent to a posh boarding school in Edinburgh. I was playing a lot of rugby, played for Scotland, which would ordinarily have got you a place at Oxbridge.

But this sense of adventure got the better of me, faced with either more time in education or getting a job. I spotted one for a junior reporter, on the equivalent of Dh200 ($54) a week, so I began learning skills in a trade that sustained me for 25 to 30 years.

I was living at home with very few outgoings. It was nice to be earning and, although it wasn’t a lot, it burnt a big hole in my pocket.

It gave me a direct correlation between what you put in and what you get out. That was very powerful for me. Then I lived away from home … a complete eye-opener.

Any major financial blips?

We went to Australia and began a life in my 40s. I didn’t have a job but I did have a laptop so went into freelance copywriting, journalism, communications.

I spent five years building my first proper business. It grew, lots of clients, lots of writers, and a private equity company came along.

[It was] one of the worst business decisions I’ve made … I sold the business for shares in the organisation, in the print game, and they hadn’t kept up with trends towards digitisation.

At 45, I was suddenly in a position where everything I’d had I plunged into a business, sold to a large organisation that had been put into liquidation – the shares were meaningless. It literally cleaned us out.

What brought you to the UAE?

I was at a dinner with Caterpillar bosses weeks earlier, talking about communication challenges.

When I found myself in that very difficult position, they took me on and I spent five years running their communications and marketing. In 2013 they said: “Would you be interested in a couple of years in the desert?”

Why the world’s largest indoor dog park?

We felt we could do better for the dogs of Dubai. We wanted to flip the traditional kennel model; instead of having dogs in cages, the occasional walk, we would have dogs that slept and ate only in their rooms and the rest of the time were out being socialised and enriched.

We’re in Dubai, the land of superlatives, so I found the world’s largest indoor dog park in Texas, using satellite-mapping, worked out its size and we made ours one metre bigger all round.

We’re managing 300 to 400 dogs a day, day care and boarding.

What are the costs?

A basic room is Dh150 a night, a big room Dh500. I’ve had flats that aren’t quite as nice as some of these rooms.

We deliberately created a resort-type feel, tapped into the fact there is a degree of financial independence and wealth here that allows people that are so inclined to indulge their dogs.

What changed your spending attitude?

A second cataclysmic moment. Three years ago, I was playing squash, supremely fit, and had what they call an out-of-hospital sudden cardiac arrest.

I was clinically dead before I hit the floor, and stayed dead far longer than is normally possible. Medics still don’t know why I survived.

Life is too short, you’ve got to strike the right balance. There’s no point in being the richest guy in the graveyard; there’s no point either in getting to a stage in life where you’re given the years but haven’t got the financial wherewithal to enjoy it.

There’s no point either in getting to a stage in life where you’re given the years but haven’t got the financial wherewithal to enjoy it
Paul Sowerby, co-founder, My Second Home

I’ve chosen to invest everything in this business but also want to make sure I live this life I’ve been given again and put it to good use.

Sure, saving for a rainy day is really important but you never know when it’s going to start pouring down.

What ranks as your best investment?

Every spare pound we had we invested in the best education for our children. They’ve got that sense of responsibility, self-belief, a great attitude and work ethic.

Is money important?

I love the freedom it gives me to make the decisions I want to make. I’m not a materialistic person, I rent a car, rent an apartment; I’ve done the fast cars, the big houses. I’m over it.

My philosophy now is geared towards needs rather than wants, more to do with enjoying what I have, rather than constantly stretching for something I haven’t.

So, are you wiser now?

I’ve spent my life having too much month at the end of the money. I was somewhere along the line wired to live beyond my means.

Now, we take care of the important stuff and try to leave enough for the frivolous stuff.

We’ve resisted the temptation to do the full expat gig in favour of being more sensible with money we’ve earned.

What are you happy spending on?

My wife and I are loving being able to explore new horizons, parts of the world we promised each other we would see when our money was absorbed in school fees and businesses.

What are your future goals?

My focus is on staying as fit as I can to enjoy my second chance.

I want to see My Second Home continue to flourish, growing to the point at which it can’t grow any more. And then unlock that value with an exit.

Updated: October 02, 2023, 4:30 AM