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The Accounting Hall of Fame

Stephen Addam Zeff

Stephen ZeffHistorian, teacher, and internationally known lecturer, this scholar-educator's keen observations and insights have enhanced our perspective on accounting in both national and global domains and sharpened our understanding of critical accounting policy issues. Born in 1933 in Chicago, his father was founder and president of a small industrial advertising agency. He recalls that his father was "a very creative man with an excellent presence as a speaker" and that his mother was "an excellent listener," and he credits both with giving him skills necessary for becoming a teacher and lecturer. He graduated from Highland Park High School in 1951 and was voted the "most studious" male student by his classmates.

Upon graduation, he entered the University of Colorado where he majored in accounting, a choice influenced by the favorable impressions left by a high school bookkeeping course. During all four undergraduate years, he worked on The Colorado Daily, the student newspaper, becoming managing editor in his senior year. His grades at Colorado were good but undistinguished until he encountered Wilton T. Anderson who challenged him in rigorous advanced accounting courses and Robert S. Wasley who stimulated his interest in a teaching career. An undergraduate seminar in labor relations taught by Dallas L. Jones inspired both his honors thesis, which Jones directed, and, later, his master's thesis. Wasley convinced him to remain at the University of Colorado following graduation in 1955, where, as an instructor, he could test the strength of his interest in teaching and also pursue a master's degree in management with a minor in accounting. The experience led him to choose teaching as a career and to seek a Ph.D.

His accounting advisers at Colorado urged him toward the University of Illinois or the Ohio State University, but Dallas Jones, who was moving to the University of Michigan, convinced him to enter Michigan's Ph.D. program. His program began in 1957 with courses from Willam A. Paton and William J. Schlatter and, although strongly interested in both accounting and management, he chose accounting for his principal field of study. In addition to teaching accounting courses during his Ph.D. years, he assisted Herb Miller in the revision of his Finney-and-Miller intermediate and advanced accounting books and also served as a research assistant in the University of Michigan's Bureau of Industrial Relations. Miller and Schlatter were the principal readers of his doctoral thesis, A Critical Examination of the Orientation Postulate in Accounting, with Particular Attention to Its Historical Development. The University of Michigan awarded him an MBA in 1960 and, two years later, a Ph.D.

In 1961, he joined the accounting faculty at Tulane University where remained for 17 years, earning the rank of associate professor in two years and the rank of full professor just 3 years later. In 1977, he was named W. R. Irby Professor of Accounting. In 1978, he moved to Rice University, where he remains today, and in 1979 he was named Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting.

In 1962, fresh out of his doctoral program and on the recommendation of a Michigan professor, he was named book review editor of The Accounting Review, a position he held for four years. The book review section in those days was a major component of the Review, publishing over 50 reviews annually. Thus began a long and distinguished record of service to the American Accounting Association. He served as its first Director of Education(1969-71), editor of The Accounting Review for three terms (1977-1982), and President (1985-86). In 1974, he headed the organizing committee for the AAA's annual meeting held in New Orleans. In addition he chaired or served on numerous committees and task forces of the Association. It would be difficult to imagine a professor who gave more to the Association or came to know more about it, so it was particularly fitting, in retrospect, that he was chosen to write the Association's history to commemorate its fiftieth anniversary.

His record of editorial contributions extends far beyond his work for The Accounting Review and reflect his scholarly interests in accounting from historical, international, and policing-making perspectives. In 1968, with the support of the AICPA and the U.S. Agency for International Development, he founded the Boletn Interamericano de Contabilidad (the Spanish-language Inter-American Accounting Newsletter) which developed a circulation of 20,000 and fostered communication among accounting professors and professionals in Latin America, Spain and Portugal; he edited the Boletn until 1971 when it was transferred to the Inter-American Accounting Association, which continues to publish it. During his career, he has also held positions on over thirty of scholarly and professional editorial boards around the world, of which twenty-two remain active appointments.

His active involvement with international accounting began with his selection to give the 1970 Arthur Andersen Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. He undertook a comparative study of accounting standard-setting processes in the United States, Canada, Scotland, England, and Mexico, which was the first study of its kind. Based on extensive interviews in all five jurisdictions, the lecture was published in 1972 as a monograph titled Forging Accounting Principles in Five Countries: A History and an Analysis of Trends. The monograph received the Academy of Accounting Historians' first Hourglass Award in the following year and initiated an outpouring of his writing and lecturing on national and international accounting policy issues, including his best-known article, "The Rise of 'Economic Consequences'," published in 1978. When added to his writing on accounting theory and other topics, the total is over 20 books and monographs -- including a recently published biography of Henry Rand Hatfield, which earned him a second Hourglass Award -- over 30 major articles in scholarly journals, and over 150 other published articles, notes, comments, book reviews, and editorials.
For eleven years, he has served as International Research Adviser for The Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland, a position created especially for him. In addition, he has maintained an extraordinarily ambitious world-wide speaking schedule for more than thirty years, giving over 500 lectures and seminars to students, academics and practitioners, over 380 of which have been outside the United States. In 1977, he was chosen as the American Accounting Association's Distinguished International Lecturer, and during his two-month tour of eight Latin American countries he gave all of this lectures in Spanish. During the past three decades this accounting ambassador has brought insight into U.S. accounting scholarship and standards to audiences in 55 countries outside the U.S.

His writings and speeches are frequently reprinted for new audiences and several have won national prizes. In addition, he has received a dozen awards for his distinguished teaching at Tulane and Rice, as well as the American Accounting Association's Outstanding Accounting Educator Award in 1988 and the Outstanding International Accounting Educator Award given in 1999 by the AAA's International Accounting Section. His contributions have been recognized by the Texas Society of CPAs and by academic and professional bodies in many countries outside the U.S., including Latin America, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Finland. In 1990, he received an honorary doctorate from the Turku School of Economics and Business Administration in Turku, Finland.

This high-energy academician plays squash twice a week and has enthusiastic interests in sports and opera. He is the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Accounting at Rice University in Houston, Texas, and the 70th member of the Accounting Hall of Fame, Stephen Addam Zeff.