10 May 2013

The book that inspired my career


One of the (few) positive aspects of moving is that you get to spot things you haven't touched in years. One of them is a Pelican book I picked up back when I first started pursuing my studies in accountancy.1

There are some great quotes in it that provided both warning and inspiration about the path I would take, and they still hold true today.

First of all, there is a warning as to what an accountant must not be, which was first noted by Elbert Hubbard:

A man past middle age, spare, wrinkled, intelligent, cold, passive, non-committal, with eyes like a codfish; polite in contact but at the same time unresponsive, calm and damnably composed as a concrete post or a plaster of Paris cast; a petrification with a heart of feldspar and without charm of the friendly germ, minus bowels, passion or a sense of humour. Happily they never reproduce and all of them finally go to Hell.

 On the other hand, a more modern description of a management accountant by Joseph R. Dugan has served to be the inspiration for my career:

A highly skilled technician - well educated, complex, confident, intelligent, optimistic - who abhors detailed direction. He expects to be influenced, persuaded and enlightened. He wants to be confronted with choices and alternatives, demanding freedom to structure his work, select his alternatives, present his solutions and speak for himself. He refuses to be considered an automaton who is supposed to respond eagerly to orders, edicts and ultimatums.
Looking back, I would say I have been fulfilling the latter quite well, but I can also confirm that there are still too many people - accountants included - that still stick to the first description (although I would say that middle age has nothing to do with the underlying attitude).

Finally, an observation about the nature of profit is provided from Peter Drucker, who pointed out that it serves three purposes:2

  1. It measures the net effectiveness and soundness of a business's effort.
  2. It is the premium that covers the costs of staying in business.
  3. It ensures the supply of future capital for innovation and expansion - either directly or indirectly.
I have never seen this explained so succinctly anywhere else, and it has certainly given greater focus to the approach I have taken to the work I have performed.

All in all, this was a refreshing reminder of inspirations and aspirations both past and present.


1 John Sizer, An Insight into Management Accounting, Penguin Books, London, 1969, ISBN 0-14-021087-3.
2 Peter Drucker, The Practice of Management, Mercury Books, London, 1961, pp. 65-9

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