Mustafa Koita is the founder and chief executive of Koita, a homegrown organic foods company he set up in 2013. The American previously worked in the defence industry, heading the Middle East region for a division of Boeing Defense Systems. Mr Koita, 41, who has lived in the UAE for more than 10 years, is married with three children: two daughters and a son.
How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?
My father immigrated to the US in the ’60s with very little in his pockets. He worked extremely hard to put himself through university, get a job and raise four naughty children. Even after achieving a financial comfort level, my father still insisted that his children earn every penny. There were no allowances or expensive birthday gifts, there were only opportunities for us to go out and get a job. I really hated this when I was younger, as my other friends had it easy. However, in hindsight it was the best thing my father could have done for us – teach us the real value of money.
How much did you get paid for your first job?
My first job was working for a software company in Chicago as an inside sales representative. The pay was about US$28,000 a year or around Dh8,500 per month. I lived off canned tuna sandwiches and microwave noodles, and had a full head of hair.
Are you spender or saver?
I consider myself a strategic spender and like to invest in things that are either fun, educational or investments that save me time. When things are tight I spend less on the fun things, however when I can, I love to go on family holidays, eat out and go gadget shopping.
What is your most cherished purchase?
A few years ago we purchased a home in the UAE. It was one of our largest investments to date and our kids are loving every square foot of it. My wife enjoys decorating it (a never-ending project) and as a technology geek I love every home automation gadget I can put my hands on. I’ve probably invested about Dh20,000 to date in gadgetry.
Have you ever had a month where you feared you could not pay the bills?
No, and I pray it never happens. We try to run an extremely lean organisation and have a cash buffer in case of emergencies.
Where do you save your money?
In a good old-fashioned current bank account. Besides bonds we’re quite risk-averse with our core savings.
Do you prefer paying by credit card or in cash?
Credit of course, as I love racking up the airline miles. Although you always need some cash to give out a proper tip here and there.
What has been your best investment?
It’s been in myself – or in other words, Koita Foods. Not only am I extremely passionate about healthy eating, but the food industry itself is not very cyclical. More importantly, since I run the business I’m also in the best position to manage my own investment risk.
What do you most regret spending money on?
Speeding tickets. I’m pretty embarrassed to say how much I’ve racked up in fines.
What financial advice would you offer your younger self?
None at all. I am glad I made all the financial mistakes in my earlier life. It’s those tough times that have made me a better business leader today.
Do you have a plan for the future?
Right now I want to focus on building a durable and sustainable business that I can one day hand over to my children. To do that financing has been critical to our growth; and we feel lucky to have been working with the cloud lending team at Beehive.ae. They are super easy to work with and it’s also given our customer base in the UAE an opportunity to be part of our home-grown growth story.
If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?
Pay off those speeding tickets. Just kidding, I would gladly invest it back into my business.
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