Last spring, amid a global pandemic, retired DHG partner Bob Simpson received some unexpectedly good news: he was being presented with an Honorary Doctoral Degree from Marshall University, where he served as both professor and Interim Dean of the University’s Lewis School of Business.
We talked with “doctor” Bob about his new degree, the future of virtual learning and trends in developing tomorrow’s accounting professionals.
First, congratulations on your honorary doctoral degree. Did you know it was coming?
No, I never even imagined it. It came out of blue. But what’s most amazing is that it fulfills a long, lost dream. After getting my MBA from Ohio State in 1970, I was accepted into the school’s business doctoral program. But before classes began, I was drafted for the Vietnam War. I reported for duty but failed the physical. By that time, however, it was too late to join the doctoral program, which was already in session. I could have waited for the next academic cycle, but at the time, it just didn’t make sense. So, to receive this honorary doctorate at this point in my life is really a dream come true – and tremendously humbling.
How did you make the transition from accounting to academia?
In the fall of 2010, I remember telling, then co-managing partner, Eddie Sams that, while I loved what I was doing, I was ready for something different – I just wasn’t sure what that was. Three months later, my question was answered when Marshall University called looking for someone to teach tax. I gave it a try and discovered I just loved teaching. I retired from DHG and continued teaching through the spring term of 2016. Soon after that, Marshall’s President asked if I’d serve as interim dean of the Lewis School of Business, which I did for a year while the college searched for a new one.
After the new dean was installed, I stayed another two and a half years running the school’s BB&T Center for Leadership, which helps students get hands-on experience, even when internships aren’t available. I officially retired from Marshall in early 2020.
What lessons did you learn as an accounting professor and dean?
Well, being a dean is a lot like managing a professional services firm. In accounting you have your professional staff and clients, while in academia you have your faculty and students. It’s all about managing expectations, building great teams and trying to keep as many people happy as possible, even when you can’t do everything everyone wants you do to. It’s enormously interesting and rewarding.
How has COVID19 impacted higher education?
Education is being transformed just like any industry. Marshall went from 10% of students online to 100%. Students are realizing they can take classes from anywhere so they can attend any school that accepts them. While this opens tremendous opportunities for students, it poses tough challenges for schools. Many schools rely on a certain percentage of students to come from their surrounding area or state. Going forward, that will be less and less the case.
What trends or changes are you seeing in developing accounting professionals?
Today’s employers are not so much looking at degree as skill set. Where a college degree used to be enough, employers are now asking, what exactly can you do? They’re looking for a fastball. And the more discriminating the employer, the more specialization they’re seeking.
I feel too many business schools push their students to get as many accounting hours as possible. In my own small way as interim dean, I encouraged students to also acquire a broad knowledge of the world – history, psychology, and such – and to develop a world-class depth of knowledge in something that will distinguish them in the market, like being able determine if the value of an asset is impaired, for example. To make real progress, tomorrow’s accounting professionals can’t be generic – they need something of depth.
What does it mean to be a DHG alumnus?
Of course, I’m extremely proud to be an DHG alum. When Roger Osborne and I founded our two-person firm in Charleston, WV back in 1974, I don’t think either of us envisioned that we’d someday grow to be part of an organization with the strength, values and vision of DHG. I love that DHG is continually creating and re-creating itself in response to the market – it truly is a firm on the move.
Pictured above, Bob wore his infamous gold jacket during a presentation at the 2007 Annual DHG Partner Meeting. The presentation focused on an initiative he was co-leading called STARs, which aimed to bring greater consistency to DHG’s brand and processes in the tax practice. At the end of his presentation, as a symbol of unity and support, Bob invited all the Partners to sign the jacket!
More about Bob:
Bob was born in Norfolk, VA but raised in Charleston, WV and is married to his wife, Janet for nearly 50 years – with two children – Paige and Reid. He enjoys being with both his grandchildren – Carter and Quinn.
He served as Managing Partner of Simpson & Osborne until the merger with Dixon Hughes in 2007 where he then led the West Virginia tax practice.
Bob spearheaded DHG’s STARs tax database initiative along with Joyce Waterbury and the late Kirk Lusch.
He has served on many boards, including as Chairman of the West Virginia Roundtable.