Science grad masters art of investing

Mr Nick Dimopoulos and wife Masie Ng.

He holds a degree in biochemistry and was trained to be a pharmacist, but Mr Nick Dimopoulos, 48, has left all that behind to pursue his interest in investing.

Born in Australia, he had badly wanted to run his own business and had gamely suggested it to his parents in his early 20s.

"My dad and mum urged me to get a university degree like most parents would, but halfway through my second degree, I had that inkling that I was meant to do something else," he recalls.

"My schoolmate's father had often mentioned that stocks and shares could become worthless if something were to go wrong, but if you invest in property and land, you'd still have that asset despite fluctuations in its value."

That insight stuck with Mr Dimopoulos, who made his first foray into property development at the age of 22 when he bought a plot of land in Sydney for about A$80,000.

He had sought the advice of close associates in their 40s and 60s who had extensive business experience to evaluate a deal's potential.

He realised he had the acumen to bring investors and partners together to exploit opportunities.

"I'd source for deals, carry out the due diligence, handle the paperwork for potential mergers and acquisitions or buy-ins, followed by restructuring the company if necessary," he says.

That led him to start Topshield International. The company, which was first incorporated in Hong Kong, moved its headquarters to Singapore in 2008.

The Singapore permanent resident has been based here since 1997 and travels often to Australia and China to scout for more investment and business opportunities.

He married Ms Masie Ng, who works in the public sector, in July this year.

Q: Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm more inclined to save, though the majority of my savings are invested back into real estate-related holdings, some foreign currency or cash for those rainy days. It's extremely important to be liquid so you don't have to sell down your investments should the urgent need arise.

Q: How much do you charge to your credit cards every month?

For my personal spending, about $2,000 a month on items such as petrol, shopping and meals.

But I charge about $10,000 a month to my card for corporate expenses, the bulk of which are air tickets and accommodation.

Q: What financial planning have you done for yourself?

I'm always on the lookout for undervalued private businesses which have the potential to excel in the near future.

Investing in them can yield a three- or fourfold return when smaller shareholders are bought out, or the firm seeks a public listing.

Before investing my money, I'll bring in partners - some with relevant experience and knowledge - so they can evaluate how successful the business is, as well as its short- to long-term potential.

Although I ensure that my family and I have adequate health insurance, I've never bought investment-linked policies. Instead of locking in your money, I believe using or investing that sum today can yield better returns.

Q: Moneywise, what were your growing up years like?

My dad has always been a guiding force, stressing the need to save, the risk of debt and over-stretching oneself at an early age.

These values have stuck with me.

In my teenage years, I worked part-time at a supermarket stacking groceries and canned items to grow my savings and get extra pocket money.

Q: How did you get interested in investing?

I realised early on that I wanted to run my own business. So when the opportunity came in my early 20s, I dug into my savings, borrowed A$7,000 from my dad and took a bank loan to buy a plot of land in Sydney for about A$80,000.

I sought out potential business partners, who helped develop the residential project, which earned me some returns. The satisfaction of being involved in a project from start to end jolted my interest to pursue more such investments.

Q: What property do you own?

A four-bedroom condo at Costa Rhu, bought in 2011 for $1.65 million. In Sydney, I've two condo units, about 1,000 sq ft each, that I rent out. These two-bedder units cost about A$680,000 (S$800,000) in total. I purchased one unit in 2001, and the other last year.

Property values in Sydney tend to hold their value better and appreciate at a faster rate with lower vacancy rates than other cities.

I also own a seven-storey residential development in Tweed Heads in north-eastern New South Wales, which was bought as a distressed asset for A$750,000 last year. We are hoping to redevelop it and sell it.

Q: What's the most extravagant thing you have bought?

I'm not one to spend much on myself, but two years ago, I gave in and bought a $26,000 Hublot Big Bang series watch I'd always wanted. The irony is that I'm scared to wear it out in case it gets damaged.

Q: What's your retirement plan?

I don't have a specific retirement age, but I hope to invest for as long as I can so that my wife and family can live comfortably on the investment returns.

Q: Home is now...

A four-bedroom, 1,800 sq ft condo unit at Costa Rhu.

Q: I drive...

A white Mercedes E250 Cabriolet I bought in 2011.

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