Regular contributor Basil Tucker lectures in the School of Commerce at the University of South Australia. Before entering academia in 2003 he worked as a management accountant consultant and has had much to say in these pages about the differences between theory and practice.
Q. As a practising management accountant what were the roles you filled and challenges you faced?
A. Much of my management accounting experience came from management consulting. I was fortunate to conduct assignments – mainly in the areas of performance improvement, cost reduction, management control, costing and profit improvement – in Australia, the UK and the USA. Common challenges faced in most of these assignments were the need for organizations to ensure their staff were `singing from the same song sheet’, in other words, working together harmoniously, and towards a common goal. Working out where to go is easy. Getting there is another matter!
Q. What prompted your career change?
A. The intellectual challenge and opportunity to help people learn was the main attraction. It’s something I always wanted to do from a career perspective. The job satisfaction is outstanding.
Q. What has been the trajectory of your academic career?
A. I teach and have taught in undergraduate and postgraduate programs in Australia, China, Malaysia, Hong Kong and Singapore. I’ve also been lucky enough to present my academic research papers in the UK, US, and Europe, and to visit some very prestigious and well-known universities.
Q. You have written for us on the gulf between academics and practitioners. What if anything are you doing to breach it?
A. Engaging with practitioner publications (such as OnTarget Online), presenting and attending industry conferences, and regularly meeting with management accounting and senior management operatives. Of course, I try to become as involved as I can in professional associations such as the ICMA.
Q. Are you hopeful that it can be breached ?
A. I think it depends on how we view research and its role in informing practice. Both sides of the divide have much to contribute to the other. The top performers (academics and practitioners) in my experience are open to the views of the other. It’s disappointing to hear of academics who criticise practioners, and practitioners who think academics live in their ivory towers and are divorced from the real world – we’re all part of the same profession.
Q. If the gulf cannot be breached what is the value of research if not enacted or considered by the profession?
A. The contribution of research may not be realized until some time into the future. Also, there is a role for both pure and applied research. Our job as academics is not to be pseudo consultants. We make a difference by challenging and questioning practice. For me at least, it is better to teach practitioners how to fish rather than to give them a fish – and vice versa.
Q. What changes are occurring in the teaching of management accounting? Are there any trends or specific areas of developing interest?
A. Obviously, the opportunities provided by technology have revolutionised teaching. Having said this, the job of students is still to master the fundamental coursework. The job of academics is to help them in this regard and inspire in them the recognition of the wide scope of management accounting. One area that is developing I think, is the recognition that management accounting includes not only the technical skills (of costing, analysis, and the use of techniques), but also the soft skills – communication, working in teams, marketing and strategising. Of all subjects offered in a business or commerce course, management accounting would have to be one of the most inter-disciplinary. We are involved with not only the traditional, control, budgeting and performance concerns, but also draw on economics, finance, sociology, psychology, industrial relations, marketing and strategy. This is one of the things that makes management accounting so interesting.
Q. What will be the relevance of management accounting in the evolving economic future and what should practitioners focus on?
A. I think management accounting will become more involved with the strategic directions that organizations adopt because of the interdisciplinary nature I’ve just talked about. Our focus as management accountants is far more than counting the beans. We need to work out what beans need to be counted, how we count them and what value this exercise can contribute in a competitive environment. Like biology, organizational entities that can best adapt to their changing environment are the ones that will survive. Management accounting has the tools, techniques, but more importantly, the vision to enable and drive that adaptation. I predict our role will be increasingly tied to strategic management at the very highest levels of organizations.
Q. When did you become an ICMA member and why?
A. I’ve been a member of ICMA for 2 years. As a professional association exclusively for management accountants it made a lot of sense to become involved.
Q. What for you are the benefits of membership?
A. To remain connected with what is happening `out there’, and to network and learn from practicing management accountants in the field. It’s also a reality check for me in ensuring my research interests have relevance and can contribute in some way to practice.In each issue On Target Online turns the spotlight on someone of interest and achievement in our ranks. All branches are invited to nominate members they consider to be outstanding management accountants who have contributed both to their profession and the wider community. Nominations should be accompanied by a brief outline of why the nomination is significant and contact details for the nominee. Please address contributions to the editor firstname.lastname@example.org