Dr Dolf de Roos took the PRISM conference stage yesterday (Sunday Nov 2, 2014) at the Mines Exhibition Center in Kuala Lumpur, and delivered quite a presentation. One thing was clear for all, Dolf is a man of creative ideas and he is quite passionate about getting people to open their minds. As his…
Sam Helmy is a property developer, entrepreneur, speaker and consultant who has been helping property investors understand the ins and outs of the industry for years.
- He has been working with clients from London, Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, enabling them to turn their property investment decisions, tactics and strategies into an organized effective approach.
- Finance graduate and Mensa International member, his background includes founding and leading four business ventures successfully, including Emirates FX -a financial and property brokerage firm that rose to become one of the Top 3 firms in Dubai by trading volume, and Neovate Developments -the new urban property development company in Malaysia.
- Previously he worked across three continents helping Blue Chip corporations (including Microsoft, 3Com, Unilever, Epson, and Daimler Chrysler) in matters of marketing, PR, and training… before turning towards property and financial investments where he started working with property investment institutions and high-net-worth Individuals to help them buy and manage growing portfolios of property.
- He writes about investment and property in media portals such as Arabian Business, MONEYworks, thinkproperty.my, and Asian Property Review, and has lectured business students on investment and entrepreneurship in several institutions in Indonesia, Malaysia and elsewhere.
For a personal 1-on-1 coaching consultation by Sam please register here
Learn More About Sam
“This is the way it is, let’s leave it at that,” my teachers used to say. It was simply an annoying concept for me. I didn’t get why would they be frustrated at answering two or three or in reality 32 questions about different things and why they were the way they were.
I had a curiousity towards figuring out things and how they worked, and always felt that things could be made better or more efficient. It is clear coming up with systems was in my head since my early days, however at that age almost all of my attempts at improving my toys, ended up with them being thrown in the trash and mom sighing away at yet another waste.
I was living in Abu Dhabi since the age of 1. It was a great place for kids to grow up, very safe, very organized, and ridiculously delicious food all over. We used to cherish the fairly regular shawerma and falafel snacks from the Lebanese cafeterias, the sweet aroma of Manaqeesh Zaatar (Thyme and Olive oil pastries) from the Jordanian bakeries on weekend mornings, and the Indian delicacies from the myriad of shops all over the city. With the family always together, my brother and I had what is considered to be a great life growing up.
It did have a problem of being a seriously boring city for kids during the summer (sort of better nowadays). If it wasn’t for the Tourist Club (a sort of family oriented country club without the exclusivity nor the horses), we would have been begging our parents to do chores (there is always a chance that it was intentionally built that way as a conspiracy against us kids!).
Living in all sorts of places afterwards however opened up my horizons, and I learned quite a few lessons about commitment and surefooted consistent growth from Abu Dhabi, a city that used to be a desolate desert town 35 years ago and yet today ranks as the 4th most favorite metropolis in the World to live.
The Journey to My First Professional Enterprise
As an extra-green young teenager, heading off for college at 15, I had quite a few challenges mingling with my colleagues and other students. It was already not easy to relate to older classes, being younger than almost all freshmen made it quite hard to break into social groups. This was in Cairo, so for a while I was kind of the socially awkward geek who came from abroad and was hanging around other newbies and nerds talking about computers and this “Internet” thing that was exciting everybody. Not long though and I bumped into my first business partner.
He was already selling computers to companies and then running a simple maintenance contract on them. Together we began assembling PC’s ourselves and then started getting more and more maintenance contracts since two people can cover for each other a lot more efficiently.
I was HOOKED… Not only was I adding value while working and connecting with all these businesses, but there was also a sense of freedom and control that I thought was brilliant. It was a smashing replacement to the life plan that was being promoted in my family: “find a good company and secure yourself a job… Save your money… impress your boss… do what you’re told… and if all goes well you retire at the age of 60”. I always thought this was ABSOLUTELY not for me.
The computer business experience, although paid the equivalent of a pack of peanuts in the beginning, was an incredible new model of life that appealed to me far more than the status-quo. It presented the option of creating value directly, making decisions, meeting people in all sorts of industries, and working whenever we needed and wanted to. With a bit of tweaking, and a bit of hard work, the money became slightly better as well.
By the time I graduated, that business was decaying and soon came to a halt. Businesses needed more professional maintenance from qualified certified technicians; we were amateurs still studying in business school. With graduation he went the trading route, and I experimented a little while before getting a chance to go back to Abu Dhabi.
From Struggle to The Turning Point in My Life
I spent a year in an Insurance company owned by Abu Dhabi government, and that affirmed my belief (as well as demonstrated to my parents) that a corporate job was by all means not for me. I couldn’t decide on a business to start at the time, and I honestly had no idea HOW to start one. They never taught entrepreneurship at my school, and that is a huge gap that no institution today should tolerate.
I got an opportunity to work with a marketing communications agency in Dubai called Spot On, they were small but a very efficient British run agency that focused on the IT and Telecom industries. We had Microsoft, Cisco, Sun, and other global giants like those. It was impressive, and I was curious to learn how a small agency manages to provide value to such established names.
Their approach was high expertise combined with local experience and extensive relationships with the media. This paved the way for me to work in a more enjoyable value-adding role; I can help progressive World-class companies as a marketing and PR consultant and through it I can maintain a relative form of freedom and daily variety.
As my exposure grew and I moved up a few promotions and across multiple agencies, the entrepreneurial urge was kind of egging me to setup something I can call my own, but there was a bit of a comfort zone that I did not want to leave.
I had a jarring experience though when my father passed away, I was shaken to the core and my comfort zone was shattered. He was not only my dad but also my best friend… He was a fairly healthy 52 year old, and was a monument to what should be considered as followed the carefully planned foundation of security. My outlook in life changed, I lost a lot of things including my motivation.
Soon I was job-hopping because I was either fired for underperformance or I quit because I couldn’t stand the environment. Even when I eventually was struggling with my finances and had my credit cards maxed and even basic groceries were hard to manage, I couldn’t keep a job because the stress that was building for over a year triggered a state of chronic fatigue syndrome and muscular pain that just made getting up in the morning a major struggle. I had neither direction nor resources nor the physical capacity to compete, this was a low point in my life.
One fateful ad in the classifieds put me in a meeting room with someone who introduced me to the financial markets. I was skeptic because it was a commission-only position, but when he turned around that green monochrome monitor and I took one look at the stock exchange numbers changing by the second, something awoke. I reasoned that my education will come in handy and the flexible timing will allow me to work in spite of my health condition, and so I decided to just go for it.
Things moved very quickly then. I was analyzing markets and trading positions, getting clients, and calling orders within weeks. It only took a few months to figure out how the whole company works, and how I can start my own to serve clients in a better way than these guys were. So I spoke to friends and one had some money lying around, we setup an office and I invited some of the guys from the office to join me, and that was a huge turning point in my life.
The Journey Into Property & System Discovery
My first brush with property was in Dubai, the freehold law announcement and the inauguration of the Dubai Marina master development by the ruling Sheikh of Dubai in 2002 ushered in phenomenal growth and many opportunities. Many developments were launched and the whole World focused and obsessed over Dubai’s property boom. I was just starting my own business in financial brokerage then, and clients asked us to help them with their property investments.
I began working with a fairly good number of people, some of them knew more about property selection and buying than I did. I was there to give “analysis on financial return” mostly at first, but the association allowed me to learn their many techniques in assessing property choices. As property began to be delivered after construction however, I had to represent the owners and investors in dealing with the developer and property managers.
Most of the professional property management companies were from the UK, and they charged quite a high fee for their services. At first rental was easy because there wasn’t a lot of property available and so many were still under-construction, but soon enough dozens upon dozens of brand new residential and office towers were taking over the city, forming a new skyline, and while the city was becoming beautiful… tenancy levels were becoming a challenge. The units managed by the UK property managers however continued to do very well, while other units handled directly by owners or regular agents were mostly either vacant or tenanted at low rental yields.
My curiousity compelled me into figuring out what they were doing that was different that made such a dramatic better result for our clients: Units were consistently rented out, at higher amounts, and the rent was paid on time. This is what got me to work with them, sometimes offering my services for free in return to allowing me to spend time on their operation. I desired to learn, to understand, and that something-for-something attitude opened doors.
I discovered that there are very set procedures to ensure how well properties are managed, that there were systems in place with very few judgemental decisions. I learned that great tenants are not attracted by just advertising, and high rents are not achieved by just asking for them. Property was an asset and it had to be treated as a working machine, customized and tuned correctly according to sound principles to attract and retain great tenants and to claim high rent. I kept on working, and learning.
When I felt I learned enough I started offering property management services to my smaller clients myself through my own company, I got a confidence boost when the results was apparent in less than three months with tenancies rolling in at a higher rate and maintenance was running like clockwork.
Many of my clients started referring their friends over to their “property guy that really knows what he is doing.” Their referred friends were telling me they knew those professional property management companies were very effective and good, but they wouldn’t take individual units and are happy that I am. I soon setup a full operation carrying that out, and word started getting around even with the big boys.
I began receiving large clients soon afterwards. I saw quickly that there were huge differences in what makes them tick: Some of the companies and large individual investors were very successful and each owned hundreds and thousands of properties all over the World, while others struggled or were just getting by with a few. However, they seemed to be just as smart and connected as each other.
Some of the big clients were fairly friendly guys who met me in their shorts and stayed at 4 star hotels when they were in town… They didn’t have ivy league education or enormous teams. They didn’t burn the midnight oil analyzing endless financial statements. They were fairly simple and yet rediculously successful. It was clear there was a difference in HOW they were investing than the other clients who were either struggling or just getting by.
My curiousity got me into sticking my nose again into their operation closely. I wanted to learn more. I convinced some of the super-wealthy individual clients and one of the companies to let me work closely with them, and as before: reduced fees or completely free work was my bargaining chip to get through the door. They were doing something right, and I wanted to learn it. Before long I was neck deep in property deals and projects. My free work for knowledge paid off. I was making great property deals for myself and started turning some of the small struggling clients into thriving ones.
Life was moving forward, and it was then that I negotiated one of the most rewarding deals ever… convincing one of the best women I have ever met to marry me. I still think I got the better part of that bargain.
Why Kuala Lumpur?
Quite a few years was spent in Dubai with a lot of work done regionally and internationally, including some well-spent time in London. 2008 was not a good year for financial and property investment businesses, and I was at the heart of it. Even though I anticipated it clearly and warned enough of my clients to avoid the direct damage towards our business, the fallout was widespread and indirectly affected everyone. At that time I was already a family man and I began thinking that I wanted more out of life. Dubai was extremely generous to us and we lived the most amazing 10 years there, but Dubai was a hard-core commerce, glamour and materialism city. It is like a five star hotel; you’d love to stay a while, but pretty soon you would want to go to a home.
I flew down to South East Asia as I decided to closely study three cities and see which would make a great place to move on to: Singapore, Bangkok, and Kuala Lumpur. After my research trip I flew back and told my wife in no uncertain terms: “We’re moving to Kuala Lumpur, end of story.” The city just struck me as the perfect mix of an easygoing tropical paradise with all the modernity and conveniences of a thriving metropolis. It is a city that had depth, culture, and an amazing entrepreneurial spirit. The huge base of small to medium businesses was inspiring, and the abundance of opportunities was exciting.
For a year or so I was simply winding down, discovering. Still supervising a few remaining items in the successful sell-off of my business back in Dubai, and exploring different venues here.
It wasn’t easy at first; I had to go through quite a number of partners, and went through a number of associations. There was a “transactional” mentality that made it a little difficult to fit into the business scene here, and within the property field I was actually seen by many as simply an experienced agent. It was not easy to identify with what I actually do. It took a long time to adjust and adapt my own ways of relationship building that I was used to from Dubai and London markets.
Little by little I began expanding my working circles. I carried out growing projects from renovation-to-sell contracts to project marketing for developers. It was then that I saw the spark of an investment mentality in the general people. Many people were using available home-ownership finance offers from banks to buy real estate for investment. Some were struggling, others were afraid, a few were taking advantage of the rising market and simply speculating on developer units. I found that there was a strong drive and desire, good techniques, but very few systems. Property management and tenancy was largely neglected and was being carried out in very similar ways to the clients who used to struggle back in Dubai; just handover the keys to an agent and hope his advertisements get you a good tenant.
So when the opportunity came, I began building propertyinvestment.my with my partner. I built it with the value offering in mind that we can help Malaysians understand that they can consistently win the property game in all sorts of different economic cycles by following the exact steps those established investment companies and high net worth individuals were applying back in Dubai and London. That the road to building property wealth was from calculated decisions not gut-feeling.
Why My Journey Can Help You Climb To Financial Freedom
I believe I will be striving to continue learning as much as I can, because that always allowed me to grow and the value compounded through to my clients. My life had a few ups and downs but I feel blessed with the entire journey. Professionally speaking I will continue to focus my energy into both property and entrepreneurship. I am coaching and advising now more than I am working on projects, but I never believed in that saying “those who can’t do, teach”. I don’t believe that at all… I believe that “those who can teach, should”. Whether or not they are currently “doing”, is irrelevant.
There is something very fulfilling in coaching and training. Helping others find their way rather than watching them spend years in confusion, maybe finding their way after so much loss of time, effort and money, or not finding their way at all. It is something that I believe will continue to grow within me, while I grow with it.
If you would like to grow your property investments, shorten your learning curve, cut out tens of thousands of dollars worth of mistakes, and finally gain your financial freedom, sign up for Sam’s next event.