Day in the life: Food for thought from Dubai vegetarian blogger

Sumati Menda is the Dubai-based founder of, an online portal for vegetarian food in the UAE. The thirtysomething Indian lawyer turned food blogger grew up in the UAE and attended law school in New York. She worked for six years as a lawyer in New York and India before joining the family business, World of Electricals, as in-house legal counsel in 2010. She started her portal as a blog in 2014.


Three times a week I have a workout at 7am so I wake up just before that. I have a trainer who comes to the house and we do strength training. After the workout, I have a shower and breakfast: scrambled egg white or chia pudding or peanut butter on toast.


I head out the door at 9am. I live in Emirates Hills and my office is five minutes away at JLT. I am still working out of my father’s office because as I am handling his legal affairs I have my own little section there. I started the blog on the side as the family business workload started to decrease. I’ve been a vegetarian my whole life and I’ve always eaten at really great restaurants. I’ve had fantastic experiences at some of them and at others the chefs were like: ‘If you are vegetarian don’t even come to our restaurant.’ I felt I had interesting experiences to share. It started as a blog but then I hired a freelance developer to spice it up a bit and get the branding done properly. Then I realised there is a lot of scope for this but one person can’t do it all. I decided to make it a user portal where users can log in and write their own reviews. When I arrive at the office I check my analytics [to see how many visits the site has had] and I start going through my emails and getting my schedule together. I have a to-do list so I just start going through that.


If I have a lunch review I’ll leave for that about 12.30pm. Otherwise, I’ll have a healthy lunch in the office with my father and brother: we lay out the newspaper and open up a packed lunch from home. It takes about 15 minutes. I don’t eat out more than two or three times a week. At lunchtimes, I will eat at a restaurant and do a review. In the evenings, there may be an event with lots of other bloggers. I’ve gotten to know the blogging community now and we’re all really good friends. I also do interviews once in a while – I’ve interviewed some really famous chefs. I currently have listings for about 3,250 restaurants in the UAE with basic information such as timing and location; I also list the top four most popular vegetarian dishes. I created a rating system called the “grassometer” which allows users to rate the vegetarian food on offer at any given restaurant.


I’m back in the office. I do a lot of writing on my own but I have a full-time content writer as well, so I go through ideas with him and brainstorm what the next few reviews will be. If we are doing a round-up, then we’ll discuss that. Right now, we are working on a pizza round-up so we are deciding which pizzas we want to try. I spend a lot of time looking at résumés; at the mom­ent I want to hire a more senior developer to take the site to the next level. I speak to a lot of people in India who are guiding me and I have a team of people who keep the listings up to date.


If I’m going for an evening run I try and leave by 6.30pm. If I start late, I run around Emirates Hills, otherwise I drive to The Palm and run on the soft track there. At the moment, the portal is self-financed. Over time I am hoping it will be funded by advertising and sponsorship but I haven’t got to that stage yet. Until I launch in another city I am not even thinking about revenue. I haven’t decided whether to go east or west: Bombay, or another major city in India; or New York – that’s a great market.


If I have an event, I’ll get ready and go to that. Otherwise I eat dinner at home with my family. Then I’ll do some light reading and go to bed. Other than running, I swim pretty much every Friday and bike once in a while. At weekends I catch up with friends. We do dinner or I’ll go to the movies once in a while. I travel a lot, so when I’m at home I keep a low profile and recover from my trips. Any leisure trip I do I always cover on the blog and my social media to keep people engaged. I currently have 14,300 Instagram followers.


I’m usually asleep by 11pm.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Book review: The Process Matters by Joel Brockner

In 2009, Jay Leno was replaced by Conan O’Brien as host of The Tonight Show. Leno didn’t take it well. After ratings failed to improve, though, Leno was reinstated; but in 2014 he was replaced once again, this time by Jimmy Fallon. The second transition went far more smoothly than the first.

Reflecting on this Leno said: “The main difference between this and the other time is I’m part of the process. The last time the decision was made without me. I came into work one day and [was abruptly told], you’re out. This time it feels right.”

In the media, the debacle was described as “embarrassing” and a “public relations disaster”. But as the business professor Joel Brockner explains in his book The Process Matters, published in November, it is also an example of terrible organisational management stemming from an obsession with results rather than the process used to get there. It serves to show that how a process is handled really matters to those on the receiving end of the decision. As the saying goes, it’s not only what you do but how you do it.

As Brockner goes on to explain in his work, making Leno feel “part of the process” required relatively simple – and not particularly costly – steps: NBC’s chief executive Steve Burke organised a meeting with Leno; and Fallon made a point of expressing his high esteem for his predecessor. Leno was shown respect, he was involved in decision-making, and things were done transparently.

The example encapsulates three central points made in Brockner’s book. The first is that small differences in how things are handled can have a relatively large effect in the workplace. The second is that doing the process well often only requires very simple steps. And the third is, given how much the process does matter, why don’t managers strive to handle things better with more frequency?

Brookner is an academic but this book attempts to reach a wider audience. It is packed with examples from organisational settings and draws heavily on academic research but, as Brockner contends, it is also relevant to anyone in an authority position, including parents, educators and politicians.


If it’s relatively easy to make processes better, why do managers fail so often?

This is perhaps the most interesting part of the book. Brockner posits two explanations: managers fail because of a lack of resources (they are not able to do the process in a high-quality way) or a lack of desire (they are not motivated to do the process in a high-quality way). Lack of resources may include a lack of information or lack of skills – such as staying calm when delivering bad news. Lack of desire may come from a fear of looking weak by sharing information or because managers are distracted by competing interests.

Does Brockner offer any methods to address this failure to ensure high-quality processes?

He does – this is in some ways a “how to” book. He sets out some suggestions for what individuals can do to better manage processes – such as regulating negative emotions, ie not being defensive when delivering bad news – and for what organisations can do, such as provide training for managers and put enabling structures in place.

Any more examples of why process matters?

Yes, Brockner refers to studies of patients who have sued their doctor for medical malpractice. Doctors are much more likely to be sued when a patient perceives that the procedure went badly and the doctors demonstrated poor “bedside manner”.

Tell me more about Joel Brockner.

He is the Phillip Hettleman professor of business at Colombia Business School.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Day in the life: Healthy living all round for Dubai dentist

Jocelyne Charest is a neuromuscular dentist, correcting misalignments of the jaw at the German Dental and Neuromuscular Clinic in Dubai’s Jumeirah Lakes Towers. Originally from Montreal in Canada she has been in the UAE for eight years.


The first thing I do in the morning is 30 minutes of meditation. I’ve been meditating for around 15 years now. I started at a seminar with Deepak Chopra. It makes my day easier because I am always calm inside so it makes my work less stressful. After meditating, I do 30 minutes of trampolining. I did a detox course in Turkey and we did trampolining because it’s really good for your lymphatic system – it helps you eliminate a lot of toxins from your body. And it’s fun – it’s a nice way of doing exercise. After that, I shower and get dressed. Breakfast is always the same: a whey protein shake that I drink while I’m driving to work. The main reason I came to the UAE was because of the weather. Coming from a country like Canada, where it’s very often cloudy and so cold in the winter, it was so attractive to me to be able to see the sun every single day.


I leave home and see the first patient at 9am. When I arrive at the clinic, I take 10 to 15 minutes to review the daily patient schedule with my dental assistant. On average, I see one patient per hour. Although I deal with all aspects of general dentistry – check-ups, hygiene visits, fillings, implants, cosmetic dentistry – I specialise in neuromuscular dentistry, which corrects misalignments of the jaw at the temporomandibular joint (TMJ) and produces a balanced bite. I am a bit like a mouth doctor: patients coming to me suffering from pain related to the misalignment of their jaw. I do see a lot of people suffering from stress. When the teeth don’t fit well together, this causes problems and creates pain in the jaw bone. Very often the body can cope with it, adapt to it, and there is no pain. But if you become stressed, your muscles become tense and the pain arrives. So I won’t say stress causes the problems – but it triggers pain for sure.


I have lunch – it’s mainly veggies, meat and fruits. I never go out because even though we have restaurants around here I usually prepare something or order from Kcal, which is my favourite – it’s the only restaurant I know that does the Paleo Diet.


In the afternoon I see other patients. I believe that treatment of a patient is not limited to mechanical diagnosis and treatment; a patient must believe that the person providing care is not only knowledgeable – but also cares whether the patient gets better or not. Also, for TMJ patients, the exams I need to do are more involved and require more time than a regular dental check-up. I do my training in the US, so I go there at least twice a year to improve my technique. This week, I am flying to Las Vegas for a dental course.


I see my last patient and then leave for home at 6pm. I am a member of the Dubai Ladies Club [Wellness and Recreation Centre] so I go there three times a week – on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays – after finishing work. I do some cycling or go on the treadmill and some weightlifting. And after that I really like to take a sauna – or I go walking and relax on the beach.


If I’ve been training I’ll get home at 9pm and I’ll have a meal of green vegetable juice that I make at home with my juicer. The other days I have time to cook; again it’s mainly the Paleo Diet. After my juice, I watch TV shows such as Gotham, Scandal or Homeland – I buy the TV series so that I don’t have any commercials – and then I spend the night with my husband and we talk. Sometimes we go out together but we are big fans of TV shows and some nights we just listen to really good music on our sound system.


I head to bed – I like to have eight hours a night. I really like reading – mainly before I go to bed. I can read anything: sometimes it’s a biography, sometimes self-development, sometimes it’s a novel. My most recent book in English was the biography of Steve Jobs.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

The Hidden Wealth of Nations: Gabriel Zucman details money lost by governments to tax havens

When the academic Gabriel Zucman decided to take a critical look at tax havens and the wealth hidden there, what distinguished his work from other studies was his reliance on data to build his case.

Published in September, Zucman says his economic study, The Hidden Wealth of Nations – The Scourge of Tax Havens, draws on more than four years of research. To complete the work, the author analysed often previously unused sources on international investments of countries, on and off-balance sheet positions of banks, and the accounts of multinational firms.

This slim volume is divided into five parts. The first takes the reader through the history of tax havens over the past century, starting with Switzerland, the No 1 offshore centre historically and contemporaneously, and moving on to the newer players in the game: Hong Kong, Singapore, Jersey, Luxembourg and the Bahamas. He also provides a 101 on how tax fraud is committed.

Zucman then moves on to discuss the data, calculating that of the world’s entire wealth, which amounted to US$95.5 trillion in 2014, 8 per cent, or $7.6tn, is held in accounts in tax havens. This amounts to $200 billion in lost tax to governments worldwide.

Section three looks at previous, mostly failed, attempts to clamp down on tax havens. Zucman also sets out his own solution. This is a two-pronged approach that relies on “concrete sanctions proportional to the costs imposed by uncooperative tax havens to other countries” and “an international financial register”.

The last section investigates how multinational companies avoid paying tax. By his reckoning, US firms avoid paying $130bn in tax annually. The biggest perpetrators, he says, are the companies of the new economy: Google, Apple and Microsoft.

If a book about tax havens sounds dull, it is in fact quite the opposite. Zucman’s musings are both simple to understand and compelling. He also does a good job of explaining why tax evasion matters. It also benefits from being short enough to zip through in an evening.

q&a taxing matters

Lianne Gutcher expands on Gabriel Zucman’s book The Hidden Wealth of Nations:

Why do tax havens matter?

As French economist and author Thomas Piketty notes in the introduction: “Tax havens are one of the key driving forces behind rising wealth inequality as well as a major threat to our democratic societies. Moderns democracies are based on a fundamental social contract: everybody has to pay taxes on a fair and transparent basis, so as to finance access to a number of public goods and services. Dodging taxes puts that social contract at stake.”

Why is this issue particularly relevant now?

Mr Zucman argues that if you look at countries such as Greece, governments would not have to impose as much austerity on their citizens if tax-avoiding elites were brought to heel.

We don’t pay tax in the UAE. So, is this book relevant to people here?

It’s true that the UAE and other Gulf states do not collect tax, so no revenue is lost by parking wealth offshore. However, as Zucman points out, petrodollars went to Switzerland in the 1970s rather than the US for the reason that “Zurich offered the advantage of anonymity” and investments escaped scrutiny. Even now, while 8 per cent of the world’s financial wealth is held in tax havens, this rises to 30 per cent in Africa, and 50 per cent in Russia and the Middle East.

Where can I see the data and calculations made by Gabriel Zucman in the book?

Those interested in the data can visit

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

In The Thin Green Line, New York Times journalist Paul Sullivan sets out to discover the money habits of America’s super wealthy – the One Per Cent of the population who either make more than US$345,000 per year in earnings or who have minimum savings of $10 million.

The idea for this work came in 2011 when economic recovery in the US was still weak.

It struck Sullivan that “the economy was changing” and that “the burden of security in life and retirement was going to fall squarely on each of us”.

The resulting book aims to “empower people to make [better] financial choices”.

In the course of his reporting, the author, who is himself now part of the One Per Cent club – though he comes from a less financially privileged background – very quickly learns that there is a difference between being “rich” and being “wealthy”. Being wealthy is about having long-term financial security, factoring in risks and being able to survive potential negatives such as disability, a partners’ death or an economic downturn.

Sullivan also discovers that the “thin green line”, to which the title of the book refers, cuts through every income level from “the teacher with her pension on the right side of the line” to “the high-earning but overleveraged financier on the wrong side”.

The book, published earlier this year, is divided into five parts: how we think about money; how we save, spend and give it away; and the science of testing how we think and talk about money under stress.

Sullivan submits his own financial choices to scrutiny and his honesty in discussing his own habits is perhaps one reason why the book is compelling. His writing has a light touch and the book succeeds in being both informative and engaging.

The writer has done his research and backs up his observations with facts.

He interviews a fantastic selection of people including world-class economists, behavioural psychologists, philanthropists, tech founders and the offspring of the rich and famous – including Randy Fertel, the son of the founder of Ruth’s Chris Steak House who says he’s pretty sure that money ruined his family.


It seems you liked the book. Any drawbacks?

I did like the book – to the extent that it’s prompted me to think more carefully about my own financial decision-making. A downside is perhaps that the book is very “American” – there are interviews with obscure (to me) American sports stars and references to elite American prep schools. But this did not put me off.

If the book is very American, is it relevant to readers in the UAE?

Very much so. Many people are drawn to working in the UAE with the good intentions of bettering their own financial situation and saving for their future. Despite those good intentions, however, people at every income level may find themselves living beyond their means and “acting rich” by spending extravagantly on fancy cars, clothes and dinners. This book is a reminder why it’s important to be a little more frugal, to save and invest, and to spend in moderation.

What did you learn?

When it comes to investing, most of the One Per Cent have a financial adviser as well as an accountant and lawyer. As Sullivan writes: “Just because they successfully managed businesses that sold cars or vinyl siding or computer software didn’t mean they understood how to manage the money made from those decisions.” Also interesting is that members of the One Per cent are not necessarily any better than the rest of us about making investment decisions. They are often, however, more able to admit the mistakes they make and cut their losses.

Book review: Unique insights of the misfits

“What do pirates, terrorists, computer hackers and inner-city gangs have in common with Silicon Valley?”

That is the question posed by Alexa Clay and Kyra Myra Phillips in their book The Misfit Economy.

Fascinated by seedy underworlds and villains – with, no doubt, hearts of gold – it was a book I was eager to read.

However, the first few chapters disappointed. While the book does examine the innovative business models and “positive” disruption created by some criminals and outlaws operating at the margins of society, it is just as likely to explore less-outlandish ideas.

These include the business school graduate who wanted to bring camel milk to the United States, or the novel approach of the World Health Organization epidemiologist who asks if the spread of violence in inner cities can be controlled in the same way infectious diseases.

The first section of the book, published early this year, lays out the “misfit philosophy” and why they are important creators of value and wealth. It also explores why we should pay attention to misfits, particularly given our current uncertain economic climate. The book’s main body then describes five types of misfits and the lessons that can be learnt from them – hustling, copying, hacking, provoking and pivoting.

Reading on through the initial disappointing lack of buccaneers and outlaws, the narrative becomes more enjoyable – in no small part because the authors share a similar zeal for their subject matter as the single-minded entrepreneurs and misfits they describe have for their own projects. Misfits, they tell us, are passionate about what they do and “bring their soul to work”.

The book is also well researched, with the authors trotting the globe to conduct the interviews that form the basis of their work, and the case stories they present are very engaging.

Ultimately, the pair present a good case for why we should all embrace our inner outsider.

q&a outsiders can spot market gaps

Lianne Gutcher offers more insights into The Misfit Economy by Alexa Clay and Kyra Myra Phillips:

What is the authors’ definition of a misfit?

Their definition boils down to someone who is unconventional or an outsider. Their main criteria for including someone in the book is that, while they do not necessarily have to be business entrepreneurs – though many are such as Virgin founder Richard Branson – they can also be artists or social workers. They do, however, have to be doing something innovative or disruptive.

The book says it is particularly important to pay attention to misfits right now. Why is this?

The authors say we need new ideas to create wealth and value “at a time when the financial system is in need of radical reform, housing markets are facing ongoing disruption, and the energy sector is facing severe long-term challenges; when local communities are facing crises ranging from unemployment to water scarcity”.

And what’s this about camel milk?

Ah, yes. The “white gold of the desert”. The book recounts the unlikely story of Walid Abdul Wahab, from Saudi Arabia, who recognised the benefits of camel milk and its likely appeal to health-conscious Americans. He starts an unlikely camel milk business in the US to tap into the multimillion dollar market for alternatives to cows’ milk. The authors use his case to highlight the fact that misfits are able to spot gaps in the market, are ingenious in dealing with rules (the Food and Drug Administration strictly regulates the sale of raw milk) and persevere in the face of doubt and adversity because of their single-mindedness and passion.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Scott Ragsdale is the co-founder of the French company Naseba, a business-to-business events organiser focused on emerging markets. The French company launched in Monaco in 2002, opening its Dubai office two years later. Mr Ragsdale, 44, had worked as the general manager for a global business information company in Tokyo, Sydney, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Monaco, Barcelona and London. The American has lived in Dubai with his wife and daughter since 2007.


I am a morning person, so I start early. This morning I woke at 3am. I went downstairs, had my fruit salad, made my coffee, then read the newspapers. I read the Financial Times and Bloomberg, then I walked for 90 minutes. Normally I go running or cycling and do three-to-five hours of training, but I’ve hurt my leg. I came back, took a shower and got ready for the day. I like endurance challenges. I’ve completed several Ironman events and swum the English channel. I’ve attempted Race Across America twice; it’s considered the toughest race in the world. When I was training for that, I was training eight to 12 hours a day. In 2013, I quit halfway; I was sleep deprived and failed mentally. I trained for a year and a half to do it again. I got through the toughest part on day four and crashed my bike; I woke up in hospital. I like to train, as it helps me to focus on business. This year I am doing another challenge: the Deca-Ironman – an Ironman triathlon every day for 10 days. One of the big reasons I do these challenges is to experience life to the fullest and not let it pass me by.


I get my Bateel coffee, sit down at my desk and get on with the day. In our Dubai office we have teams that work Asian, Middle East, European and US hours. I work the European and American markets. I have two companies – Naseba and Naru – that are both part of the Naseba Group. Naru offers corporate finance investor services. A big portion of our business is in Saudi Arabia, so we have an office in Riyadh. I have conference calls with the team there as well as meetings with the managing director of Naru. As the chairman, I don’t necessarily have a day-to-day role other than overseeing that everything is running to plan. This involves a lot of chasing to make sure my people are doing it right, leaders in our other offices are doing it right and following up on business. I get involved in speaking to our big clients. I will go and meet them, have dinner with them, spend time with them. I travel once or twice a month. My focus now is acquiring a company in South Africa, so I’m doing a lot more travelling. Last week I was in Monaco. I’m back in Dubai this week, I’m in Nigeria next week, then Cape Town and Saudi Arabia. I go to Saudi Arabia often, sometimes just for the day.


I have a green juice and a fruit salad at my desk every day. I’m big on fruit. I spend the majority of my time in the afternoon on Chicago. We opened an office there and we are expanding. I am a different kind of chairman – I’m more hands-on to make it happen, to challenge the teams to perform better. We are always trying to figure out how can we climb higher. A big theme of mine is, “The man at the top of the mountain didn’t fall there”. Everyone wants to get to the top of the mountain, but no one wants to climb anymore. Recruitment is one of the things I am really focused on, and I meet our HR person almost every day.


I work until 6pm or 7pm, then eat and go to sleep. For dinner I normally have vegetables. My wife is a vegan, my 11-year-old daughter is a vegetarian and I’m an aspiring raw vegan. When I have client dinners, I will go to a restaurant that serves fish.


I sleep early because I wake up early. During the week I do miss the time with my family. That’s the one negative about training for these challenges. I am able, however, to see my wife and daughter in the morning before my daughter goes to school, and I spend time with them on the weekend. I am definitely not a mall person, so we go to a nice restaurant, or walk around the new areas in town. We also cycle together when it’s not hot, or go camping. I quit Facebook recently because I realised I don’t read any more. I noticed my Kindle battery had died and I didn’t even remember the last time I’d used it. I am able to achieve a lot with my time. I am trying to make my life happen.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

UAE internship programmes bring benefits to both sides

It didn’t take Disha Dadlani, who has just finished her second year of studying for a bachelor’s degree in media and communication at Manipal University in Dubai, long to realise that there is quite a jump between classroom learning and putting what you learn into practice.

Ms Dadlani, 19, started a month-long paid internship at the Dubai PR firm Cicero & Bernay in July. When we caught up with her, she was being put through her paces: rotating between departments – getting a feel for the various nuances of doing public relations for automotive, food and beverage, and real estate clients – as well as writing press releases, conducting research and compiling media lists.

C&B has taken on interns for the past few years but this is the first year a structured programme of learning has been put in place.

“Rather than just having the interns come in on an ad hoc basis, we thought it was more beneficial for students to come into a programme that had specific rotation structures [where they can] learn a lot of the basics of PR and get a broad range of exposure,” says Ross Bethell, C&B’s director of strategy. “This really maximises what they get out of it and, for us, they are able to contribute rather than just sit there and hopefully get some work.”

Mr Bethell drew on his own experiences as in intern in Canada 20 years ago to create the scheme, and focuses on mentoring and feedback. Ms Dadlani receives a daily review of her performance from the mentor assigned to her. She also knows she can approach other senior members of staff.

“Agencies and companies have a duty … to give [students] some real world experience and see if that’s a career they want to continue,” he says.

It’s not all a one-way street. Interns also bring fresh ideas to the workplace with them, according to Mr Bethell.

“These students are really familiar with social media brands, what’s hot, what’s cool and celebrities,” he says. “So it opens your eyes to a lot of what’s hip and current right now.”

Of course, internships also allow businesses to make a thorough assessment of their temporary employee, with a view to perhaps hiring them on a full-time basis when they have completed their studies.

Internships give “us the time to observe the performance of the individuals, says Sameer Sultan Al Maskari, the head of nationalisation and business communication at Emirates NBD. “That’s a very great advantage. With the recruitment process there is only the interview and a psychometric test; there is still a high risk of taking the individual in. This is a proper assessment and it’s cost-effective for the organisation.”

As a UAE bank, 4 per cent of the firm’s annual hires must be Emiratis. Internships are a useful way to promote banking (not traditionally a popular career choice among young nationals) as an exciting and challenging profession and to develop a pipeline of potential future employees.

Mr Al Maskari reckons that Emirates NBD takes on between 250 and 300 trainees per year, and 15 per cent of these are former interns.

Likewise at the law firm Clyde & Co, students must demonstrate that they have ties to the Middle East or are willing to work in the region after they finish their studies to be taken on as interns. Top performers this summer will be invited to join the Clyde and Co trainee programme when they have graduated in 2017.

One trend that has emerged recently in the UAE is internships offered by tech firms specifically to boost the future employability of young Emiratis and to create a pool of qualified future employees, according to Ali Mater, the head of talent solutions at LinkedIn Mena.

“We are seeing a trend, particularly in the technology sector, for which internships can create a strong pipeline of talent,” he says. “Another approach is offering UAE nationals structured and quality internships to strengthen their competitive positioning in the job market. Some of them combine these, like the SAP Academy in Dubai, which trains both UAE nationals and other interns on ERP solutions.”

(ERP stands for enterprise resource planning, a business management software that organisations use to collect, store, manage and interpret data from a variety of activities.)

As for Ms Dadlani at C&B, her internship will help inform her choices for the area in which she will specialise next year.

“This internship is a great opportunity to decide and test the water and it’s definitely going to help me make that critical decision,” she says. “It’s been a rewarding experience on the whole – I learn something new every day and I see myself hopefully in the future working in a PR agency.”

Day in the life: Dubai online classified company aims for e-commerce heights

Adham Saleh is the founder of EZHeights, an online classified company he launched nine months ago. The 29-year-old Egyptian, who grew up in the UAE, left the Emirates at the age of 17 to study pharmacy at the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. There, he started his first business, an events company that catered to overseas students. In 2008, he moved to London to do an MBA and practised pharmacy for about a year. On a holiday in Dubai, he was offered a job with GlaxoSmithKlein as marketing manager for Middle East and Africa. After a stint as managing director of an Iranian company, he decided to focus on starting his own businesses, first launching, a property auction site in 2013.


I’m a bit of an early bird. I spend some time walking around the house thinking and reflecting on the previous day: How I achieved my goals, what I could improve today, what I could have handled better?


I sit down and catch up on some emails. I have a cup of green tea and see what tasks I have to do, what my day looks like and what meetings I have.


I hit the pool for a few laps. Then, at 7.30am I have a quick breakfast of cereal – very rarely a fruit – and read the sports section and the news. Then it’s off to work. My house is at Jumeirah Village Triangle so it’s about 20 minutes to the office.


Every day I have a conference call with my team in India. I have a big team of about 60 employees there who do all my IT support, so every morning we have a proper catch-up and brainstorm. Working in the e-commerce business, every day you are trying to come up with new ideas that improve the user experience, make it more user-friendly and make it simpler. It’s not like a shop where you maybe redecorate every two years. With a website you have to keep improving it on a daily basis. With EZHeights, I am focusing on quality. We have a manual approval process so no ad can be posted without us looking into it, checking prices, checking pictures. It has to be to our standards.


We have about 20 employees in Dubai in sales, marketing, legal, accounting, admin and HR. I do a lot of teamwork, especially with my sales team – there’s a bit of micromanagement there. Every day the whole team sits down for about two hours and we discuss the problems and successes we have. Currently, EZHeights is only in English in the UAE. We are going to launch in Arabic very soon and Saudi is definitely a big market. But my next big launch will be in India.


I often skip lunch as I get so caught up in work. The rest of the day I spend handling marketing, quality control, customer care – which I really emphasise. I’m not just planning on having this business for year or two, I want it to be here in 30, 40-plus years, so I’m building strong foundations. I do a lot of meetings; sometimes outside the office but most of the time people come and see us.


If I don’t have any evening meetings or events to go to, I head home to have dinner with my wife. If I am not too tired I will cook – it’s one of my passions. I’m really into seafood; my favourite dish to cook is buttered poached lobster with home-made pasta. If I ever open a restaurant that will be my signature dish. If I’m out for an evening event, it can be all sorts: e-commerce events, networking, maybe something real estate-related such as a developer’s launch party. After dinner at home I watch some TV and clean the pool. I also produce my own music – but that’s usually on the weekends. I do a lot of fusion – Latin, salsa and Arabic music mixed with western base to make it lounge-y. On the weekends I have no work at all so I have quite a lot of time for myself and my wife. I work really, really hard during the week so that’s why I take a good break on the weekends, otherwise you burn out.


It’s lights out. I don’t read many books but if I do its mostly business books or biographies of successful people such as Richard Branson.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter

Michelle Mone was different from other little girls growing up in the rough East End of Glasgow in Scotland. By the time she was 10, she had 17 teenagers working for her doing paper rounds and, as a teenager, it was a poster of Richard Branson that hung above her bed rather than Madonna. She was determined to become a successful entrepreneur – and by the age of 28 the Ultimo bra brand she created four years earlier at the age of 24 had made her a millionaire.

Her autobiography My Fight to the Top, first published last month, tells the story of Ms Mone’s rise in the world of business but also the behind-the-scenes drama of her marriage to a controlling husband, a major shareholder in her company. It also details her binge eating and resulting weight gain – caused, she says, by stress and unhappiness.

“Being an entrepreneur is the loneliest job on the planet,” she writes.

Ms Mone’s story is most absorbing when she describes her victories along the road to success. As well as her flair for innovation, she has a knack for PR. Launching the Ultimo range at Selfridges in London, she paid 12 actors to dress up as surgeons and wave banners outside the store saying “Ban the Ultimo Bra”. The message: you don’t need a surgeon, this bra is the answer. Selfridges sold six months’ worth of stock in five hours.

Readers with a particular interest in Scottish business will enjoy the cameo appearances by singer Rod Stewart (both his current and ex-wife posed as Ultimo models) and the entrepreneur Tom Hunter – founder of the retailer Sports Division and Scotland’s first home-grown billionaire.

However, the book is somewhat light on the nitty-gritty of running a business. When the firm nearly goes under because the factory in Portugal cannot keep up with demand, a manufacturing expert comes in and moves production to Hong Kong. But the reader gets no insight into how supply chains work or the financials behind that move.

The prose is also somewhat cliché-ridden with phrases like “sometimes you gotta fall before you fly” making an appearance more than once.

Still, Ms Mone comes across as a likeable character and, ultimately, the reader roots for her success.

q&a perfectionist’s passion

Lianne Gutcher offers more insights into Michelle Mone’s autobiography My Fight To The Top:

How did Michelle Mone become the “bra tycoon”?

After taking redundancy from a high-flying sales job to spend more time with her family, Ms Mone was casting around for a business venture. The cleavage-enhancing bra she wore to a black-tie dinner dance was so uncomfortable it motivated her to create a bra that not only flattered the wearer but was also comfortable. Creating her first designs took three years.

Three years?

The woman is nothing if not a perfectionist. Lingerie is one of the most complex manufacturing products. It takes about 26 components, of which the fabric is just one, to make one bra.

So what happened next?

Her marriage ended in 2011 and she bought her husband out of Ultimo in 2012 for a reported £24 million (Dh134.2m). She then sold 80 per cent of her shares to her Sri Lanka business partners MAS Holdings. She also bought a tanning and beauty company, UTan and Beaut.

Why would people want to read her autobiography?

She has picked up awards including UK businesswoman of the year, designer of the year, export brand of the year and gained a spot on the Sunday Times Rich List. She was also an outspoken advocate for the “Better Together” campaign during the Scottish Independence referendum last September.

Follow The National’s Business section on Twitter