- Peter Hansen FCA runs a pearl business in the pearl capital of Australia, Broome, with his wife Jill.
- After working in the same firm for 38 years as an accountant in Perth, he knew it was time for a change.
- He has become a cultured pearl expert, learning about the life cycles and Japanese language associated with the jewels.
By Michelle Lindsay.
From life as a partner in a major accounting firm in Perth, to a new career as a pearl and jewellery retailer in Broome, Peter Hansen FCA has travelled a long way in the past seven years.
After 38 years in public practice, he was looking forward to enjoying the fruits of his hard work in retirement with his wife, Janice. But fate stepped cruelly in, with Janice passing away in 2010– throwing his plans into turmoil and causing him to question what the future might hold.
Little did he suspect that it would take him more than 2,200 kilometres north, to the outback beach town of Broome. Eight years later, he is enjoying a new career in the pearling industry – alongside his new wife, Jill.
‘A’ for accounting
Before retiring in 2012, Hansen enjoyed a long and successful accounting career. However, he says this career choice came about almost by chance.
“I finished high school and didn't know what I wanted to do. My dad got me a job in a local flour mill – I worked there for six weeks, and thought: ‘I can't do this for the rest of my working life, it's just too much like hard work’,” says Hansen.
“I said to my Dad, ‘I think I need to go to uni, but I don't know what I want to do’."
His father had anticipated this turn of events, putting him in touch with a teacher at his old school, who gave him a book of university courses to consider.
“I started at ‘A’, and that's as far as I got. ‘Accounting’: that'll do. No idea what it is, but I'll do it.”
In his final year of study, Hansen did work experience at Perth firm RSM, now one of Australia’s leading professional services firms.
“At the end of that, they employed me, and I stayed there till I retired.”
Take that opportunity, take that risk. If you’re at a point where what you’re doing is no longer satisfying – move on
Hansen held many roles at RSM over the years, eventually becoming a partner and director of the firm. But he says that what he enjoyed most were the close personal relationships he developed as part of his work.
“You work with people for 10, 15 years, so you get to know them intimately. You worry about the technical and legal aspects to make sure those things are done, but it’s the challenge of dealing with personalities to achieve an outcome to the mutual benefit of everybody. That’s what I really love about the business.”
But after Janice’s death, Hansen says he lost his sense of purpose in his work.
“And then Jill came along and it changed it all around, and I had some focus and some direction. I got involved with her, and her business, and that allowed me to segue out of the practice. I wanted to do something interesting and challenging and new. So, that's what I did.”
From public practice to pearls
Jill had been working in the pearl industry for over 20 years, through her two businesses: Nash Pearls, which caters to the wholesale market, and Lust Pearls, which sells pearls and pearl jewellery directly to customers online.
Hansen says his plan was to help Jill in the background – using his business and accounting skills to support her businesses. But, despite his years of helping other small businesses succeed, he says he had a lot to learn about the pearling industry.
“It's a completely different language. Cultured pearling was developed by the Japanese, so we use Japanese words to describe pearls and their attributes and features. It took me a while to understand the technical lingo.”
“Pearls are the only jewels produced from a living creature. So understanding the implications of the life cycle of oysters – how long it takes to produce pearls, and why prices are what they are – those things took time to get my head around.”
Seizing the opportunity
Hansen says the couple had no intention to open a retail store, and no idea they would soon be leaving Perth behind. But when a long-established retail jewellery business was closing in the tourist town of Broome – one of the world’s pearling capitals – the opportunity seemed too good to pass up.
“It happened completely by accident. A week before, it wasn't on our radar. It wasn't in our business plan, wasn't part of our retirement plan. But, we had lots of beautiful stock, and we thought a really good way of selling it is to relocate it to the pearl capital of Australia.”
The couple took over the lease and relocated to Broome in the space of a month – and Hansen now spends his days working the shopfront, speaking with customers – and taking care of the back office, marketing and accounting for the business.
Less than a year after moving to Broome, Hansen says he is enjoying his new lifestyle on WA’s tropical Kimberley coast – and is glad he took the risk to try something new. It’s a lesson he’s keen to share: “When Janice passed away, I came to the realisation that money wasn't everything. There was actually more to life than that,” he says.
“If you’re in a situation where you feel you can’t achieve anymore or you're no longer getting satisfaction, you've just got to lift your radars up, get them out there subconsciously. What will happen is something will trigger it.”
“Then take that opportunity, take that risk. If you’re at a point where what you’re doing is no longer satisfying – move on.”
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Michelle Lindsay is both client director and a specialist financial writer at Sydney-based Crafted Writing.
Main picture: Ariel view of Willie Creek Pearl Farm in Broome. Getty Images