Clive Graham PEIRSON (1938 - 2019)
Professor of Accounting and Finance (1978 - 2001)
It is perhaps not surprising that Emeritus Professor Graham Peirson, who died on January 17 2019 aged 80, had such a long and distinguished career in the field of accounting and finance; it was in his blood.
His great-uncle, Edward Peirson, sat on the first council of the Royal Institute of Chartered Accountants in England in 1880, and was a prominent citizen who was highly regarded in his community.
He headed the busy firm Peirson and Sons based in the Midlands and was also the Official Receiver in Bankruptcy.
Graham brought the family name across the waters, where he played a mighty role in pursuing economics and social advancement in his adopted country. His impact on the discipline has been just as profound.
Graham was one of the most notable accounting academics in Australia, well-known for his textbooks which were widely used in both universities and colleges.
Arguably, his most significant legacy was his outstanding contribution to accounting standard setting and regulation through scholarship, and his extensive involvement with both with the Public Sector Accounting Standards Board and the Australian Accounting Standards Board (AASB).
He penned the Peirson Report, commissioned by the Australian Accounting Research Foundation and released in 1990, in which he made recommendations for revamping standard-setting arrangements in Australia.
In a similar vein to that of his civic-minded great-uncle, he called for the establishment of an accounting standard-setting board which was independent of interest groups such as the accountancy profession, business, and government, allowing a wider section of the community to be involved directly in the standard-setting process.
Whilst the Peirson Report was not without criticism, many of its recommendations remained the framework for Australian institutional arrangements for years afterwards.
Graham came to Monash as a lecturer in 1963. He had a “solid rather than brilliant” undergraduate record, earning a second class honours degree in economics from the University of Adelaide, followed by a M.Ec in which he studied public investment in Australia, where it was noted that he did a “particularly good job” in analysing government accounts.
He was considered a “quiet and unassuming fellow” by his colleagues, renowned for the quality of his lectures which were always thoroughly prepared, as well as his ability to communicate with his students.
His teaching and research commitments were evenly divided between financial accounting and business finance, with the majority of his research work primarily devoted to the preparation of his books.
Graham’s slow-burning academic career quickly gained momentum; he became a senior lecturer in 1967, Associate Professor in 1974 and was appointed Chair of Accounting and Finance in 1978. In the latter part of his 40-year career with Monash he headed the then Department of Accounting and Finance and was Director of the Department’s Centre for Research in Accounting and Finance.
During this time, he showed outstanding leadership in navigating the department through choppy waters caused by the challenging aftermath of the Dawkins reforms. He remained “absolutely dogmatic” about the need to maintain academic standards, setting lofty ones for his own staff and students.
Graham published significant articles in leading journals and one of his co-authored books, Business Finance, was described by one eminent academic as "easily the best book of its kind to be published in Australia". It became the standard text in universities and colleges and is now in its twelfth edition.
During his career, Graham co-authored five textbooks, passing on his knowledge to thousands of students over the years. His high standard of scholarship was reflected in his many publications, which included leading American academic accounting and applied journals.
He was known for writing in a “refreshingly clear and sensible manner” that was always “impeccably correct.” In academia, where writing can be bafflingly complex, one colleague noted of Graham "he is unusual in that one can always understand what he writes".
Clive Graham Peirson was born in Welshpool, Wales, in 1938, the only child of parents Norah, nee Garnett, and Ronald, a fishmonger and poulterer. He spent most of his early childhood in Bristol, but when Graham was ten, the family migrated to Australia, via New York, settling in Chatswood, NSW, where Ronald found work as a department manager and Graham enrolled at Mosman Intermediate High School.
At the University of Adelaide, he enjoyed taking part in amateur dramatics, retaining a love of the arts throughout his life (both he and his wife Christine, were patrons of the NGV and the MSO).
As well as his Monash career, Graham held visiting appointments at the Universities of California, Florida, Washington and Illinois. He also spent a period teaching in the economics department at Bristol University, just a few miles from his childhood home, where one of his colleagues described him as “a class above most lecturers".
Other ways he contributed to his profession were through his role as Chair of the Victorian Recruitment Committee and as the inaugural Chair of CPA Australia’s External Reporting Centre of Excellence (1992-1998). In 2000, he was appointed to the newly constituted AASB, where he was the only academic on the nine-member board. Graham retired from Monash in 2001 and was appointed Emeritus Professor the following year.
In 1999, Graham was awarded the CPA’s Victorian President’s Award for "outstanding and enduring contribution to CPA Australia and the accounting profession". He also received the inaugural Accounting and Finance Association of Australia and New Zealand (AFAANZ) Outstanding Contribution to Accounting and Finance Practice Award the same year.
The plaudits continued when in 2004, Graham received the CPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award for 48 years of outstanding service to CPA Australia and the profession. In March, he is to be inducted into the Australian Accounting Hall of Fame, taking his place amongst the nation’s most distinguished accounting practitioners and academics.
It is an accolade that has its roots buried thousands of miles away, several generations in the past.
A memorial for Professor Graham Peirson will be held at 4.00pm on Wednesday, 20 February, in the Garden Restaurant at the National Gallery of Victoria.
Edited version of article published in The Insider, February 7 2019.
Image credit: CPA Australia, Victoria.