Distinguished Kellogg School accounting scholar dead at 64; a member of the Kellogg faculty since 1971, he was honored for his teaching and research
5/8/2007 - Respected Kellogg School accounting scholar Professor Lawrence Revsine died May 7 in Chicago. He was 64.
Recognized by his colleagues and students as an outstanding professor who could combine theory and practice to make accounting come alive in the classroom or in his many publications, Revsine, who was the John and Norma Darling Distinguished Professor of Financial Accounting, is remembered for the passion and expertise he brought to his discipline. With textbooks such as Financial Reporting and Analysis (Prentice Hall, 1998) now in its third edition, Revsine sought to go behind the numbers to reveal how the figures — which he said often reflected considerable subjectivity — could be manipulated for various ends.
“What my book did, early on, is adopt an approach that explained how corporate executives were being judged by the numbers, judged by their company’s performance,” said Revsine in a 2005 interview. “There are all sorts of contracts, including bonuses, tied to those numbers that are very important to managers.” As a result, Revsine said, there were opportunities and incentives to manipulate the accounting rules so that a firm’s performance appeared stronger than it might be, rewarding management in the process.
“Larry had a deep understanding of the forces that shape accounting practices,” said Robert Magee, the Keith I. DeLashmutt Distinguished Professor of Accounting Information and Management, a longtime friend and colleague of Revsine’s. “He was sometimes dismayed by what he saw because he cared deeply about the practice, not just the theory, of accounting. He was a great mentor and an inspirational teacher who prepared students for their careers, enabling them to be savvy readers of accounting information.”
That passion was cultivated at Northwestern University where Professor Revsine earned three degrees, including an undergraduate business degree in 1963. He recalled Northwestern providing an excellent education and an affordable one — particularly for a kid who lived at home and “took the Devon Ave. bus to the Loyola El and then the El to Foster St. and walked the rest of the way,” as he remembered.
In 1963, he earned his CPA and then went on to garner his MBA from Northwestern in 1965 before pursuing his doctorate in managerial economics and decision sciences in 1968.
At the time, Professor Revsine recalled, the increasingly rigorous Northwestern curriculum allowed him to pursue the kind of accounting research that was only starting to emerge. “I was a hardcore accountant with a strong finance ‘vaccination,’” said Revsine in 2005. “People were beginning to recognize that accounting could not be insular, that you couldn’t do the kinds of things that needed to be done in terms of teaching and research if you were operating in an isolation booth, without interaction with behaviorists. The beginnings of behavioral accounting were happening at that time, though not happening widely yet outside of some of the really good schools.”
After graduation, Revsine taught accountancy at the University of Illinois (Urbana) from 1968-1971, followed by a brief stint as a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin (Madison). He returned to Northwestern as a faculty member in 1971 and became a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Management in 1975.
Other members of Professor Revsine’s family, including his father Victor, his brother Bernard, his wife Barbara and son David were also affiliated with Northwestern. Victor earned a degree in commerce in 1940 before earning his CPA, while Bernard earned an MBA from Northwestern in 1965 before also earning a CPA. Barbara graduated from the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences in 1964, and David did so in 1991.
Revsine’s scholarship was balanced by his commitment to teaching, something reflected in the numerous awards he won for his skill in the classroom. Among his professional distinctions were five commendations for teaching excellence from the Kellogg student body. He also earned other recognitions, including Outstanding Teacher, Executive Master’s Program; The Kellogg Alumni Choice Faculty Award; the Sidney J. Levy Teaching Award (twice); Outstanding Educator and Distinguished Overseas Lecturer (both from the American Accounting Association). He also served as member of the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Committee from 1980-1986, a role that Magee said indicated how intimately his colleague “participated and observed the process of accounting standard-setting.” Revsine was chair of the Accounting Information and Management Department at Kellogg from 1985-1993. He shared his expertise as an editorial board member for several professional journals, including The Accounting Review, Journal of Accounting and Public Policy and Accounting and Business Research.
In addition to Financial Reporting and Analysis, Professor Revsine was the author or co-author of six other books or monographs as well as dozens of articles and book chapters. At the time of his death, Revsine was drafting a working paper with Kellogg colleague Mark Finn, clinical professor of accounting information and management.
“Larry is a legend and a wonderful professor,” said Bala Balachandran, the J.L. Kellogg Distinguished Professor of Accounting Information and Management. “The entire financial accounting community has lost an inspirational scholar.”
Colleague Allan Drebin called Revsine “a rare individual who excelled in teaching, research and the accounting profession.” Drebin, professor of accounting information and management, said Revsine’s research was “groundbreaking,” particularly in the area of inflation accounting. “His impact on students, colleagues and the profession will endure for many generations.”
Indeed, one of those students, Michael Shannon ’83, and his spouse Mary Sue, honored Professor Revsine and Kellogg with a $1 million gift in 2006 to support faculty research in financial reporting. In making the gift, Mr. Shannon said Revsine was “a brilliant teacher and motivator [with] a uniquely effective style of making accounting come alive.” Shannon also credited Revsine’s sense of humor and clear, insightful teaching style as elements that endeared him to his students.
This connection with students is a hallmark of an outstanding professor said Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain, who praised Revsine as “an esteemed and loyal colleague” whose love of teaching and desire to be on the cutting edge of accounting theory and practice made him a leading expert in the accounting world.
“Larry’s personal warmth, his love of the classroom and his ability to connect with students was remarkable,” said Jain, adding that the Shannon gift is one powerful indication of Revsine’s influence.
“There is no greater compliment than when your students feel that you have made such a difference in their lives that they wish to give back to you and the school in gratitude so that others can also benefit from this education,” said Jain.
Professor Revsine is survived by his wife Barbara, brother Bernard, daughter Pamela, son David and three granddaughters.