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It's amazing where an accountancy grounding can take you. I have just returned from a couple of weeks' holiday in Sri Lanka (booked before the tsunami). We travelled with a local company, Jetwing Eco Holidays, whose chief executive, one Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne, is a former Age subscriber.

Gehan came to the UK in the 1980s to study civil engineering, but developed an interest in finance and qualified as an accountant with Touche Ross. He worked in corporate finance and corporate recovery.

After 15 years in the UK, Gehan took a senior role with Nations Trust Bank in Colombo. He left banking to indulge his passion for wildlife photography and eco tourism. He has become a local media celebrity, appearing frequently on television.

Jetwing owns and manages several hotels in Sri Lanka including the Yala Safari Game Lodge on the fringe of the country’s most famous game reserve. The hotel was destroyed by the tsunami and several staff members and guests were killed.

Gehan told me that his UK accountancy experience had strongly influenced his ambitions for Jetwing. Working on insolvency assignments at Touche Ross, he was struck by how many companies that failed had risked all on one big project that went wrong.

He is seeking to diversify Jetwing into new areas including publishing and design. Plans to expand and develop the hotel operations have inevitably been pushed back by the tsunami. Sri Lanka’s tourism network away from the coast is operating normally, but visitor numbers are sharply down. The tourist resorts south of Colombo will take years to recover.

It is at a time such as this that an accountancy background really comes into its own.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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