“Follow your passion. If you follow your passion in your professional life, you will accomplish great things because your heart is engaged as well as your mind. Your work will be your hobby, which means you will find enjoyment in it.” This is the advice that Professor Mary Barth, an American professor regarded as one of the most prolific accounting academics of her generation, gave to the Economic and Management Sciences Class of 2019 at the University of Pretoria’s (UP) recent autumn graduation ceremony.
Prof Barth is the Joan E Horngren Professor of Accounting, Emerita, at the Stanford Graduate School of Business at Stanford University in California. To honour her contributions to the discipline, her status as an accounting scholar and her quest to boost accounting scholars in South Africa, she received an honorary doctorate from the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences at the ceremony.
“Prof Barth has made significant contributions to the world of accounting through her research on financial reporting, especially fair value accounting,” said Prof Elsabé Loots, Dean of the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences. “Her research generally shows that reporting fair value on balance sheets is associated with improved capital allocation decisions by investors. It is an honour for the University of Pretoria to bestow one of its highest honours on Prof Barth.”
The accounting professor took the opportunity to offer new graduates a few words of advice and encouragement. “Leverage the fine education you have received here at UP,” she said. “You have been given an outstanding education at a world‐class university. Use that education to make the most of the opportunities you are offered now and in the future. Doing so will in turn lead to other opportunities for you.”
Prof Barth also urged students to give back. “We all expect you to enjoy the fruits of your labour, innate talents and newly acquired knowledge. I also want to encourage you to look for ways to make contributions – big or small – that impact your colleagues, community, profession or society as a whole.”
The professor has supported the Department of Accounting at UP since 2009 with its mission to expand the discipline through relevant research. Through her involvement in the department’s master’s programme, she has shaped the research careers of many local accounting academics. She has also played a pivotal role in mentoring staff in the department. Her involvement has been instrumental in fostering an active research culture, not only in the Department of Accounting at UP, but also at many other universities in South Africa.
Her hope is that “within the next two decades everyone understands accounting as a learned profession that provides information for informed decision‐making in support of a prosperous society”.
She also elaborated on the important roles that the new cohort of graduates have to play. “South Africa and the world are counting on you to use your newly gained accounting education to help improve the accounting profession and the information it produces. Some of you will work within private and public sector entities to develop accounting information to support better managerial decisions; some will become auditors to add assurance to the information so that others can rely upon it; others will conduct academic research to provide insights into how accounting information can be improved and teach the next generation of accountants. Regardless, we all belong to the same profession and have important roles to play.”