Edwin Van-der-Vord Nixon was admitted to membership of the British Society of Accountants and Auditors in 1901. By 1919, having successfully established his city practice he joined the General Council of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants. He was then instrumental in efforts to obtain the Royal Charter prior to the formation, in 1929 of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. Nixon's workload included not only management of his busy city practice but also part-time lecturing in the University of Melbourne where he contributed to the development of the curricula and regulations for the new Faculty of Commerce. Nixon's record of publication shows he was a prolific author over topics ranging from accounting history, holding companies and budgetary control. His most enduring contribution was a set of articles on professional ethics in 1931–32, which was published in booklet form as The Ethics of the Accountancy Profession. Nixon provided expertise on a number of commissions of enquiry serving on the Royal Commission on Taxation 1932–34, the Royal Commission on the Monetary and Banking System 1935–37, and three public enquiries in 1938 examining the film industry, the granting of small loans and aspects of taxation. He also made a major contribution to the war effort of 1939-45 serving as Chairman of the Accountancy Advisory Panel in the Department of Supply and Development, 1939-40; Member of the Board of Business Administration, Department of Defence Co-ordination, 1940; and Member of the Aircraft Advisory Committee, Department of Aircraft Production, 1941. His major contribution, however, was as Director of Finance in the Department of Munitions from 1940 to 1945 when he supported the Director-General of Munitions in the design, codification and monitoring of procurement contracts entered into by the Department with private contractors who supplemented the output of Government Ordinance Factories. Nixon also held high office within professional bodies serving on the General Council of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants and later the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia. As an accounting practitioner, he was principal of the eponymous firm which he founded, Edwin V. Nixon & Partners, from the firm's inception in 1912 until his death in 1955. Under his leadership, the firm grew into one of Australia's leading accounting firms becoming in 1957 the Australian arm of the international firm, Arthur Young & Company, predecessor to the present-day Ernst & Young. Shy and reserved in manner, Nixon displayed a prodigious capacity for well-directed work. As a man of considerable achievements, due recognition inevitably came his way. Among many others, he was appointed a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1935 and subsequently made a Knight Bachelor in 1951.
The Australian Accounting Hall of Fame honours Sir Edwin Nixon as a pioneer, practitioner, administrator, author, educator and leader of the accounting profession. In so doing it recognises his extraordinary contribution to the advancement of Australian accounting over more than half a century.
1876 - 1955
Edwin Van-der-Vord Nixon was born in 1876 at St Hélier, Jersey in the Channel Islands. His family emigrated to Brisbane in 1882 where he was educated locally. Nixon was appointed a pupil-teacher at South Brisbane State School in April 1891 and at the age of 18 became the head (and only) teacher at Raglan Creek Provisional School. From 1895 he was an assistant-teacher, first at Mount Morgan and then at schools in Brisbane.
After resigning from the Department of Education in 1897, Nixon's career in accountancy started with a course of study that led, in 1901, to admission as a member of the British Society of Accountants and Auditors in 1901. He moved to Melbourne and worked for a firm of accountants before establishing his own practice in 1912. He joined the general council of the Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants in 1919 and was instrumental in obtaining the Royal Charter as the precursor to the formation, in 1929 of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia.
Nixon's professional life, which was long and successful can be separated in several ways – academic and author; peace-time public service; war-time public service; service to the profession and private business activities including accounting practice.
At the University of Melbourne, Edwin Nixon was an important contributor to the development of accounting education. As the nominee of the Joint Council of Accountancy Bodies of Victoria, he served as a member of the committee which, in 1924, developed the curricula and regulations for the new Faculty of Commerce at the University. He continued as the representative of the Joint Council from 1924–31. The minutes of the Faculty of Commerce show that Nixon was a regular attendee and often liaised on behalf of Faculty with the three accounting bodies that constituted the Joint Council. He was particularly interested with matters concerning the reciprocal recognition of professional and university examinations.
Although senior partner in his busy city practice, Nixon was also a part-time academic and lecturer-in-charge of accounting in the University from 1925–29. While his direct teaching role was limited to 15 lectures per year, there is no doubt that his prestige as one of the leading Melbourne accounting practitioners helped to establish the credibility of the new Bachelor of Commerce degree and the status of accounting as a specialisation within the degree. It is also almost certain that he was instrumental in the appointment of A.A. Fitzgerald (AAHoF 2010) as his assistant lecturer, the first step in Fitzgerald's rise inter alia to becoming the University's and Australia's first professor of accounting.
Given his other responsibilities, the list of Nixon's selected publications indicates that he was a remarkably prolific author over topics ranging from accounting history, holding companies and budgetary control. However, probably his most enduring contributions was a set of articles on professional ethics in the Accountant in Australia in 1931 –32, which were then compiled into a booklet The Ethics of the Accountancy Profession, updated by him in 1937 as Code of Ethics. This publication remained the ICAA's principal resource on this topic until the late 1950s. Despite the evolution of university studies in accounting from the 1920s, the major means of entry into the accounting profession for the next four decades remained the examinations of the professional accounting bodies. Nixon also contributed to the education of students taking this route into the profession. Two of his selected publications in 1924 and 1928 were based on lectures he delivered to the Student Society of the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants.
Prior to World War 2 Edwin Nixon was called upon to provide his expertise on a number of occasions for commissions of enquiry including:
- Royal Commission on Taxation 1932–34
- Royal Commission on the Monetary and Banking system 1935–37
- Three public enquiries in 1938 examining -
- the film industry
- the granting of small loans and
- aspects of taxation (federal)
The first of the Royal Commissions was undertaken by Nixon and the Hon. D.G. Ferguson, a retired judge of the NSW Supreme Court. In this period the States still levied their own income taxes and the Commission's terms of reference were, inter alia, to 'inquire into and report upon the simplification of the taxation laws of the Commonwealth and of the ...'. The commissioners' recommendations regarding uniformity between the jurisdictions were praised and 'largely accepted by all Australian governments'. The recommendations relating to the taxation of company profits and dividends largely endured until the advent of dividend imputation in 1987.
Established in the aftermath of the banking and financial-system failures which occurred during the 1930s Depression, the second Royal Commission was much broader in scope than the taxation enquiry. It recommended increased power of the Central Bank over trading banks through minimum liquidity and deposit requirements and was the catalyst for the Commonwealth Bank establishing a mortgage department designed to provide long-term finance to the rural sector.
During World War 2 Nixon provided service to the Federal Government as:
- Chairman of the Accountancy Advisory Panel established in the Department of Supply and Development, 1939-40
- Member, Board of Business Administration, Department of Defence Co-ordination, 1940
- Director of Finance, Department of Munitions, 1940–45 and
- Member, Aircraft Advisory Committee, Department of Aircraft Production, 1941
References to Nixon's work in three separate volumes of Australia's official World War 2 history (Butlin, 1955; Mellor, 1958; Butlin and Schedvin, 1977) suggest that his was the most important single contribution. In mid-1939 Nixon was selected, on the personal recommendation of the Prime Minister of the day R.G. Menzies as chairman of an accountancy advisory board that was established within the newly created Department of Supply and Development to monitor 'matters relating to arrangements for ascertaining costs and for the control and limitation of profits in relation to the production of munitions for profit on private premises'. The panel worked for a short period of eleven months at the end of which it prepared a key pamphlet titled Standard Conditions Applicable to Contracts on a Cost plus Profit Basis. The pamphlet was the panel's lasting legacy as it was adopted by Nixon in his next war-time role and used extensively in the vast munitions industry that developed through the middle years of the war. Following the demise of the panel Nixon was appointed Director of Finance in the newly created Department of Munitions. In this role he supported the Director-General of Munitions Essington Lewis, playing a major role in the design, codification and monitoring of procurement contracts entered into by the Department with private contractors whose 'annexes' (civilian facilities used to produce war materials) supplemented the output of Government Ordinance Factories. The relevant contracts were written on a cost-plus basis raising a range of incentive, measurement and contextual problems, ultimately requiring the adoption of four different versions of cost-plus. The indications are that Nixon and his staff handled these problems with distinction. Lewis, the peacetime chairman and managing-director of BHP Ltd, worked closely with Nixon throughout the war and the fact that Edwin V. Nixon & Partners became joint auditors of BHP in the post-war period should be interpreted not as cronyism, but as evidence of Lewis's high regard for Nixon's capabilities. Like Lewis, Nixon performed his wartime duties at no cost to the Government.
E.V. Nixon's contribution to the accounting profession is similarly impressive but not unusual for a man of such stature. He was variously,
- General Councillor, Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants, 1919 –28
- Chairman, Victorian Division, Australasian Corporation of Public Accountants, 1922 –23
- Foundation Councillor and later General Councillor, Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, 1928–37
- Chairman, Victorian Division, Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia, 1932–36 and
- Vice-Chairman, Executive Committee, Australasian Congress on Accounting, 1936
In these capacities he was a major figure in the evolution of the accounting profession in the inter-war years, particularly in relation to the formation and expansion of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia of which he was a founding charter member.
As an accounting practitioner he was principal of the firm Edwin V. Nixon & Partners from the firm's inception in 1912 until his death in 1955. Under his leadership the firm became one of Australia's leading accounting firms, initially only with a Melbourne office, but from 1941 into a national firm through a series of association agreement with interstate firms. In 1957, the firm became the Australian arm of the international firm, Arthur Young & Company, a predecessor firm to the modern firm Ernst & Young.
Inspired by the role and success of International Congresses in Accounting in 1904 (St Louis), 1926 (Amsterdam), 1929 (New York), and 1933 (London), the three major Australian accounting bodies began planning in 1934 for an Australasian congress which was eventually held in Melbourne during March 1936. As Vice-President of the Executive Committee, Nixon played a major role in the organisation of the Congress at which he also delivered one of the eight papers presented as well as chairing one of the technical sessions.
Sir Edwin's portfolio of directorships included:
- Thompson's Engineering and Pipe Ltd, Castlemaine (Director 1925–55, Chairman 1931–55)
- Noske Ltd (Director and Chairman 1931–55)
- Moulded Products Australasia (subsequently Nylex Ltd), (Chairman 1936–55)
Nixon purportedly served on the boards of Thompsons's Engineering and Noske as the nominee of the National Bank of Australasia after helping rescue these companies from 'serious financial trouble'. Interestingly Nixon's corporate involvements occurred at a time when auditors could serve as directors of public companies which were also audit clients. Sir Edwin was also instrumental in the creation of Drug Houses of Australia Ltd (DHA), a merger of hitherto competing drug manufacturers and wholesalers in capital cities. His valuations provided the basis for the capital shares allocated to the different parties in the merged entity.
Colleagues recall that Nixon had the misfortune to lack a sense of humour, and that he had a saturnine countenance giving an impression of impending doom. His high principles and unbending manner would later cause him to lead two walkouts of Victorian members from meetings of the General Council of the ICAA. His academic subordinate, A.A. Fitzgerald, would later describe how at the first lecture Fitzgerald gave at the University in 1925, Nixon ostentatiously sat in the front row observing, but also perusing business papers which he occasionally tore up much to Fitzgerald's intense annoyance.
Despite Fitzgerald's irritation with Nixon's conduct in the lecture theatre and differences in temperament and professional orientations between the two men, the pair's collaborations in the pre-World War 2 period were enormously beneficial to both student and professional accountants. Their Some Problems of Modern Accountancy has claims to be considered the first critical and research-oriented monograph in the Australian accounting literature. Nixon's series of articles about ethics occurred when Fitzgerald was editor of the Accountant in Australia and likely arose from agreement between them about the importance of the topic, a collaboration continued with their joint presentations on budgetary control to a meeting of the ICAA Research Society in 1935. Similarly, both were key organisers of and presenters at the 1936 Australasian Congress of Accounting.
Edwin Nixon has been described as a 'colossus of the accounting profession'. Ordinarily, such statements can be treated as hyperbole but in Nixon's case there seems to be little exaggeration. As an educator he was a key figure in the development of the accounting discipline at the University of Melbourne while, simultaneously contributing to the education of trainees entering the profession by the traditional route of professional exams. As an author in the era of normative research he was surprisingly prolific given the scope of his other activities and he was particularly influential in the area of professional ethics. In professional practice, the eponymous firm which he founded became a major presence in Australia before its transformation into the Australian arm of Arthur Young & Company in 1957. Related to accounting practice were the substantial directorships he held, in at least two cases as a result of successfully rescuing companies from financial distress. Within the accounting profession, he was a significant figure in the development of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in Australia and its precursor body, the Australasian Corporation of Accountants. In the public arena his work on important Royal Commissions in the inter-war period influenced the structure of Australia's taxation and financial systems. Overshadowing all these achievements was his wartime role as Director of Finance in the Ministry of Munitions.
Shy and reserved in manner, Nixon displayed a prodigious capacity for well-directed work. When he established his practice he chose the code-word 'Methodical' for his telegraphic address. His professional philosophy was encapsulated in the conclusion to his lecture, Business Finance (1930): 'In the long run, the successful business is that which makes fewest mistakes'.
A man of such tremendous achievements is always afforded due recognition. Among many others Edwin Nixon was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in 1935 and later elevated to Knight Bachelor in 1951.