Gerald Albert Feltham
One of accounting's most distinguished scholars, he had been in the forefront of accounting research for nearly four decades. Born in 1938 in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada, as a young man he was active in sports and his church. At the age of twelve, he took on a paper route that quickly grew to over 100 customers; in his final year of high school he traded the paper route for a part-time job with Safeway. He inherited a talent for mathematics and analysis from his parents, both of whom taught in the Moose Jaw public schools, and this talent led him to choose a career in accounting.
He was 16 when he graduated from high school in 1955 and entered a combined Bachelor of Commerce and Chartered Accountancy program at the University of Saskatchewan. The program entailed part-time work for a CA firm and combined on-campus and correspondence courses. He worked for two accounting firms in Moose Jaw, first for McCartney and Marsh and then for R. L. Bamford & Co. The year 1960 was a busy one: he wrote his final CA exam in September, earning the top grades in Saskatchewan, he married June Holman in December, and he completed work for his B.Comm with Distinction which was awarded the following year.
Convinced that his long-term interests did not lie in accounting practice, and encouraged by John Parker, a University of Saskatchewan accounting professor, he applied to accounting graduate programs in the United States. He was promptly accepted and awarded a teaching assistantship by the University of California - Berkeley, but the arrival of daughter Tracy prompted a delay in his graduate education and resulted in a teaching appointment at the University of Alberta.
In 1963, he entered the Ph.D. program at UC Berkeley. Here he was exposed to Marschak and Radner's work on information economics. Hector Anton, his dissertation chair, introduced him to the information-for-decisions perspective that was beginning to develop in accounting research. He joined with John Butterworth, Ted Mock and several others in a study group focused on developments in information economics. These experiences led him to depart from the traditional measurement focus of accounting research and to formally explore the meaning and economic impact of accounting information. A 1966 Arthur Andersen Foundation Fellowship enabled him and his family, to which two more daughters (Shari and Sandra) had been added, to remain at Berkeley while he completed his dissertation, which received the top dissertation award from the McKinsey Foundation.
Upon completing his Ph.D. in 1967, he joined the accounting faculty at Stanford University. His first paper, "The Value of Information," which was drawn from his dissertation, won the American Accounting Association's 1968 Competitive Manuscript Award. The enthusiastic reception of the paper by accounting researchers led the Association to publish his entire dissertation as a monograph, Information Evaluation, in a series normally reserved for post-dissertation work by senior scholars. At Stanford, he began a collaboration with Joel Demski. Their first paper, "The Use of Models in Information Evaluation" (1970), received the AICPA's Award for Outstanding Contribution to Accounting Literature. They also produced an important book, Cost Determination: A Conceptual Approach, and a group of influential papers including "Economic Incentives in Budgetary Control Systems," which received the AAA's 1994 Seminal Contribution to Accounting Literature Award, one of only four papers to receive this award since its inception over twenty years ago.
He remained at Stanford until 1971 when he returned to Canada to join the accounting faculty at the University of British Columbia. He authored or coauthored 28 major papers and 4 influential books. His 1994 paper, "Performance Measure Congruity and Diversity in Multi-Task Principal/Agent Relations," co-authored with former Ph.D. student Jim Xie, received the AAA's 1999 Notable Contribution to Management Accounting Literature Award. Recently, he initiated and co-authored with Peter O. Christensen an ambitious two-volume work, entitled Economics of Accounting, that contains some 250 rigorously proved theorems, corollaries and lemmas accompanied by careful exposition of their significance to accounting.
His impressive body of research has sharpened our understanding of the importance of accounting, both in the ability of accounting to inform decisions directly and in its capacity to create incentives for better decision outcomes. In addition to using agency and game theory to examine incentive contracting issues, his work includes a wide range of other economics tools applied to accounting issues. An example is his 1995 paper with James Ohlson, "Valuation and Clean Surplus Accounting for Operating and Financial Activities," which examines the relationship between market values and accounting numbers and has been widely used by those in empirical accounting research. In 1998, this paper was awarded the AAA's Wildman Medal for Contribution to Research that Impacts Accounting Practice, one of the few theoretical papers to receive this prestigious award. In recognition of his exceptional contributions to research in the social sciences, he was elected in 2003 a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the only accountant and one of only five business faculty to have received this honor.
His record of professional service is also distinguished and includes four years as co-editor of Contemporary Accounting Research, over ten years as co-editor of the Review of Accounting Studies, and many years as a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Accounting Research, the Journal of Accounting and Economics, The Accounting Review, and numerous other journals. His many honors and awards include the Canadian Academic Accounting Association's Haim Falk Award for Distinguished Contribution to Accounting Thought, and election as a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of British Columbia.
An internationally respected teacher, he has supervised 18 doctoral dissertations and delivered lectures and research seminars throughout the U.S., Canada, Europe and South-East Asia. In 1997, he was the American Accounting Association's Distinguished International Visiting Lecturer and received the Association's Outstanding Educator Award. He was the 75th member of The Accounting Hall of Fame.
Gerald Albert Feltham died on December 21, 2019 at the age of 81.