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The Accounting Hall of Fame

Ross MacGregor Skinner

Ross SkinnerThe scholarly approach of this distinguished Canadian accountant, brought new solutions to problems of both accounting and auditing. Born in 1923, in Saskatoon, of parents who immigrated from Scotland, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister and a mother who valued education and took a firm hand in securing the best schooling for her son. The family moved to Oneonta, New York shortly after his birth but returned to Toronto four years later where he spent the remainder of his youth. At University of Toronto Schools, to which he gained entry by highly competitive examination, he was one of the top students in his class and also took a keen interest in sports. He developed a life-long involvement in tennis and, despite weighing less than 100 pounds, he played goalie on both Toronto Hockey League and UTS hockey teams.

Following graduation from UTS in 1940, he applied for admission to the University of Toronto. After seven days of scholarship examinations, he won highest marks in Greek and Latin and a University College scholarship for general proficiency. Knowing that he wanted to pursue a business career, he enrolled in the Commerce and Finance Honours Course at the University of Toronto. At that time, the business curriculum was under the Department of Political Economy and fully half of the C&F subjects were shared with students in political science and economics. Although he found the economics courses very satisfying, he later noted "the accounting and auditing courses were trivial and the statistics course mechanical rather than insightful. The most practically useful courses to my later career proved to be actuarial science, particularly the theory of interest, and commercial law." He played intramural soccer and hockey during all four years of university and was goalie on the hockey team that won the university championship for his college for the first time in 22 years. A friend convinced him to join the debate team during his senior year, whereupon he found himself struggling with the need to argue in favor of the proposition, "A woman's place is in the home," and he volunteered for work in the fields of Saskatchewan during the perilously late grain harvest of 1941, which was desperately needed to stem the food shortage in Britain.

Two years younger than most of his classmates, he was not recruited for military service until after his fourth year of university at which time he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force as a meteorologist. Following a summer of study in meteorology, he was stationed at the Air Navigation School outside Charlottetown, P.E.I. Initially he was assigned teaching duty­26 classroom hours per week­but was soon assigned the challenging job of forecasting weather conditions for the school¹s training flights. When the war ended, he was discharged and returned to Toronto.

Then 22 years of age, he decided to work for a Chartered Accountant designation with the ultimate goal of securing a position in industry. Although he considered an academic career and was accepted for graduate study at the University of Chicago, financial responsibility for his parents led him to choose a business career. On October 1, 1945, he joined the firm of Clarkson Gordon (then Clarkson, Gordon, Dilworth and Nash), the largest Canadian firm. Winning the top prize for auditing in his final CA examination, he received the CA designation in spring 1949. Before he could implement his plan to secure a position in industry, he was promoted to partner and in 1954 became the thirty-second signature on the firm's partnership agreement.

Professional research projects became central to his role in the firm. Well before his promotion to partner, he assisted senior partner J. R. M. Wilson and other partners in various projects including a 1947 project that led to his becoming the firm's specialist in public utility rate regulation. Upon joining the partnership, he assumed responsibility for the internal memoranda on technical accounting and auditing issues. In 1956, he argued for the development of a new approach to auditing that integrated a review of internal controls and systematic sampling procedures as the basis for an audit opinion and recommendations for system improvements, which was one of the earliest efforts to articulate an integrated approach to auditing. In 1962, he was appointed National Director of Accounting Standards and the innovation in audit procedures, which had been developed and tested on his own audit clients, was gradually extended throughout the firm. In 1966 it was published in the path-breaking book, Analytical Auditing, co-authored with R. J. Anderson.

In the years that followed, he turned his attention to accounting and financial reporting, publishing five additional books and monographs and contributing many chapters and articles to the literature of accounting and auditing. His influential 1972 book, Accounting Principles: A Canadian Viewpoint, led to the development of a framework for Canadian accounting standards. In 1975, health considerations caused him to leave his position as National Director of Accounting Standards, but he continued to research and write on a wide range of topics that included inflation accounting, government accounting, accounting for pension costs and liabilities, and the evolution of accounting standards. He retired from Clarkson Gordon in 1983. In 1987 he joined the University of Toronto as adjunct professor and director of its Centre for Accounting Studies, positions he held until 1990.

His contributions to the Canadian accounting profession include extensive committee service for professional, governmental, and academic organizations. Among his numerous committee posts in the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants were 5 years of service on its Committee on Accounting and Auditing Research (1959-64) including a term as its chair and 5 years on its Standards Advisory Board (1990-95). He chaired the Auditor General¹s Independent Committee on Government Accounting and Auditing (1975-78) and in the same period was influential in the CICA's decision to form its Public Sector Accounting Board. He served two five-year terms on the Financial Disclosure Advisory Board of the Ontario Securities Commission (1974-79 and 1990-95) including three years as its chair. He was a consultant to the Commission to Study the Public's Expectations of Audits (the Macdonald Commission, 1987-88) and, working closely with the Commission, was the principal author of its report. He also served as a vice-president of the American Accounting Association, on the Board of Governors of Havergal College (Toronto), and on the editorial boards of Contemporary Accounting Research, Accounting Horizons, and the Accounting Historians Journal.

In 1962, he was elected a fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario and, in 1984, he was one of the first five recipients of the Institute's Award of Outstanding Merit. His many honors and awards also include an honorary doctorate of laws from Brock University, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants' Distinguished Service Award, and the Canadian Academic Accounting Association's Haim Falk Award for Distinguished Contribution to Accounting Thought.

In 1958, he married Helen B. Storms, a well-known author and speaker on gardening and floriculture, and they have two daughters, Anne and Jane. He and his wife live in Toronto and spend summers in northern Ontario. He is the 66th member of the Accounting Hall of Fame, Ross Macgregor Skinner.