Raymond Doherty 5 Oct 2017 02:13pm

A day in the life: David Riley

David Riley is a 40-year veteran of the financial world – and partner at haysmacintyre – who combines accountancy with his passion for sailing as chairman of the Cowes Harbour Commission

Caption: Photography by Matthew Andrews


I learned to sail when I was nine and I’ve been doing it off and on ever since. I started sailing offshore boats when I was 18 or 19. I bought a second home in Cowes on the Isle of Wight with my wife in 1989 so that I could sail. Now it is probably my primary home. I’m a moderately successful racing sailor. I used to do quite a bit of offshore sailing but now I confine myself to the Solent and its environs.

I berthed a boat in a marina that was owned by the Harbour Commission and in 2009 I noticed that they were looking for someone and I applied. After an interview process, I was the Harbour Commissioner with the portfolio for finance for the following three years. I was reappointed in 2012 and again in 2015. The next year I became chairman of the Harbour Commission and it’s a role I’ll hold for an initial term of three years.

I took the role because Cowes helps me relax. It’s a different life to the one I’ve had in London. Contrary to what people think, Cowes and the Isle of Wight is not a wealthy community. This was me trying to put something back into a place that has given me a huge amount and I’ve got some very good friends there. That’s why I did it initially, becoming chairman has been a natural progression.


In total it probably takes up three or four days a month of my time. I have problems managing my time, which means that I often end up going to a meeting on Cowes on a Friday and doing my day job on most of Saturday or Sunday. That doesn’t make things exactly simple. But I’m very happy in what I’m doing and feel I’m contributing. I’ve also learned things I simply did not know before.

The priority is keeping the harbour open and safe. There’s also a potential development in one part of the harbour that the commission is involved in.
What pays the bills is my job at haysmacintyre and I always put that first. So if I had to have a meeting in London I would cancel my work with the harbour. If there is a big project on at haysmacintyre I would do nothing at the commission for a couple of weeks.

I don’t think I could have done this if I was still at a career point where I was developing my portfolio. I have some large clients who know me and understand that they can always get hold of me on the phone even if I am in Cowes. It’s actually given me more business experience than I had previously. I now have better experience dealing with staff and HR issues than I have to concern myself with at haysmacintyre. The chief executive has to deal with it all, but I have to be kept informed. I have a good relationship with him and supporting him was one of the reasons I took the job.


Cowes Harbour is a Trust Port. These are unusual. What that means is that it has no shareholders. The public owns it and the Department for Transport administers it. As commissioners, equivalent to directors in a private company, we are responsible to our stakeholders, which include the local community, the harbour users in general, anyone who might have something to do with the harbour.

As a statutory port we have the ability to levy harbour dues, which are like a tax. Everybody who comes into the harbour should pay us something towards the upkeep of the harbour. That’s our statutory role. In addition we have some businesses. There’s the moorings that we provide. We have a boatyard, a marina and a fuel berth. We have some investment property. They generate revenue that enables us to work to improve the harbour.


If I have to split the day between Cowes and London it’s quite difficult. It means coming into the office at 7am and getting the afternoon train and ferry to Cowes, which gets me there for 3pm.

I sometimes go to Cowes on a Thursday night and on Friday I’ll work from home. I get in at half past seven or quarter to eight on a normal day in the office here in London and leave at around 6.30pm. A long day, but I don’t over do it. My day will be taken up by reviews. I still do some of my own technical work. I do supervision work and, of course, client meetings. I try to keep myself up to date.


We have to make sure that the harbour is seen as more than just a place for the “yachties” – of which I am one. I like the water. I was a competitive swimmer when I was younger.

I’m not really up to the physical side of sailing anymore, although that doesn’t stop me, but I love the technical part of it and the camaraderie. It’s also quite long-term in that I can walk into a regatta somewhere and someone will shout something like: “You’re a lot fatter than you used to be!” And I think, “I recognise that voice…” It will be someone I haven’t seen for 40 years.


It has enabled me to develop my career in a structured manner. It has also enabled me to move in directions I did not expect. People joke that I don’t come across as the typical image of a chartered accountant, but I actually love what I do. I like the intricacies of it. I don’t want to stop doing it. I’m scared of not having enough to do.


There is a need to have precision. Accountants are odd in that we were trained to be fair, so we always see the other side of things. We are fundamentally different from lawyers in that we’re not trained to be advocates.