Being an accountant, says Brett Davies, is a bit like being a mechanic or an electrician. You have valuable practical skills that are of tremendous use to those without them.
Until recently Davies, 49, was chief operating officer at Stargames Ltd in Sydney (the gaming software group formerly listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and bought by the Nasdaq-listed Shufflemaster Incorporated). He had an unrepentant love of finance, a thrill for business and something like two decades as a qualified CPA behind him.
In 2007 he and his wife, Sherylee Williams-Davies, relocated to Sri Lanka for what was supposed to be a belated gap year. Before leaving, they scouted around for a community project to get involved in and discovered SwimLanka, a not-for-profit organisation set up to teach Sri Lankan kids about water safety in the wake of the tsunami that hit Asia on Boxing Day 2004.
“There’s a massive fear of water and the ocean, particularly after the tsunami,” Davies says. “People – kids, whoever – just can’t swim. They just don’t have any idea what to do if they fall into water, and they drown. There are ridiculously high drowning levels in Sri Lanka.”
Williams-Davies, a trained swimming instructor, took to the water with the kids. Her husband helped out where he could until his accounting skills were discovered and he was put in charge of the organisation’s finances.
You come over here and you get the feeling that it’s nice to do things for people.– Brett Davies CPA
At the end of 2007 the couple returned to work as planned (Davies to Stargames, William-Davies to Clayton Utz). But by 2009 the couple had rented out their home in Sydney’s east and decided to head back to Sri Lanka, using the rental income from their home to support a comfortable but modest lifestyle in the jungle.
“Hikkaduwa, where we live, is about three or four hours’ [drive] out of the capital,” Davies says. “We live near the beach, so we swim and surf. It’s a slow lifestyle.”
Since their return the couple has worked on a variety of community projects.
“Most of the benevolent work we’ve been involved in, we’ve just gone along to see what we can do,” Davies says. “I don’t mind what it is I do really, but it usually ends up in the financial area. I know it’s something I can contribute that otherwise they’d have to source – and at a cost, too.”
He concedes that community work wasn’t on the agenda back in the days when he was wearing a suit and tie, striking deals and processing decisions at speed. Now, though, it’s a way of life.
“You come over here and you get the feeling that it’s nice to do things for people,” he says.
“It’s like giving someone a Christmas present: it’s nicer to give a Christmas present than it is to receive it. It’s satisfying in that regard.”