Atif Rahman is the director and partner of Danube Properties, one of the top five property developers in the UAE. Born in Bihar, India, and a computer science graduate, Mr Rahman, 40, has been married to wife Aaliya for 14 years and has two daughters, aged six and 10.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
I was brought up, the eldest of two brothers and three sisters, in a small town, Patna in Bihar, India, in a beautiful 15-bedroom, three-storey house. I really cherish my childhood – I spent a great deal of time with my grandfather, who was the chief engineer for the Public Works Department and taught me construction from an early age. I was on site from the age of four. I was taught the importance of earning respect and money to have a good life. My grandfather was a stylish man and would change clothes four times in a day. I would see his lifestyle and that he was only able to maintain it if he was successful. He was very lavish in his spending on himself but also kind in helping people around him.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
I will never forget: it was exactly 2,000 rupees (Dh105) while still a student. I used to teach junior classmates in computer science, finance and accounting, six to eight hours a week. My first job interview was for Wipro, an Indian IT consulting company in Delhi, and I had my leg in plaster after a bike accident. I earned 8,000 rupees a month working there in IT support for a year.
Are you a spender or saver?
Professionally I am a saver: I am a very hard negotiator and I am very, very good at saving and reinvesting back into the business. In my personal life I’m an absolute spender. I believe you must spend but spend wisely. Earn, spend and earn more – that’s my philosophy.
What is your most cherished purchase?
I ordered a Rolls Royce Cullinan, their first 4x4 SUV, due to be delivered next month. I only like and drive 4x4 SUVs but I always wanted a Rolls Royce. I didn’t want to miss their SUV so I booked it over eight months ago, as soon as it launched. It cost Dh2.1 million and is midnight sapphire blue (blue in daylight, black at night) with extendable seats - as you open the boot, two seats slide out. I can park up by the beach or tennis courts and watch my daughters play.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
Never in my life. I have always believed that if I like it, I buy it – and I don’t like anything I can’t afford. I’m strictly against any form of loan – I have used my own money for my property and cars. If I don’t have, I won’t buy it.
Where do you save?
Cash is king, so in my bank account, mainly in dirhams. I do also buy gold and diamond jewellery, which are very important if you have an Indian wife. I have my own villa here, in the Meadows, and I love investing in land in India – I have four to five acres – because it appreciates phenomenally well. A good piece of land there can appreciate 400-500 per cent over 10 years.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
I pay by credit card and, once I have spent, I make sure I pay it off within a week. I earn on average Dh35,000 to Dh40,000 of cashback on my credit card per year. In almost 18 years, only once have I forgotten to make the payment: I have paid Dh143 in interest in all those years.
What has been your best financial investment?
I keep aside funds for a small personal venture capital set-up for start-ups, mainly IT and FinTech. One of the best was a FinTech e-commerce assistant I invested in in 2014. I have a 2.5-3 percent share, and the company is valued at $30 million (Dh110 million). When you pick start-up projects, nine out of 10 fail but the one that picks up gives you a handsome return.
What do you most regret spending money on and how much was it?
I never regret. I’m a firm believer that everything happens for the good. I have made bad investments in real estate, one in Dubai and two in India, which got shelved or shut down, but I learned how to be more prudent and invest more wisely next time. You cannot control everything in life.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
I would do nothing differently. Whatever I am is because of the successes and failures in my life, and I love being what I am today. What I’ve learned is to remain dynamic and spontaneous in business and to adapt to any situation. If you are not spontaneous and not able to decide quickly, you lose the advantage.
Do you have a financial plan for the future?
I don’t limit myself by having a financial plan of more than one year, either as a business or an individual. In today’s market, when things are so global, a trade war between the US and China impacts everyone and you are exposed in business. If I stop working hard, if I’m not spontaneous or don’t innovate or perform, I would lose what I have. Growing up, I was so nervous about myself and my capabilities that I confidently believed I would never earn enough money to buy myself a bicycle. I still remind myself of that. My father bought my first; I finally bought one a few years ago, as a luxury.
What would you raid your savings account for?
I have been fortunate enough to achieve, buy or acquire whatever I dreamt of. I love to dream. If I had to raid my savings, it would be if I had enough and came across the right piece of land. I recently saw one - 35,000-40,000 square feet with a 20,000 sq ft countryside house, in the suburbs of Toronto in Canada. It was a beautiful landscape with a lot of water features but, when I saw it closely, the architecture was not how I dreamt it.