‘I believe in saving and don’t like debt’

James Michael Lafferty, 58, is the chief executive of Fine Hygienic Holding, a brand known by many households in the UAE for its tissue products.

Mr Lafferty, a father of five grown-up children, began his career as a fitness coach before being recruited into brand management by Procter & Gamble in his home state of Ohio in the US.

His career has taken him across the globe, and has included chief executive roles with P&G, Coca-Cola and British American Tobacco.

Mr Lafferty is also a philanthropist and professional coach, most recently for a Tokyo Olympics Filipino pole vaulter, and was previously the Philippines’ Olympic athletics team coach at the 2016 Rio Games.

He was also the Philippines national powerlifting champion in 2017 before moving to Dubai. Mr Lafferty lives on Palm Jumeirah with his wife.

Did money play a role in your upbringing?

I was the last of seven kids. My father was a commissioned salesman: if he didn’t sell, he didn’t get paid. My mother was a housewife. I grew up in a small three-bedroom house in Cincinnati, with girls in one room, the boys in another and one bathroom.

It was pretty much all hand-me-downs. I never thought wearing my brother’s old clothes was a problem, it was still a cool new shirt for me. I thought that was normal life.

I was not remotely spoiled and my parents were obsessed with teaching me about earning. My biggest “gift” was a bike at 13. I cut the grass at $5 a time; not a good deal because it would take about six hours. To pay off the $110 (bike cost), I had to cut grass for 22 weeks.

How did this upbringing have an impact on you?

My parents were savers and never took out debt. And I don’t like debt, I believe in saving, even living frugally and prudently, below my means. I understand and value my humble roots.

It was only in high school that I got exposure to people who really had something, knew there were rich people in the world. That had a dramatic impact on me and money management skills that I’ve tried to pass on to my children.

I had a theory I’ve made great money on, which is to buy blue chip stocks when they’re low because they almost always come back

James Michael Lafferty

When was your first salary?

My first real job was cashier at a store in the early 1980s. I made minimum wage, which was $2.90 an hour. I had a range of jobs through high school and college. The period when I was aged 17 to 21 changed the course of my life.

My mother developed early stage Alzheimer’s. I left the house young and was paying for my school and rent. Then my girlfriend, who became my wife, got pregnant when I was 21. I was working four jobs, including the worst, putting in new sewer lines. That taught me a lot; I’ve never complained about any job. You need to learn humility.

I grew up loving and playing lots of sports. I was a decent athlete with a big heart. I was coaching youth teams and started a business. The world was opening up in 1984 to corporate wellness, companies starting to think about a healthy employee as a good employee … P&G hired us to give classes to executives.

What led you to work overseas?

I had a really good career in the US with P&G and decided I wanted to go overseas in 1990. I moved to Morocco, Poland, went to the Middle East – Iran, Jordan, Syria, Palestine, the West Bank and Gaza. Then I ran a toilet paper business in Western Europe, which indirectly lead to my current job and I joined the board of Fine.

I’ve been coming to this country for a number of years. I always had a dream to live in Dubai.

What is your attitude regarding saving?

I believe in planning for a rainy day. During Covid-19, we didn’t cut anyone’s job but I told people you need to have six months’ salary in the bank. I was always told to be prepared, anticipate issues. I will always make sure to have several months’ salary in reserve. If something goes wrong, I can survive.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 02 AUGUST 2018. Interview with CEO of Fine Hygienic Holding, James Michael Lafferty. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: Alkesh Sharma. Section: Business.

What’s the best investment tip you received?

My first boss at P&G gave me the greatest advice. My starting salary was $24,000 a year as a marketing person. After some time, the number went from 24 to 28. I thought I was the richest guy in the world. He said: “This is a $4,000 raise, don’t spend the $4,000, you’ve already figured how to live on $24,000, so have fun, go to dinner more, spend $2,000 on life, take the other $2,000, give it to an investment adviser and invest in stocks and bonds … if you do that, you will be financially secure by the time you’re 50.”

You let that compound for a decade, two decades, three, you suddenly find yourself in a great financial position, because one of the great miracles of the world is compounding interest. If you start saving at 25, you’re going to be home free. If you wait until 55, you won’t retire because you don’t have the time element on your side. That’s how I’ve lived my life to this day. I save half of every (pay) rise.

What has been your best investment?

When I was in college, I started to play the market with small amounts because I needed to help pay for school. I had a theory I’ve made great money on, which is to buy blue chip stocks when they’re low because they almost always come back.

The toy company Mattel, which makes the Barbie doll, got into selling personal computers and started to “bleed”. Mattel was down to $8 a share. I bought $200 worth of shares before Christmas in 1983. Right after Christmas, Mattel announced they were exiting the computer business and Wall Street loved it. I profited by more than $3,000. That paid for my tuition next year.

Do you have a cherished purchase?

In terms of physical possessions, absolutely not. I have no attachment to property. But I’ve never cut corners on travel – you carry the memory with you for the rest of your life – and education for my children.

Can money make you happy?

It’s the never-ending story – you’re always one raise away from where you want to be. It’s a moving target. So I don’t think money can bring happiness. It helps smooth out the bumps of life. I certainly wouldn’t want to be impoverished, but money is not a panacea. It’s a necessity to help make things happen, but you have to keep perspective.

I reflect on my earlier life. I was a college kid and had a child. We were living with my mother-in-law. We couldn’t even buy a crib. My son spent the first year in a sock drawer. It was a treat to have a pizza, watch a movie on TV and be with my baby and my wife … those are some of the happiest memories.

Have you been wise with money?

I’m a big believer in diversification. I would never give all the money to one financial company or planner. It’s all over the place so if somebody does something, I get hurt but not devastated. Don’t listen to one person, don’t put all your money into one property or one company. Spread it so when there are ups and downs, you can ride it out. My average return of investments since the late 1980s has been about 9.7 per cent a year.

I got a couple (of properties) here, a couple in the US. I only buy where I know the country. I’m a believer in old-fashioned values on financial planning; think long-term. If you don’t need the money today, don’t worry about it.

Is there anything you regret buying?

I don’t regret much. The majority were learning experiences and I ended up in a better place. I’ve wasted money, certainly, bought some dumb stuff. I bought a couple of computers, didn’t do my homework. There’s nothing that keeps me up at night because of big decisions like houses and cars, I always really do my homework.

What luxuries do you enjoy?

If I’m going to be in Dubai, I’m gonna do it right so I live on the Palm. I go out back and can run on the beach.

I don’t invest in clothing, I buy what’s comfortable. If somebody wants to judge me on my shirt, I don’t really care. If you look at the women I’ve admired in my life, from my mother to Mother Teresa, I don’t think any of them had a Louis Vuitton bag. And if you find your self worth based on your car, you’re in a very bad place.

Do you have a retirement plan?

I can basically stop working today and I’d be fine. But I don’t have this fixed number. Age is nothing, it’s about energy. I try to take care of myself, eat healthy and exercise every day. I plan to be here for a long time. I don’t know if I’ll ever retire.

I still coach, I like to teach, to help a company grow. Some people really want to retire because they hate what they do, get up every day and the endgame is to never have to get up and do this again. I get up every day and like what I do.

I’ve coached many Olympic gold medallists and you have to give up everything to win the gold. The secret to life is not to follow your passion, the secret is to find the passion in what you do.

Updated: October 14th 2021, 9:25 AM

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2021-10-14 06:00:05

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