February 15, 2021
When most of us think of accounting, we think of numbers and math. But Russell Golden, who joined the School of Accountancy in the W. P. Carey School of Business as professor of practice and special adviser to the dean, wants to help ASU accounting students improve their critical thinking and communication skills. He sees these skills, which are often associated with the liberal arts, as essential to the success of accountants today.
“What’s important is thinking through the underlying economics of a given transaction,” Golden said. “What’s the best way to portray that transaction to others? How can you analyze what the transaction is, and be able to present that to others?”
Download Full Image
Golden calls this finance-driven communication “the language of business. It tells people what’s happening in a business.”
Golden has thought a lot about the accounting profession. He recently retired from being chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB), the highly influential organization that sets accounting standards for all publicly traded companies in the U.S. The FASB is tasked with finding ways to improve Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, or the accounting guidelines companies in the U.S. must follow.
“I viewed working at FASB as a form of public service,” Golden said. “I liked leading a passionate, motivated, intelligent team working to make the standards better for everyone.”
Before joining the FASB, Golden was a partner at Deloitte. It’s this deep, hands-on experience that makes him such a valuable resource for the School of Accountancy.
"At the School of Accountancy, we focus on developing professional accountants that can contribute to the profession today and in the future,” said Clinical Professor of accountancy Philip Drake, who’s the faculty director of the Master of Accountancy and Master of Taxation programs. “Our students will have a front-row seat into Russ' decade on the FASB. They’ll understand, firsthand, how and why accounting has changed and, more importantly, where it is headed. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our students.”
Helping future accountants excel
In Golden’s view, accounting practices have substantially improved over the past 15 years, with accountants as a whole providing better quality information that helps build trust both in the profession and the companies they serve.
“There’s more data available than ever before, and more data helps accountants make better decisions about what assets are worth, what liabilities are owed, and how you can better estimate the value of any given transaction,” he said.
This clarity of accounting communication is important not only for the profession, but for the economy as a whole.
“We need passionate, ethical, intelligent accountants to help capital markets function and enable government to properly collect tax revenues,” he said. “I want to help future generations of accountants to gain the critical skills they need to excel.”
The desire to educate the next generation of accountants is what brings him to ASU, where he will be developing and teaching a course offered as an elective each spring in the MACC and MTax programs. He will also develop a separate course for undergraduate students, as well as spend time with accounting PhD students and faculty to share insights on research topics that would be of interest to practitioners, as well as how to help better frame existing topics.
“Russ is arguably the world’s foremost expert on financial reporting topics,” said Andy Call, professor and director of the School of Accountancy. "Students studying accounting here at ASU will now have the opportunity to learn directly from him. Russ will provide similar benefits to our faculty. We are very excited to welcome him to W. P. Carey.”
Golden has Pac-12 roots, having earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Washington State University. He was majoring in business, but especially liked his accounting classes and the people he met there, which led to his career path.
Depth and breadth of experience
After college, Golden started his career with Deloitte Touche in Seattle, working his way up to manager of national office accounting services in New York City. He was promoted from there to senior manager of their national mergers and acquisitions consultation network and eventually was named a partner in the firm. His knowledge of the accounting profession is both broad and deep. He recently agreed to chair PricewaterhouseCooper’s assurance quality advisory committee, which gives guidance to firm leadership about various aspects of their audit practice.
While many fundamentals of accounting education remain consistent over time, there are also significant changes. The biggest difference Golden sees in educating accountants now, compared with the early 1990s when he was a student, is technology.
“Understanding systems and controls is extremely important now,” he said. "Systems are everywhere; data is everywhere. How well you understand those systems and can think through the data gives you better information and insight.”
Another emerging area of emphasis is accounting for social and environmental performance as well as business performance.
“Companies today are assessed on more than just revenue and earnings,” Golden said. “Investors, management and stakeholders want to know how well companies are doing in meeting their environmental, social and governance goals as well.”
One of the biggest challenges accountants face today is to provide accurate information about how effectively companies are meeting these obligations. In business as in life, claims are one thing, but the bottom-line reality is quite another. As Golden puts it: “A lot of companies want to grow their revenue, but not all do grow revenue. Accounting information and analysis helps stakeholders know what a company is doing in any given area.”
Teaching remotely, advising on campus
Golden lives on St. Simons Island in Georgia and will be teaching classes remotely. But he plans to spend a week on campus each semester as well. His son is in his freshman year at college in Boston, and he empathizes with the struggles students are having during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s not an easy time to do college,” he said. “I’m looking forward to working with students on the best ways to communicate, and to take real, live-fact patterns and debate the choices accountants made, and talk about what alternatives they might have chosen.”
In this era of COVID-19, Golden suggests that the work of accountants is more important than ever.
“There are important questions as to the impact of the pandemic on company values,” he said. “Some are considering bankruptcy; some have exponential growth. They need to accurately assess their value now to make the right choices for their business.”
Golden himself says he has “gotten really good at chasing down the DoorDash (food delivery service) and helping them find my house. You can’t see the number on the house, so I have to wave down the driver.”
Golden sees some changes instituted in the pandemic remaining afterward.
“I think we’ll continue to see a lot of remote work in general,” he said. "For accountants, we could see some changes in standards, like maybe we won’t have to observe inventory and count stock every year.”
Overall, Golden is optimistic about business post-COVID-19.
“It’s been impressive to see how quickly business has adapted. That’s a good sign for the future.”