Ray Chambers AO
Ray Chambers’ career as an academic accountant is characterised by a prodigious research output attuned to deeply held convictions as to what accounting was (is), what it should be and how it should be done. His writings are evidence of a lifetime of engagement on issues of great concern to him and for the accounting discipline. As a thinker of the first order, he was able to articulate unflinchingly his ideas. As a pioneer he called into question many of the precepts upon which the modern discipline had been founded. Early in his academic life his major work, Accounting Evaluation and Economic Behaviour (1966), which had an inter-disciplinary dimension, set the theme for much of the work that followed. He authored eleven major books and produced over 230 articles during his career. He was an early proponent of fair values and was ever willing to pronounce on the difficulties associated with historical costs, often in the face of trenchant opposition. He was simply not to be deterred, irking many but gaining the admiration of just as many. The depth of his scholarship expounded from within the ‘Sydney School’, of which he was the founder, has contributed mightily to the intellectual depth that the discipline enjoys today. As an educator, Ray Chambers is arguably without peer, having taught and mentored at least eight professors of accounting together with a legion of others who have made their names in academia or the wider profession. Although a first-class scholar, Ray Chambers also recognised a duty to contribute in a tangible way to the accounting profession. He did this through service as the national president of the then Australian Society of Accountants. He was also founder and foundation editor of the prestigious accounting research journal, Abacus. Ray Chambers’ status was recognised early with membership of the Social Science Research Council, the forerunner to the present day Academy of Social Sciences in Australia. He is also the sole Australian to be honoured with membership of the Ohio Accounting Hall of Fame. His contribution to accounting in Australia brought additional recognition with his appointment as an Officer in the Order of Australia. On retirement from the University of Sydney Ray Chambers was accorded the honour of Emeritus Professor.
The Australian Accounting Hall of Fame honours Ray Chambers as an educator, mentor, visionary, thinker and scholar of the highest order. In so doing it recognises his international stature in helping to put the Australian academy on the map and inspiring many - including his critics - to think for themselves.
1917 - 1999
Educated in Newcastle, NSW, Ray Chambers studied economics on a scholarship at the University of Sydney. He graduated in 1939. He was the first full-time lecturer in accounting at the University of Sydney, being appointed Senior Lecturer in Charge of Accounting in 1953, and the University's foundation Chair of Accounting in 1960, a position he held till his retirement in 1983. He remained active in academic, professional and public debate until he passed away, having by then provided over 40 years of leadership not only in the academic department he established, but also in the accounting academy both nationally and internationally and in the Australian profession and practice more broadly.
Ray Chambers was an outstanding researcher, educator and mentor. His prodigious research output includes some 230 articles and eleven major books; his magnum opus Accounting, Evaluation and Economic Behaviour (AEEB) was first published in 1966. As a major work of inter-disciplinary scholarship, he sought to bring about a radical reform of accounting by articulating the theory of his proposed new system of Continuously Contemporary Accounting. This was his solution to the deep-rooted problems of conventional accounting which he exposed unflinchingly in his writings. It stands as a major intellectual resource for today's practitioners and standard-setters grappling with fair values. It is evident that his writings extended to management accounting, auditing and accounting education as he grappled with the problem of how to reform accounting in a comprehensive and coherent manner. As shown most clearly in AEEB he was also a pioneering figure in the interdisciplinary turn in accounting, looking to psychology, measurement theory, linguistics, decision theory, economics (among other disciplines) for guidance on how to escape from the inward-looking and fatally flawed (as he saw it) accounting practice, theory and pedagogy of his time. Chambers was one of a number of normative theorists dissatisfied with historic cost accounting. He actively argued with his fellow reformers as well as supporters of historical cost and the new schools of economic/finance-based research (e.g., capital markets researchers and positive accounting theorists). While impacts are difficult to demonstrate, Chambers, along with other members of the 'Sydney' school which he founded, has arguably contributed to the subversion of historic cost accounting and the creation of a constituency in academia, accounting practice, the business community and the regulatory sphere prepared to countenance fair values. He continued to refine, promote and defend his ideas until the end.
He also contributed to international accounting scholarship by establishing Abacus in 1965 and editing it until 1975 remaining a Consulting Editor until his death in 1999. Abacus's ongoing reputation as a leading international journal is a testament to those efforts. His eminence as scholar and teacher was such that at the time of his retirement there were eight full professors of accounting who had either studied or worked under his leadership at Sydney - a notable point given that accounting was not a well-established academic discipline in Australia in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, Chambers served as the first President of the Australian Association of University Teachers of Accounting (now AFAANZ) and he was widely sought as a speaker at academic and professional forums both inside and outside Australia. He contributed to both major Australian professional bodies, most notably as State and National President of the Australian Society of Accountants (now CPA Australia) during the 1970s. Ray also served on the Australian Prices Commission (in the 1940s) and chaired the NSW Accounting Standards Review Committee in the 1970s.
Membership of the prestigious Social Science Research Council (predecessor to the Academy of the Social Sciences in Australia came his way in 1963 several years before the publication of AEEB. In 1967, he was awarded a Gold Medal for AEEB by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants. Subsequent to its publication he was invited to speak in over 30 U.S. universities and over 20 universities elsewhere throughout the world. His work has been published in Italian, Spanish and Japanese. In 1976 he was the first overseas invitee to be the American Accounting Association Distinguished International Lecturer and the only non-US recipient to date of the Kappa Psi Foundation Award for distinguished service and accomplishment in accounting. In 1978 he was made an Officer in the Order of Australia (OBE) for services to commerce and education, particularly in accounting and business management. In 1991 he was inducted into the Ohio Accounting Hall of Fame as the first non-American inductee. He also received the AAA Outstanding Educator Award.
Ray Chambers has been described by his peers as an accounting pioneer, intellectual giant and a truly renaissance man. He was also selected as one of the greatest twentieth century accounting thinkers.