“I’m not interested in money for a big bank account”


Yunib Siddiqui, 52, is the group’s managing director and owner of Jones the Grocer, the Australian casual dining brand he brought to the United Arab Emirates.

Born in Pakistan, Mr Siddiqui was a chartered accountant in London and started a business to supply and distribute African interior accessories to retailers such as Bloomingdales and Harrods before becoming director of brand development, operating stores in Pakistan for Next, Mothercare and Accessorize.

Mr Siddiqui mortgaged his London home to open the first UAE Jones the Grocer franchise in Abu Dhabi in 2009. Others followed in Dubai before purchasing the brand’s global intellectual property rights two years ago.

He is the father of three adult sons and lives with his wife in Umm Suqeim, Dubai.

Where did the money go in your education?

My father immigrated from India to Pakistan in the late 1960s. He was an engineer and rose through the ranks. There wasn’t a lot of money, but we never felt it was lacking; we never really talked about money. We moved from Karachi to Abu Dhabi in 1978, when he was recruited by Adnoc as a Mechanical and Factory Engineer. My mother was obsessed with sending me to school in England. My father submitted my allowance for the term, around £ 130 (Dh 637). My master of the house had a ledger and we had to fill out that ledger and withdraw money when we needed it. I had to make do with what I had, I couldn’t run out of money.

Have you increased your budget?

My dad would give me £ 330 to come home at the end of the term. It was up to me how I would use it, so I bought the cheapest plane ticket and kept the difference. When I started attending the London School of Economics, I took summer jobs at a law firm as an ammunition clerk, bringing files to lawyers, for £ 7 an hour. With this money I bought a 1976 Mitsubishi Lancer Colt for £ 750. During the summer LSE rented residences to American and European students – I drove them to Heathrow Airport for £ 20. When I graduated I trained to be a professional accountant and was paid around £ 7,900 per year.

When I started attending the London School of Economics, I took summer jobs at a law firm as an ammunition clerk, bringing files to lawyers for £ 7 an hour.

Yunib Siddiqui, Group CEO and Owner of Jones the Grocer

Why Jones the grocer?

When your senses are wide open, you can feel the opportunity. I ran into Jones the grocer while reading a magazine on a flight from Vietnam where I had a small business. I just thought, “Great idea.” I loved to cook and you have a restaurant which is a grocery store, a cafe, a bakery… I contacted the owner. We grew up very quickly as a franchise partner and ended up owning the business 100% two years ago, from Dubai.

What is your spending and savings strategy?

I’m not really a big buyer and used to own a few classic cars in London but gave it up when I moved here. I am not motivated by material things.

I have always reinvested in the business and I get a living wage, which saves me money. We’ve put money aside in various policies, mutual funds, and I have stocks and bonds. We contribute to a plan and a financial expert advises us where to allocate the funds. Fairly cautious, in a way. I used to do stocks and stocks in London, less actively now, but recently opened a trading account to start buying a little on my own, some cryptocurrency, some technological actions.

In fact, I got my first pension when I was 22. A guy approached me in London. I started contributing to a scheme, around £ 80 per month for a long time, then was compensated around £ 15,000 for the abuse (as part of a UK government crackdown).

Can you name your best investment?

Myself. Over the past 49 years, I have rarely allowed myself the pleasure of time, the ability to think and meditate, but it has become more of a ritual. I walk everyday, I do yoga. Also, we bought a ‘vacation club’ with Anantara (hotel brand) and used it to get to different places. I travel and read a lot, and I also write short stories. I don’t feel like posting, I just write because it’s fun.

It is important to have a distance between your work and yourself; often the only way to get the big picture of your business is to walk away from it; this investment in myself gave me observation distance.

Is there a key financial milestone?

We bought a few small apartments to rent in England, but wanted a ‘second home’ apartment in London. I had sold my house which I had mortgaged for this business, but now I can go to London and be home. My oldest son lives there with my second son when he is not working as an opera singer.

Do you have any cherished purchases?

I used to do business in the Philippines. There was a typhoon in 1994 and we were in an alleyway in Manila. There was an apprenticeship for the boys to repair old watches for sale and to raise money for their church. A teenager was repairing a 1966 Omega and a Tag Hauer; I paid $ 150 for the Tag and $ 180 for the other watch. I had them appraised recently because I needed one to maintain; they are worth tens of thousands.

Also on my 50th birthday we went to Kenya and went on a safari with 40 friends. It was the purchase of a souvenir, I guess.

What is your philosophy on money?

It is in no way directly correlated to my happiness. I see it as a utility, as a way of doing things that I hope I can carry on when I get old. I am not interested in raising money to have a big bank account. That’s pretty much what I can do. Can I go somewhere and write without worrying about the cost or if my sons want help? I’m not interested in a big house or a flash car.

Has the pandemic affected you?

We have all suffered a 50% pay cut. We did a budgeting exercise to figure out what we were spending and where we could cut costs – things we sometimes did like going out to dinner – just to make sure we could live on that new paycheck. You have to lead by example.

Food businesses have generally been very affected, but we were fortunate that our business had a retail component, so we have recovered quite well. Grocery sales exploded, but that was also a problem as our margins are much lower in retail, but the good news was we had cash coming into the business.

What are your future goals?

We are growing. We currently have 23 branches and will add six next year, maybe one more. We have eight company-owned stores. Our strategy is to grow through franchising. The right thing to do is find strong partners, like-minded operators and investors who can do our brand justice. My future income is linked to what is happening in the business. I like living here, but I also want to have a house in the Balearic Islands, in Spain. I would happily go and live somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Updated: December 2, 2021 6:00 a.m.


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