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Bean Counter Obituary: Eli Mason, 1920-2009

Eli Mason, a driving force for the independence of accountants and an outspoken critic of large accounting firms, died last week at the age of 88.
He was a CPA for more than 60 years, starting his own firm in 1946 with two clients. He served on the NYS Board for Public Accountancy for ten years, including two as the chair. He was also the President of the NYS Society of CPA’s for 1972-1973.
According to the New York Times obituary:

Mr. Mason went to the business school of the City College of New York, where he studied accounting with Emanuel Saxe, a distinguished professor and one of the accounting world’s stars at the time. He graduated in 1940 and was a lifelong supporter of the college, now Baruch College of the City University of New York , where he endowed a chair for accounting in 1992 and financed the restoration of the school’s biggest auditorium, now called Mason Hall.

More, after the jump

Mr. Mason was taking on the big firms before most of us were born:

In 1979, he helped found the National Conference of C.P.A. Practitioners, which consisted of 1,500 small firms, and became one of the profession’s most vocal critics of the big accounting firms, then known as the Big Eight. In particular he resented the practice he referred to as lowballing, or aggressively cutting prices, sometimes below cost, to attract new clients.

He also saw the danger of firms offering consulting services and the consolidation of the large firms when the mergers began in the 1980s:

He also spoke against the industry’s mergers in the 1980s, which reduced the number of major firms to five, and he was critical of large firms that offered consulting services as well, fearing this would erode their independence from their clients. Many of his fears turned out to be justified later when the accounting scandals of Enron and WorldCom highlighted the cozy relationship between some of the world’s top accounting firms and the companies they were supposed to audit. Arthur Andersen was one, having been Enron’s accounting firm.

Mr. Mason was known as an accounting purist and earned the nickname “the conscience of the profession”, something we could certainly use more of. Follow this link to read an interview he did with the CPA Journal in 1999. He will be missed and our condolences go out to his family.
Eli Mason, 88, Outspoken Accountant, Is Dead [New York Times]