23 Nov 2020

Harvard Business School Professor Emeritus David Hawkins Dies at 86

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David Hawkins
Photo Credit: Stuart Cahill

BOSTON— David F. Hawkins, the Harvard Business School’s Lovett-Learned Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, and an expert on accounting who influenced more than five generations of students and practitioners through his research and teaching in critical areas of accountancy, management, finance and economics, died on November 5, 2020. He was 86. His research dealt with the formulation of corporate financial reporting strategies, financial statement analysis, the role of earnings quality in equity security valuations, and the harmonization of global financial reporting. His other areas of interest included the management of corporations during periods of high inflation.

Hawkins joined the Harvard Business School faculty in 1962. He was promoted to full professor in 1970 and later named the Lovett-Learned Professor of Business Administration.

“David was a devoted member of the HBS community. He loved engaging with his students in the classroom, with his colleagues over financial reporting issues, and with the world of practice where he was recognized as a star analyst,” said Paul Healy, James R. Williston Professor of Business Administration. “As a fellow antipodean, I loved our regular debates about Australian and New Zealand sporting contests and hearing his memories of his early years in Australia and coming to Harvard. My thoughts are with his family and friends.”

David was a leading accounting expert in the field of corporate finance, authoring 16 books and monographs, including his classic introduction to the field, Accounting: Texts and Cases (with Robert N. Anthony and Kenneth Merchant). The book covers both financial and managerial accounting, as well as broader managerial issues. The 13th edition was published in 2010.

In 1972, Hawkins published The Financial Reporting Practices of Corporations, a seminal work that gave both managers involved in the process of setting their company’s accounting policy and users of financial statements (e.g., bankers, investors) an understanding of company financial reporting practices.

In his 1997 text and casebook, Corporate Financial Reporting and Analysis, Hawkins supports the notion that achieving success—as a manager, investor, creditor, or public accountant—requires an understanding of the interplay between a company’s corporate strategy and its corporate financial reporting policies and practices. The volume shows how to analyze financial statements to “identify the economic realities of the reporting corporation,” and includes methods for interpreting financial data. It also examines the ways in which corporate financial statements influence the U.S. economic system, among other topics.

Among the many other books Hawkins wrote or coauthored are Corporate Financial Disclosure: 1900–1933 and The Effectiveness of the Annual Report as a Communications Vehicle (1986); Equity Valuation: Models Analysis and Implications (1978); Accounting for Leases by Lessees (1973); and Corporate Financial Reporting: Text and Cases (1971). 

He also published countless articles and bulletins, and more than 200 cases and teaching materials over the course of his career. His research was recognized during his career with the Newcomen Society Award, the California Management Review's McKinsey Award, and the Financial Analysts Journal Graham & Dodd Scroll.

David Frederick Hawkins was born December 13,1933, in New South Wales, Australia. A former Australian competition swimmer, he competed in the 1952 Melbourne Summer Olympics, where he swam in the preliminary heats of the men's 200-meter breaststroke event and reached the semifinals. As an undergraduate at Harvard, he became the first athlete to earn four swimming letters before freshmen were made eligible for varsity competition. He was inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Hall of Fame for his athletic accomplishments.

Hawkins received his bachelor’s degree from Harvard in 1956, and an MBA in 1958 and DBA in 1962 from HBS. Upon completion of his doctoral studies, he was appointed an assistant professor at the School, attaining the rank of full professor in 1970.

Hawkins was a talented and popular teacher who was admired and respected by faculty and students alike. He taught the required first-year MBA course Financial Reporting and Control, as well as the second-year electives Fundamentals of Financial Reporting and Analysis; Analysis of Corporate Financial Reports; Corporate Financial Reporting: A Global Perspective; and Managing Foreign Operations.

“I loved how David made the transition from teaching his own second year elective to venturing into the first year and becoming an outstanding course head for Financial Reporting and Control for many years,” said Robert S. Kaplan, Senior Fellow, Marvin Bower Professor of Leadership Development, Emeritus. “This was clearly a labor of love. David delighted in helping young faculty make accounting an exciting subject for our MBA students. And I believe these years as FRC course head rejuvenated David’s life at HBS. He achieved a status as a respected educational leader at the school and became a great resource and colleague for all of us.”

In his 50-year academic career, Hawkins had a profound impact on the education of many HBS students. Margaret Langan (MBA 1992) said that she has used the lessons learned in Professor Hawkins’ financial statement analysis class often and, in some cases, for hitting a home run at work. “The class was one of the most practical courses I took at HBS, largely because of how he taught it,” she recalled in an interview.

Hawkins’ influence extended outside the classroom as well.

In his role as an accounting consultant to Merrill Lynch in 1990, Hawkins captured first place in Institutional Investor’s All-America Research Team’s accounting category. He created a new framework that the firm adopted to assess the earnings quality of U.S. companies in the evolving financial and economic climate. He also was a member of the advisory committee and several task forces of the Financial Accounting Standards Board. He was a consultant to numerous other corporations including General Electric, Coca-Cola, DuPont, American Express, and Honeywell.

David is survived by his wife Barbara and their two daughters, Whitney (and husband Michael) and Lauren; as well as his children by a previous marriage, Phillip (and wife Nikki), John (and wife Cathy), Peter, Andrew, Katherine (and husband Richard), Matthew (and wife Risa), and Thomas (and wife Jennifer). He was predeceased by his son Richard.

The family has posted a beautiful obituary, which paints a full picture of David's many passions and talents.

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About Harvard Business School

Founded in 1908 as part of Harvard University, Harvard Business School is located on a 40-acre campus in Boston. Its faculty of more than 200 offers full-time programs leading to the MBA and doctoral degrees, as well as more than 70 open enrollment Executive Education programs and 55 custom programs, and Harvard Business School Online, the School’s digital learning platform. For more than a century, HBS faculty have drawn on their research, their experience in working with organizations worldwide, and their passion for teaching to educate leaders who make a difference in the world, shaping the practice of business and entrepreneurship around the globe.