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The Numbers Guy 

The Numbers Guy

Five Questions for Robert Turner, Graduate Associate Dean of On-site Programs, and Associate Professor of Accounting

You’ve taught at four colleges. What’s distinctive about Babson?  Everybody is high-touch here. It’s student to student, it’s student to faculty, student to administrator. Mentoring is part of the high-touch relationship. I know a graduate who runs a nonprofit venture, and we meet for breakfast about once a month to talk about where he’s taking this business. We have a lifelong connection that I think the alumni feel good about as they move forward.

The learning is collaborative, and the students are cooperative. For example, last year someone was trying to get into private equity or venture capital. When a job came along, that student emailed it to eight other Babson people because if they didn’t get it, they wanted to make sure another Babson person got it. I don’t think you get that same sense at another school.

Why should I learn accounting? Aren’t there accountants for that?  [laughs] I know a lot of first-year MBAs who ask, “Why do I need to know this? How is it going to fit in?” In the second year they suddenly realize, “If I’m going to go up in front of investors, I have to prove that this is a cash positive business or nobody is going to invest in me.”

If you’re going to be a manager, you have to know numbers, and nonprofits aren’t exempt. A woman in my bonds and accounting class thought, “I want to work in a charter school. Thanks Bob, I’ll listen, but am I ever going to have to know anything about bonds?” Well, she got her summer internship, and the charter school was building a new building. So what did she spend her summer doing? Analyzing financing options for the new building! She came back in September saying, “Bob I get it!”

Actually, accounting and finance go way beyond business. You will have to think about funding your retirement, funding your health care, funding your children’s education, having a mortgage. I’m amazed that we don’t require people in college to take a life financial course.

What’s the burning issue in your work?  Financial reporting is going global. Because we have a global economic environment, we really need to have a global reporting environment. If I define that income differently than you do in another country, there is no transparency. Example: Before we had the EU, Daimler Benz in Germany had a profit in German accounting, but when they translated their financial results to U.S. accounting standards, they had a loss. (In a global economy), different accounting standards across countries and regions make no sense.

What are the new job opportunities in accounting?  The big four public accounting firms have sustainability consulting operations now. The vice chair of PricewaterhouseCoopers is a Babson alumnus. He was at our sustainability conference talking about how Wal-Mart requires its suppliers to show how they’re reducing their carbon footprint.

Is sustainability reporting at a corporate level really just greenwashing?  No. Corporate Social Responsibility reporting has exploded, and the triple bottom line is becoming a much more accepted, in fact assumed, form of reporting.

Big companies know the benefits of sustainability. Our keynote speaker at last year’s sustainability conference was a woman from Verizon, a senior VP who rallied the four or five companies with the largest truck fleets in the U.S. Together, they went to the car makers and said, “If you build an energy efficient truck, we’ll buy it.”

The nature of reporting is changing. For example, EMC, where I run a professional development program, really focuses on cash flows in their quarterly earnings announcements. They’ve got a sustainability officer. Long-term, everybody has to realize they should probably build in the total cost of the product into the product, (including environmental and social cost).

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