Born in 1940 in Peoria, Illinois, he is the only child of a father who rose, through hard work and correspondence study, from coal miner to civil engineer and residential contractor and a mother who worked from an early age to support her four brothers and sisters. He spent his early childhood in Gary, Indiana, moving to Hammond at the age of 12. In high school he was student body president, valedictorian and a National Merit Scholar. As a member of a Catholic family, he applied to only one university, the University of Notre Dame. He was the first member of his family to attend college.
A member of the Notre Dame debate team, he studied business administration and graduated magna cum laude. He remembers one of his professors, "Paul Conway, who was an excellent teacher and who cared about his students," as one of first to suggest that he enter academe and, later, as a role model for his thinking about an academic career. Having received a university fellowship and, being unable to decide which company to work for, he decided to enroll in the MBA program at The University of Chicago.
Two weeks after graduation from Notre Dame, he began evening courses at the downtown campus. This enabled him to work for a mortgage company during the day and help support his parents in their retirement. By the end of his first year, he transferred to the doctoral program with a Ford Foundation Fellowship. His dissertation was chaired by George Sorter. Hall of Fame member, Charles Horngren, was a member of the dissertation committee. His thinking about accounting education and research was strongly influenced by other Chicago faculty during this period, including Hall of Fame member, Sid Davidson, Nick Dopuch, and David Green, among others, and by his contemporaries in the accounting and finance doctoral programs. Completing the doctoral program three years after graduating from Notre Dame, he received both MBA and Ph.D. degrees at the same ceremony, separated by a thirty-minute interval. When asked how long it took him to receive his Ph.D., he sometimes jokingly responds that it took thirty minutes.
After graduating, he remained at The University of Chicago as an assistant professor for four years. During this time, his early published papers were on accounting measures as financial predictors of failure. His security price research has opened the door to empirical work for accounting researchers. In 1969, he accepted an associate professor position in the Graduate School of Business at Stanford University, where he remains today as the Joan E. Horngren Professor of Accounting. He has published over 60 papers and two editions of the widely read book, Financial Reporting: An Accounting Revolution. For over thirty years, his insight, energy, and enthusiasm for accounting research have been a powerful influence in both accounting academe and practice.
A CPA, he is a an award-winning teacher whose service contributions to his profession include consultant to the Financial Accounting Standards Board, SEC Advisory Committee, trustee of the Financial Accounting Foundation, and extensive service on editorial review boards. He has been president of the American Accounting Association, three-time winner of the AAA-AICPA Outstanding Contribution to Accounting Literature Award, AAA's Distinguished International Visiting Lecturer, recipient of the Outstanding Educator Award, and recipient of the Seminal Contribution to Accounting Literature Award. He is the only person to have received all five AAA honors.
A dedicated family man, he and his wife, Suzanne, who have been married for over thirty years and have three children (two daughters, Marie and Sarah, and one son, David). At age 56, the fifty-sixth member of The Accounting Hall of Fame is William Henry Beaver.