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The Accounting Hall of FAme

Robert Samuel Kaplan

This accounting scholar of international acclaim has given new life to cost accounting and revitalized the role of accounting in business management and strategic planning. He was born in New York City in 1940. His father was a New York City public school principal and high school social studies teacher, and his mother was a homemaker and also worked as a high school secretary. Until the age of ten, he lived with his parents and two younger sisters in a one bedroom apartment in the Bronx near Yankee Stadium. He attended Bronx High School of Science and was designated a National Merit Scholar. Upon graduation in 1957 he entered Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he earned B.S. and M.S. degrees in electrical engineering. Following graduation from MIT, he worked for two years with Mitre Corporation and Planning Research Corporation, both technical systems consulting firms.

Seeking a more challenging career path, he enrolled in the operations research doctoral program at Cornell University. He took several courses at the Business School, which stimulated his interest in finance and accounting. Completing his PhD in 1968, Kaplan joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration at Carnegie Mellon University. Encouraged by Yuji Ijiri, Bill Cooper, and other Carnegie colleagues, his teaching and research soon focused on financial and management accounting. Except for a one-year visiting professorship at the University Chicago, he remained at GSIA for fifteen years, serving as Dean of the school for six years. After a one year visiting appointment, he joined the Graduate School of Business Administration at Harvard University in 1984.

A creative researcher and prolific writer, Kaplan has authored or coauthored over a dozen books and more than 125 published papers in academic and professional journals. Using his training in mathematics and statistics, his early work emphasized applications of quantitative techniques to accounting, including papers on cost accounting, auditing, and capital market uses of financial accounting data. As his work progressed, it increasingly addressed the problems of accountants and managers in actual business settings, including his influential work on activity-based costing and strategic performance management. His books have been translated into dozens of languages and have influenced management practices in private, public sector, and nonprofit enterprises around the world.

Kaplan’s work has won national and international acclaim from both academic and professional groups. His papers twice received the Notable Contribution to the Accounting Literature Award given jointly by the American Accounting Association and the American Institute of CPAs. His books have twice received the Wildman Medal Award, given by the American Accounting Association and Deloitte & Touche for the work’s significant influence on both practice and research; Relevance Lost, written with H. Thomas Johnson, received the award in 1988 and The Balanced Scorecard, written with David Norton, received it in 2001. He has received numerous other recognitions and awards including the McKinsey Award for the outstanding paper in the Harvard Business Review and recognitions from the London Times, the Financial Times, and Consulting Magazine. He holds honorary doctorates from the University of Stuttgart (1994) and the University of Lodz (2006).

A skilled lecturer and case teacher, his over 50 published instructional cases and many video-taped lectures introduced thousands of students around the world to his innovative thinking about activity-based costing and the Balanced Scorecard. In 1988, he received the American Accounting Association’s Outstanding Educator Award.

His professional service includes membership on the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Committee, the Reagan-Bush Task Force on Social Security, the Manufacturing Studies Board of the National Research Council, and major committees of the American Accounting Association, the Institute of Management Accounting (IMA), AACSB International, Computer-Aided Manufacturing-International (CAM-I), and the American Statistical Association. In recognition of his service contributions, he received the IMA’s Distinguished Service Award, the Lifetime Contribution Award of the American Accounting Association’s Management Accounting Section, and the Outstanding Contributions Award of the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants (UK).

Although currently in transition from full to part-time activity at Harvard, he is Baker Foundation Professor and maintains an active writing and travel schedule, offering public seminars throughout the world. He is currently chairman of the Practice Leadership Committee of The Palladium Group and serves on the boards of KFx, Inc., Acorn Systems, and the Technion Institute of Management.

He lives in Belmont with his wife, Ellen. They enjoy a life that includes fitness training, bicycling tennis, kayaking and day sailing, as well as travel, opera, and good food. They have two daughters, Jennifer and Dina.