Kim Sawers: From Controller to Professor

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Professor Kim Sawers just completed her term as president of the Accounting Behavior in Organizations section of the American Accounting Association. Accounting behavior is not nearly as arcane as it might sound. The field actually covers how economics, psychology, and sociology individually and collectively influence business decision-making. What makes this interesting? The typical belief that accounting is objective and predictable can be wrong. In fact, people and organizations are complex. They bring a myriad of perspectives to bear when making a decision, including personal values, cognitive skills, and their relationships to others.

Keep in mind that the field of accounting behavior is relatively new in the accounting profession -- just over 30 years old. It was originally considered something of an outlier in an accounting profession defined by the Chicago School “rational economic man” approach advocated by Milton Friedman and others. Over the decades, however, accountants have come to understand that people are not always rational, and they often deliberately or unconsciously undermine their own economic interests. This alternative view of economics has been popularized by the “Freakonomics” school of thought.

As president of the Accounting Behavior in Organizations section, Dr. Sawers provided leadership to more than 900 accounting professors doing research in this area. She also presided over the international meeting in San Diego this year, where almost 20 percent of the profession was represented. But running the fifth-largest section of the American Accounting Association is a lot of work. So, although she thoroughly enjoyed her service, Dr. Sawers says she is delighted to have passed the leadership baton to her successor as of September. Now past-president, Dr. Sawers will stay on the board and will continue to influence the profession.

In her own research Dr. Sawers looks at how individual managers decide to work together to create mutual value for the company. Her research shows that a manager’s perceptions of “fairness” (whether I am personally being treated fairly) will influence how willing the manager is to strike a deal that maximizes the outcome for the company. Dr. Sawers is also doing research on new classroom teaching methods that look at how physical space (such as a classroom) influences instructor behavior.

Dr. Sawers has been teaching accounting at SPU since 2006 but has been at SPU, off and on, since 1985. Her previous role was the controller for the university.