13 Dec 2012 03:48pm

December spotlight: Pete Wargent

In our latest Spotlight feature, Pete Wargent talks about a career path which began with accountancy in London, and led to East Timor

The doors that training with the ICAEW opened for me over the last decade have been amazing. When youngsters ask me whether being a chartered accountant is a good choice of career path, my answer is always emphatic: “Yes, and it’s exactly what you make it!”

Today, I’m an author, I travel and I work as a consultant in East Timor, and I’ve never regretted becoming a CA.

I trained at Levy Gee in London, in those days known as a “Top 15 UK Firm”. After joining I discovered that “Top 15” essentially meant that it was the fifteenth largest accounting firm. No matter, it was a great training ground for young auditors.

We had some colourful clients in those days, including the Spearmint Rhino chain of lap-dancing clubs

Before long the consolidation craze took hold and the firm became Numerica, then AV Audit plc, then part of the HLB group and ultimately after I’d left the grandly-titled Vantis plc. I didn’t once change desks or phone extension in the whole three years of my training contract but at times my email signoff seemed to change by the month!

Levy Gee, under its various guises, was an excellent firm to train with being located in the West End near Bond Street. There was a great firm culture for the trainees, with what is commonly referred to as a ‘work hard, play hard’ environment.

We certainly had some ‘colourful’ clients in those days, including the Spearmint Rhino chain of lap-dancing clubs. It was a proud moment of sorts for me as an auditor when Channel 4 News featured a set of our qualified accounts (as a new graduate, of course, I had the pleasure of printing and binding them), an audit tale which I still recount with a minor frisson of excitement today.

I did have a nagging feeling that something was missing from my training days, that being a personal lack of awareness of wider economic trends and, particularly, investment skills. Many of my fellow accountants seemed to know their clients’ balance sheets inside-out, but had personal finances that looked totally disastrous.

I can’t remember exactly how it started but I set about learning about investment and became a fanatical share market and property investor.

After qualifying I fancied trying out the Big 4 environment and went to work for Deloitte in Cambridge. I’m not so sure about the play hard part, but there was certainly a lot of work hard! Cambridge, being a biotech hub, generated a lot of transaction engagements for audit managers.

I’d previously spent quite some time in Australia playing cricket for Sydney’s Eastern Suburbs club, and I’d always wanted to return Down Under. In 2005, I migrated to Sydney and eventually became a proud Aussie citizen.

I continued working for Deloitte and enjoyed the resources focus in Australia, but wanted to try my hand in industry. I moved to become the financial controller of one of the listed mining companies in Sydney - a role I found suited me better than auditing.

I added a stack of other qualifications to my CA, including a diploma in financial planning, a diploma in applied corporate governance, becoming a chartered secretary (ICIS) and a licensed property buyers’ agent.

Soon I got married (on the beach of course) on the New South Wales south coast to a fellow Pom whom I had initially assumed was ‘out of my league’. We didn’t invite anyone in the end – being both Brits and I from a large family of 5 boys, we deemed it simply too complicated!

I'm an author, I travel, and I work as a consultant in East Timor, and I've never regretted becoming a chartered accountant

Throughout this time I’d maintained my near-obsessive interest in learning about and practising property and share investment, and with Australian property markets booming we were suddenly in the fortunate position of being able to turn our attentions away from full-time work.

In 2010 we left Sydney and spent 15 months travelling with some volunteer work thrown in (on the Cyclone Yasi clean-up), first by spending a year driving the ‘Big Lap’ of Australia, some 26,000km around the vast country’s Pacific Highway. And then we took a two month Sydney-to-Southampton cruise on Cunard’s Queen Elizabeth, taking in more than 20 countries.

So many people asked me how I’d funded the trip that I wrote and released a 2012 book on the very subject called Get a Financial Grip: a simple plan for financial freedom. Excitingly for me, my book for some time displaced Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad at the top of the Apple i-Tunes Australian Top 200 Finance bestsellers chart, enabling me to make a donation to the McGrath Foundation for breast cancer research and support.

Our wanderlust also took us to south-east Asia’s poorest nation, the previously war-torn East Timor, a country with which Australia now has indelible ties following Timor’s tragic past.

More recently my wife and I were tremendously excited by an opportunity to return to East Timor, where we are now living and working as consultants. The country has recently been able to begin to exploit a large Petroleum resource through the use of Australian and international resources companies, and as such has built a sizeable fund which it invests in the global equities and bond markets.

The vision for this beautiful country is that the profits from the government’s funds eventually flow down to the Timorese communities and distrito, and allow the population to rebuild after its brutal history of war, invasions and genocide. More than 70% of East Timor’s homes, public buildings and infrastructure were destroyed or damaged in the last major invasion in 1999.

Today, I continue to invest in shares and property but also try to spend my time in other more worthwhile and interesting ways. I’m also a regular on Australian radio and a frequent contributor to the Australian financial press and in 2013 will release my second book.

When I’m not undertaking my consulting work, I can be found amusing the Timorese locals through my apparent resemblance to Jesus (a joke which evidently never ceases to be funny) and through use of my stumbling but gradually improving command of Tetun, which is the dominant indigenous language.

I love East Timor and wish for a peaceful and prosperous future for its wonderfully friendly people.

Pete WargentPete Wargent is the author of Get a Financial Grip: a simple plan for financial freedom