I sincerely thank the EAA and its Awards and Management Committees for honouring me with this award. The motivation in the ARC announcement for giving me the Award, mentions my contributions to the advancement of accountancy (accounting) research in Europe. These contributions did not happen in isolation. So I need to thank many people and 2 institutions, and explain why I thank them. I like to use accountancy, and not accounting, to refer to Financial Accounting, Management Accounting, Auditing and Tax Accounting, including areas such as non-financial reporting and management control. Accountancy research studies phenomena in all these areas.
I begin with the institutions. The first institution I need to thank is the European Institute for Advanced Studies in Management (EIASM). It was created in 1971 to improve the quality of management research, including that in accountancy, in Europe. From its start it has been based in Brussels. It is within EIASM that most of the European academic associations, learned societies, in all areas of management research originated. Not just in accountancy, our EAA, but also in Finance, EFA, Marketing, EMAC, and so on. EIASM also pioneered management research workshops and conferences series in Europe and created a set of PhD courses in all these areas: the EIASM Doctoral Education Network (EDEN). All these initiatives of the EIASM did much to help transform and improve management research in Europe: including accountancy research. So the first institution that I, all of us actually, need to thank is the EIASM.
This thank you to the EIASM is also personal. I am Dutch, but studied, and still live, in Antwerp, Belgium. In the mid-1970’s, not long after the EIASM’s founding, I could therefore, as an applied economics student in Antwerp, easily travel to Brussels to use the excellent EIASM library there. Much later, I happily served as the EIASM Academic Director for a year, from mid-2013 to mid-2014, where I learned much about the breadth of EIASM. Both ‘episodes’ were important to me.
The second institution I want to thank is the EAA itself. Its positive effect on the quality of accountancy research in Europe, and the individual European countries, cannot be overestimated. It served as a place where ‘models’ of how to do research in Accountancy well, could easily be observed in its Annual Conferences and in EDEN Doctoral Seminars co-organised with EIASM. Those ‘models’ could then be used ‘at home’. But of course, the EAA did not run itself. It was ‘run’ through the years that I was involved with it, by Gerry van Dyck and Nicole Coopman of the EIASM. So thanking the EAA in effect means thanking Gerry and Nicole. They made much of what I, and many others, dreamed up for the EAA possible.
The fact that the Award carries the name of Anthony Hopwood is important to me. He helped build the EIASM. He, with some help, created the EAA. He was also instrumental in moving forward the creation of a number of the other EIASM associations. Anthony was a formidable figure who was very interesting to watch in action. Always full of new idea and initiatives and very persuasive in making these come to fruition. He had a way with words, he convinced and managed by speech often. Of course, it helped that he had the advantage of being a native English speaker in a company of non-English speakers. But he did so much to move the EAA and the EIASM forward. One particularly striking example is the EDEN program within the EIASM: the set of very useful intensive PhD courses, also in accountancy, taught by leading scholars from the US and Europe. The EDEN program is of course still with us and continues to be very useful for young and aspiring management scholars in Europe. Anthony’s name gives the award that I now receive extra weight, of which I am well aware.
I studied applied economics in Antwerp and then worked there as a researcher in the Department of Management of the State University of Antwerp. Later that university merged with the Catholic University of Antwerp to form the current University of Antwerp. On the same floor in our building was the Department of Economics. One particular feature of both Departments was that both aimed at publishing in the leading journals, English language often, in their fields. I did not realize until much later that this was very unusual at the time, the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in Continental Europe; certainly in management (and in accountancy, which in Antwerp was in a different Department). I was recruited to work in the area of Industrial Economics. The aim was to investigate empirically for Belgian industries the relation between industry structure (concentration), firm conduct and firm profitability. I learned much from the two initiators of that project, Emile Vanlommel, the HoD, and Bert De Brabander. From Bert in particular. He was a skillful statistician and research methods person: a psychologist by training. I only fully realised much later what he had taught me. The project was to lead to my doctorate, but that happened only years later, and not in Antwerp. A newly created database changed my career. That database, the ‘Balanscentrale’ database, was created by the Belgian National Bank, tasked to do so by the then Minister of Economic Affairs in Belgium, Willy Claes. Claes used a change in Belgian financial reporting regulation, foreshadowing the 4th and 8th EU Accounting Directives. The database, an annual tape, included the financial statements, starting in 1977, of all Belgian corporations. Emile Vanlommel took a subscription on the annual tapes to use them for the Industrial Economics research project. But then this database got us ‘distracted’: both me and my closest colleague in the Department: Marc Jegers (now at the Free University of Brussels).
One day I picked up from the desk of a colleague a review copy of George Foster’s Financial Statement Analysis textbook: in its first edition. Foster’s book is special. It is both deep and accessible. Looking at its contents it was immediately clear to me that Marc and I could also use the Balanscentrale database to do the research described, and suggested, by Foster. When some time later the EIASM organized a George Foster ‘coached’ hybrid advanced course and workshop on Financial Statement Analysis, we had a paper on financial ratio distributions, using our database, ready to present. This was a topic that he covered in his book. Geert Thiers, the informatics professor in the department, had taught us how to program to read the tape and statistical tests that we used. That paper we subsequently sent to the Journal of Business Finance and Accounting, in which it was published in 1986. Marc’s and my switch to financial accounting led to more papers in English language journals, among them a note in the American Economic Review. All this was unusual in accountancy research in continental Europe: of which we were, as newcomers, unaware. We did what our management and economics colleagues did. The EIASM Foster event was organised by Hein Schreuder, then to go to the new Business and Economics School at Maastricht University and Hans Peter Moeller of the Technical University of Aachen.
One more remark about annual Belgian Balanscentrale databases. They soon after ’caused’ the creation of Bureau Van Dijk, which creatively started to exploit the commercial opportunities of the Balanscentrale initiative. This eventually led to the useful suite of financial statement databases they offer today. A Belgian invention, internationally a first after the beginning of Compustat in the 1960’s.
So, many thanks to George Foster, Hein Schreuder and Peter Moeller, and Willy Claes. And of course to Emile Vanlommel, Bert De Brabander and Geert Thiers, and above all Marc Jegers.
In the 1990’s I did return to Industrial Economics briefly: co-authoring a Contemporary Accounting Research paper on competition in the market for corporate audits.
Hein Schreuder then recruited me as an Assistant Professor to the new Accountancy group in Maastricht in 1984. I was in Maastricht when Ross Watts and Jerold Zimmerman’s Accounting Theory book appeared. That proved to be a second inspirational book for much of what followed. I finally finished my Doctorate in Maastricht in 1992. I was forced to finish it by Jan van de Poel, the Accounting professor that Hein Schreuder also had brought to Maastricht not long after I had arrived there. Hein himself became the professor of Management. Jan van de Poel then left around the same time, to industry, and I suddenly, became Professor of Business Economics and Head of the Accountancy group (later a Department).
With the help of Jan van de Poel (for a while), Arnold Schilder (now chair of the IAASB), Steven Maijoor (now chair of ESMA) en Tom Groot (now at the Free University of Amsterdam), we then set out to create a good Department of Accountancy in Maastricht, aiming at publishing in international journals. That was of course not a goal in itself. The goal was to start contributing to the international research literature that studies accountancy phenomena: i.e. join the academic ‘conversation’ about them.
– We did this seeking help, exactly as the EIASM had done, from prominent US colleagues, Ken Merchant, Ted Mock and Steve Zeff, who were all three appointed as part-time professors.
– We also started to organise PhD research seminars modelled on the EIASM-EDEN seminars. We did this for young researchers in the Netherlands and Belgium, including those in our own Department, inviting leading US and UK accounting scholars to teach them. These seminars, successful in changing accountancy research in the Low Countries for the better still exist as the Limperg Institute PhD Seminars.
– We started the Maastricht Accounting and Auditing Research Center (MARC) and created a related series of auditing research conferences called the Maastricht Audit Research Symposia (MARS). MARS ‘survives’ these days as one of the conference series that merged into the International Symposium on Auditing Research (ISAR). Ted Mock’s presence initiated this and he did much to help us to organize MARS..
– On top of this we organized, chaired by Hein Schreuder, the 1991 EAA conference, which Anthony Hopwood has called a ‘nearly professional’ EAA conference, which brought accountancy scholars in large numbers to Maastricht. It put Maastricht on the ‘EAA map’.
By 2000 Maastricht had become a good Accountancy Department and it still is. I owe many thanks to Arnold, Steven Tom and Jan, and also to Ken Merchant, Ted Mock and Steve Zeff. Similar developments have since occurred in other Accountancy Departments in the Netherlands and in the rest of Europe.
In 2001 I moved to Tilburg. Tilburg University was by that time home to one of the leading in Economics and Business Schools in Europe. An econometrics professor there, Arie Kapteyn, had created the School. The only area in which the School was ‘lagging’ was accountancy. I was recruited to help ‘rectify’ that situation. With the help of Jan Bouwens, Laurence van Lent and Philip Joos, we basically repeated all the ‘Maastricht steps, with the launch of a 2-year Research Master in Accountancy in 2005 as an added step, and a decade later Accountancy in Tilburg was doing fine in research. The Department had by then caught up with the other Business and Economics departments in the School in terms of research quality. So many thanks to Jan, Laurence and Philip.
Important in retrospect for the development of both the Maastricht and Tilburg Departments was our participation, starting in 1994, in three successive (EU funded) European multi-university Accountancy research networks: CREA, Harmonia and INTACCT. CREA was an EIASM initiative developed by John Flower and Gerry van Dyck, and the CREA research program’s prime mover was Stuart McLeay (now University of Sydney). Stuart also put together the next two programs, increasingly with the help of Peter Pope (now Bocconi University), and for INTACCT also Annita Florou (now Bocconi University). Many thanks to Stuart, Peter and Annita and all the universities that participated.
I became an emeritus professor (there is mandatory retirement in the Netherlands) of Tilburg University in July 2016. I now head, as a part-time professor of accounting, the Accounting and Finance Department of the Dutch Open University. We are trying to raise its research profile. I am now also a board member of the Foundation for Auditing Research (FAR), echoing the creation of MARC in Maastricht in the early 1990’s. Jan Bouwens (now University of Amsterdam) and Olof Bik (Nyenrode University) are its managing directors. FAR finances, funded by the large Dutch audit firms, for a five year period that began in 2015, fundamental auditing research. For this, and this is an important innovation, the audit firms facilitate access to internal data. FAR is now in its fourth year. It has been a pleasure to be involved. It allowed me to return to my earlier auditing research interests: so thank you, Jan and Olof.
While all of the above happened I also became increasingly involved in the EAA. Two things stand out. The creation of the EAA’s Standing Scientific Committee and the design of the EAA Annual conference. I wrote about this in last year’s ‘EAA 40 Years Reflection’ document. I again thank all of those involved for their support. The second important event I was involved in, one step removed, was the creation of the EAA Talent Workshop. In my year (2013-2014) as the EIASM academic director I launched an initiative: an EIASM Rookie PhD Job Market in Management, for all the EAISM areas, to be held in Brussels. The design I borrowed from the Miami Rookie PhD Accounting Camp (designers: Andy Leone, DJ Nanda and Peter Wysocki). I convinced all the EAISM associations, except perhaps (they could not make up their mind) the EFA, to participate: the EAA included. Unfortunately, the initiative fell through. However, it now happily survives within the EAA as the EAA IE Madrid Talent Workshop, ably organized by Salvador Carmona. The idea of an ‘overall’ PhD in Management Job Market, also did survive. The European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD), I was a consultant at its start, now organises this annually. Hopefully, somewhere in the future, some form of collaboration between EIASM and its associations and EFMD could develop with regard to these job markets.
There is a pattern that can be seen in all of the above. The approach that I followed through the years was: look for best performing approaches elsewhere to a ‘problem’, and then (perhaps adapt) and adopt. Interestingly this was also the ‘Arie Kapteyn method’. I observed him, from Maastricht, doing this in Tilburg in the 1980’s and 1990’s. It made Tilburg excellent in business and economics research. Next to Anthony, Arie Kapteyn was the other great innovator in management research and its organization (and economics research in the case of Kapteyn) that I had the pleasure to observe in action.
I would like to elaborate on this a bit more. I think it is wise to create well designed and stylish academic departments, BSc and MSc programs, associations (learned societies), congresses, and PhD Job Markets. I can give examples. Accountancy is an area of academic education: we teach Financial (and tax) Accounting, Management Accounting and Auditing. So the architecture of an Accountancy Department must be such that there are good researchers in all these areas. An Accountancy Department also needs disciplinary and epistemological coherence in studying accountancy phenomena (all research methods from interview to archival accepted of course). Coherence is more beautiful (clearer) than disciplinary and epistemological mixtures. So build an Accountancy department on the basis of one of the behavioural sciences and one epistemological view. In my case that was always going to be economics, now including newer developments such as behavioral- and neuroeconomics, and its epistemology. Other Departments will choose differently and this will result in welcome competition in the accountancy research arena. An academic conference needs a clear and logical way of selecting papers and a clean and inspirational set-up. An accountancy doctoral program, as well as the BSc and MSc programs preceding it, needs to be carefully designed. I have been lucky to have been in positions where I could influence all of this.
Returning to my earlier remarks about continental European accountancy research: the following can be observed. These days, especially younger, European accountancy researchers regularly contribute to the leading international accountancy research journals, thus participating in the international discussion about accountancy phenomena. Also striking is that this happens across the whole spectrum of accountancy research. Anthony Hopwood’s concern, of 10 years ago, about the development of a monocentric research ‘culture’ in Europe, did not come true. I also note with pleasure that the leading journals are these days much more receptive to the use of non-US data. That is increasingly making the discussion truly international and therefore more interesting.
I warmly thank Ann Vanstraelen, who now heads the Maastricht Accounting and Information Management Department, for her kind Laudatio, during the EAA 2019 Paphos Conference opening session, when I received the Award.
Open Universiteit and Universiteit Tilburg (emeritus)