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The Accounting Hall of Fame

Donald James Kirk

Donald KirkThis newest member of the Accounting Hall of Fame was born to a father who emigrated from Scotland at the age of 18 to become a self-educated C.P.A. and a mother born in Cleveland of parents who emigrated from Latvia. He put most of his teen-age energies into athletics, culminating in being captain of his Shaker Heights (Ohio) High School football, basketball, and golf teams. Encouraged by his father to pursue a liberal arts education, he enrolled at Yale. During his freshman year, injuries, and what he describes as limited skills, quickly ended his collegiate athletic career. Youthful indecision about a course of study coupled with a desire for independence caused him to leave Yale for the Naval Aviation Cadet Program in 1953 at the end of his sophomore year. Eighteen months later, he received his wings and commission and was assigned to an aircraft-carrier-based squadron. During a long stint at sea, he restarted his education by taking a correspondence course in introductory accounting offered by the University of Maryland. He discovered that he preferred working accounting problems to playing gin rummy in the pilots' ready room.

In 1957, he returned to Yale determined to be a history major. He also decided to take the two accounting courses offered by the economics department. The first course was taught by a professor who was also a practicing C.P.A., for whom he worked several afternoon a week. The second was taught by a professor who was recognized as one of the leading accounting scholars of the time. The last two years at Yale were paid for with money from the G.I. Bill and part-time work and with money earned and rent saved by living on the third floor of a funeral home for which he answered night-time calls from distraught friends and relatives of the deceased or from pranksters. "I learned diplomacy from that job," he says, "and there was a bar just around the corner that did a booming business on the nights of Irish wakes; so I also learned to prefer Irish wakes over Italian ones." In 1959, he was graduated from Yale with a major in history, but he interviewed only public accounting firms.

He started his professional career with Price Waterhouse in 1959. In 1961, he completed an M.B.A. degree at New York University, and in 1963, he became a C.P.A. in the State of New York. After only eight years with Price Waterhouse, he was promoted to partner in 1967.

The Financial Accounting Foundation appointed him as one of the first seven members of the Financial Accounting Standards Board when it was formed in 1973. At the end of 1977, when the original Chairman of the Board retired, the Foundation named him Chairman. He served as Chairman for the next nine years , which together with his earlier service was as long as the bylaws allowed.

During his chairmanship, he guided the Board through the transition from the closed and confidential meetings, to which Board members had been accustomed, to open and public meetings. Observers of these meetings invariably remark at his impressive mastery of the issues under discussion, no matter how complex, and his consummate skill in keeping the conduct of a Board meeting under control, no matter how strongly Board members presented their conflicting views.

From the Board's earliest days, he was recognized as a leader in addressing complex accounting issues, not always winning agreement among his colleagues but always an intellectual force to be reckoned with. Further, the added responsibilities of Chairman did not diminished that leadership. His intellectual capability, personal integrity, poise and self-confidence, dedication to the Board and its mission, effectiveness as a spokesman, and remarkable capacity for work commanded the utmost respect of all who worked with him, even those who may have strongly disagreed with his positions or with the Board's decisions.

Despite the extraordinary demands of leading an organization that faced controversy and criticism at every turn, somehow he found the time and energy to serve his home town of Greenwich, Connecticut, for twelve years as an elected member of its Board of Estimate and Taxation. Strongly committed to public service, he continues to give time and energy to both professional and community organizations. In 1987, he became Professor of Accounting at Columbia University's School of Business, serving in that capacity until 1995 when he became Executive-in-Residence at the School. He is a member of the Public Oversight Board, a governor of the National Association of Securities Dealers, chairman of the National Arts Stabilization Fund, and chairman-elect of the Greenwich Hospital Association. In addition, he serves as a director and audit committee chairman for several major corporations.

He has published forty articles in professional and academic journals and has served as a contributing editor for Accounting Horizons. In addition, he has frequently testified before Congress and government agencies on matters related to accounting reporting and regulation. His many honors and awards include the AICPA's Gold Medal for Distinguished Service and an honorary doctorate form Lycoming College.

He resides in Greenwich, Connecticut, near his children and granddaughter, who are all very much part of his life. He is the 58th member of the Accounting Hall of Fame, Donald James Kirk.