The Top Accountant
It should be no surprise that the top accountant in the United States graduated from the College of Business at ILLINOIS. Conrad Hewitt, the chief accountant of the Security and Exchange Commission is both a 1958 graduate of the College and the chief policy maker for accounting and auditing practice.
On Friday, October 10, 2008, a room packed with College students from every department, accountancy faculty, economists, administrators, and visitors welcomed “Con” for a talk on the accountancy profession, policy trends, and the financial crises of the past few years.
As the chief accountant, Hewitt’s office exercises all policy power in the U.S. and exercises great influence around the world on accounting issues. Hewitt has three deputies: one for accounting, one for professional practices, and one for international affairs. He has 13 professional accounting fellows who come from the top accounting firms, each who serve two years. He also has three academic fellows who serve for one year.
Most recently, an ILLINOIS professor, Susan Krishe was selected as an academic fellow. Her first duty is to conduct a legislatively mandated 90 day study of fair value. Fair value is used as an estimate of the market value of an asset for which a market price cannot be determined. Hewitt believes the issue of fair value is very important.
The biggest threat to the accounting industry, Hewitt believes, is litigation related. He believes that too much litigation is damaging the foundation of accounting. He spoke of possibly instituting award caps when professional accountants and auditors operate reasonably and in good faith.
Hewitt spoke about the future change to IFRS, the International Financial Reporting Standards. He argued convincingly for the change as necessary in practice domestically and around the world, and in the training of young professionals. The current standard (FASB) has become too cumbersome and U.S.-centric which hinders U.S. companies.
Hewitt spoke with prophetic wisdom, urging students to be ready for anything and to take advantage of opportunities as they come along. Though it is commonly assumed by most employees today that they will change jobs frequently in their working lifetimes, Hewitt spoke of his own career which began in the 50’s as a serious of many careers. In the military he worked as an auditor. Afterwards he went from being a managing partner of Ernst & Young to the California Superintendent of Banking and Commissioner of the California Department of Financial Institutions and finally to his current position with the SEC.
In the end, Hewitt urged students to never fear taking on something new and unplanned for. He believes accounting is a high-change career and will continue to be for another 5-10 years. It is important to plan, he said, but changes are part of the process. An enthusiastic volunteer himself, he told students to always be positive about the unexpected directions their lives can take. In order to manage such a life of change, he urged everyone to keep learning throughout their lives.
Hewitt’s advice, like his speaking style, manages a steady stream of optimism and sage wisdom with confidence and grace. He is exactly the person you want leading the charge to improve financial reporting in the U.S.