James Arvid Ohlson

A world-renowned and dedicated scholar, James A. Ohlson has provided new and important insights into the key role of accounting earnings in the valuation and operation of economic enterprises. He was born in Stockholm, Sweden, in 1943, into a comfortable family life. He was one of three brothers brought up in the Scandinavian tradition that believed, as he puts it, “the road to personal freedom is to behave properly when expected to do so.”

He attended high school in Stockholm and Watford, United Kingdom. During the latter experience, he learned the UK’s old non-decimal monetary system and the lesson, he reports, that “societies do maintain obsolete institutions.”

After a year in the Swedish army, he attended the University of Stockholm for two-and-a-half years, earning a social science degree and a master’s degree in political science. He recalls that it was a true education with open admission, no tuition, few classes, and high standards; the objective was to learn something durable and develop a capacity for critical thinking.

Following his undergraduate studies, he enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned two degrees—an MBA in 1968 and a PhD in Business Administration in 1972. During the final year of his PhD program he was awarded a Post-Doctoral Research Fellowship at the University of British Columbia.

In 1972 he joined the accounting faculty of Stanford University as an assistant professor where he remained until 1974 when he returned to Berkeley as an assistant professor. He was promoted to associate professor in 1978, professor in 1980, and L. H. Penny Professor of Accounting in 1983. In 1987 he joined the faculty of Columbia University as the George O. May Professor of Accounting where he remained for 10 years. In 1998, he left Columbia for New York University where was named Leonard N. Stern Professor of Business. In 2004, he joined the accounting faculty at the Arizona State University where he remained for four years, returning to NYU’s Stern School of Business in 2008. 

In addition, he has held visiting professorships at the University of Chicago, the London School of Economics, Stockholm School of Economics, the University British Columbia, and the University of California, Los Angles. 

He has published over 60 papers in scholarly journals, most in The Accounting Review, the Journal of Accounting Research, the Review of Accounting Studies, andContemporary Accounting Research. He views the highly cited “Earnings, Book Values, and Dividends in Equity Valuation” as his “main paper.”  Indeed, although the paper was perhaps less than warmly received at the time of publication in 1995, it has proven resilient.  In 2000, the paper received the American Accounting Association’s Notable Contributions the Accounting Literature Award, followed in 2013 by the Seminal Contributions to Accounting Literature Award.

In addition to his many papers, he published a monograph in 2006, with his co-author Zhang Gao, Earnings, Earnings Growth and Value, which focuses on how growth in earnings explains the price to forward-earnings ratio. The totality of his work brings out the centrality of projected and reported accounting numbers in equity valuation. The research has had a major impact on the way equity valuation is taught and researched in empirical settings.

A widely respect teacher and mentor, he has chaired the doctoral dissertation work for over 13 students now holding faculty positions in major universities across the country. He has an extensive record of editorial board service to every major academic journal in accounting and of referee work to many journals in finance, economics and management science. He has played an active role in consulting related to litigation, regulatory policy and professional education and has provided administrative service to his university as department chair and chair of doctoral studies, in addition to serving on numerous faculty committees.

His honors and awards include an honorary doctorate from the Stockholm School of Economics, four awards from the American Accounting Association for notable contributions to the field, the Association’s Educator of the Year Award, and in China, the prestigious Chiang Jiang Scholar award.

Currently he is a Chaired Professor at The Hong Kong Polytechnic University and also has affiliations with Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business in Beijing and the Manchester School of Business in the UK. 

He is the 93rd member of The Accounting Hall of Fame.