“I had money but lost it all and had to start over”

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Dr. Jaco Smith is a South African born family and cosmetic dentist, and owner of the Dental Studio group in Dubai.

After his beginnings as a fighter pilot and his sporting aspirations, he graduated in his home country and obtained a master’s degree in the United States before practicing dentistry in the United Kingdom and then in Bahrain, during which time he was the favorite dentist of the royal family of the kingdom.

Dr Smith, 47, is a father of three boys and lives in Dubai Motor City.

How did money play into your upbringing?

I was born in Johannesburg and moved to Cape Town. My father worked in the lumber industry, [he was] one of the main directors of the company. Money was never something we lacked, but also nothing we aspired to.

We had a nice place. I was an avid tennis and cricket player and grew up in a part of South Africa where money was not a big deal, not a competition.

We never talked about money. Dad took care of the savings, of my accounts. You got pocket money if you washed the car or even if we didn’t wash the cars. It was probably a bad thing if I look back because you have to learn fast when you become a student.

I wasn’t brought up with the notion of money, how to earn it or manage it…when you have parents who are pretty much trying to protect and knock down all the barriers.

When I had a student loan, my dad was still behind the scenes. I started thinking about money when I started working in England. Then I had loans to repay, everything changed on me and I became a man.

Did you work during your teenage years?

I had vacation jobs. I was a waiter but I wasn’t there for the money. These were things we basically did to be with friends and as a young man of 16 or 17 I was there for the food. It was more of a social thing.

We have government bonds, Google stocks and these types of companies that will probably always be part of our lives.

Dr. Jaco Smith, dental studio owner

I was a very good sportsman and I lived for sports. It was not the financial aspect because at that time rugby was not even professional. The sporting side unfortunately came to an end when I broke my neck in a game.

So dentistry gave you the nod?

I was accepted to study medicine and switched to dentistry after a few years. I wanted to go to England and joined a practice as an associate dentist and received a salary of £1,500 (7,536 Dh).

I spent seven years in England, got into private practice, and then felt it was time to move on. I had spent several weeks working in Bahrain and wanted to experience different adventures. During my stay in Bahrain, I met a gentleman who wanted to sell a practice in Dubai. We took over this in 2003 and I opened this clinic in 2006.

No one taught me about the business side of dentistry, so over time I retired from clinical work to be more on the business side, to make sure everything went according to plan; you can’t do both.

How was Dental Studio born?

Dentistry is a difficult profession. People don’t like to come, it costs money, they get nervous, so we created a brand. We have established a model of multi-specialty dentistry, without them [patients] be referred to other clinics.

It took a number of years before we were able to grow. Now we have five, soon to be six, dental centers in Dubai. We look further to Abu Dhabi and opportunities in Saudi Arabia.

It’s about giving people the best experience and keeping it in-house. It’s not just about the dentist and specialist you see; it is also the service around that. People take care of themselves, have money to spend. In the hands of the right people using the right technology and having the right attitude, dentistry is great. For us, it was an opportunity.

How do you view spending and saving?

When you start making money – your money – you have to take care of yourself, so I was really in a savings mentality. I finally developed a balance.

Today I am more of a spender – on my family, on experiences we can remember and enjoy, far and wide on game drives and skiing if we have the time.

It’s not about material things. I am lucky that my three sons are quite gifted athletes. For me, being also athletic, it’s great to be alongside the field with their journey. Luckily, what business has allowed me to do is spend time with my family, which is precious.

How to grow your wealth?

There are savings for easy access. We have government bonds, Google stocks, and those types of companies that will probably be part of our lives forever.

I’m not a big risk taker. I have properties in South Africa and the UK. I’ve invested in other businesses and invested heavily in my own business…the investment I’m most proud of.

I didn’t go to many business schools. I had to learn on the job and we are doing quite well. I now have over 90 people working in our companies and I want to take the brand as far as possible.

Financial milestones?

When I wrote my business plan at age 30, I said that by age 40, I would like to be financially independent – ​​not for retirement, but so I could take three months off if I wanted to. I succeeded in that; my business gave me the luxury of doing what I really wanted to do with my time.

Others are negative milestones. I invested blindly or took over a company that I didn’t know much about; what I call tuition money.

The big lesson I learned is to do your due diligence and understand what due diligence means when people ask you to invest. I just saw the numbers and lost money. I’ve learned to stick with what I know, to really understand what you’re putting money into.

What is your most expensive expense?

I took my (now) wife to Verona. I asked her to marry me on Juliette’s balcony. My most valuable purchase was that ticket to Italy because she said “yes”.

Experiences too…my first ski trip, to play golf at Pebble Beach (USA) and Valderrama (Spain).

What do you think of the money?

Money doesn’t define me. I had money, lost everything and had to start over. Money is a game; try to play as well as you can.

When I was starting to make money as a young dentist, I wanted more. You tend to grab something you weren’t used to. I probably got greedy and burned my fingers. Through these experiences, I came back to who I really am. I don’t care about money. If I don’t have it, I’ll go out and try to do it again.

Without money, it is also difficult. In everyone’s life, its importance is different and we have a different relationship with it.

I have determined what is enough in my life. When you come to this place… then I think you have a happy relationship with money.

Updated: January 22, 2022, 5:50 a.m.

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