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Discovering the Secret Lives of Accountants

Dec 11th 2017
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Accountants are often described as capable, trustworthy, and good with figures, and they are. But they are also much more.

Over the centuries, accountants have been fashionistas, inventors, and spies. They fight crime, write books, and uphold the law. The more one learns about accountants, the more surprises one uncovers. Secret lives, indeed.

When Leonardo da Vinci painted The Last Supper, mathematician and accountant Luca Paciola was by his side — as a friend and advisor on perspective. Yet the 15th century Venetian, known as the Father of Accounting, is most revered for creating the double entry system of bookkeeping (the significance of which perhaps only those in the industry can fully appreciate).

It was accountant Matthäus Shwarz who created the first known book of fashion. His unique work of art depicts more than 40 years of his life and clothing, portraying what he wore during pivotal events such as his wedding and the death of his father, as well as daily life at work and at play. The man took fashion as seriously as he did his career — as head accountant for one of the most prestigious banking families in 16th century Germany.

Today, accountants include among their ranks rock stars, actors, politicians, and reporters. For example, both Robert Plant and Mick Jagger briefly studied accounting before taking the stage; Gibby Haynes was named Accounting Student of the Year and worked as an auditor at what was then Peat Marwick before fronting the punk band Butthole Surfers; and that smooth saxophonist Kenny G? He graduated magna cum laude in accounting.

But the study of accountancy is not just a stepping stone to rock-and-roll fame — accountants are also entrepreneurs and inventors. It was an accountant (Phil Knight) who founded Nike, and an accountant who founded The Home Depot. And that bubble gum you loved to chew in your youth? You can thank an accountant for it.

Had it not been for “the complexity and lunacy” of the tax law he studied, author John Grisham might today be writing suspenseful tales of tax accountants, not trial lawyers. Were it not for the small army of accountants who tally the ballots, we’d never have an Oscar winner. And think of the crimes that would go unsolved without the special agent accountants who constitute approximately 15 percent of the FBI force.

No Dreary Bean Counters, These

Even before there was a numeric system, accountants were hard at work keeping track of our stuff. They were there at the beginning of commerce, as evidenced by Egyptian bone shard labels (5,300 B.C.) tracking inventory, and they’ve been at it ever since.

Knowing our inputs, what we have, and our outputs seems to be as essential to human nature as breathing and eating. Without that knowledge, we’d be lost. Without accountants, that knowledge would be lost — or even worse, disorganized and wrong.

So seek out a fellow accountant today. Shake his or her hand. And as you do, imagine the secret life that accountant might lead.

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