Zicklin Center panel celebrates accounting professor Abe Briloff

May Khin

The Robert Zicklin Center for Corporate Integrity held an event titled “Accountability in Accounting” on Sept. 28. in Baruch College’s Information and Technology Building. The event honored alumnus-turned-professor Abe Briloff, who died in 2013 at 96 years old.

Zicklin Center Academic Director David Rosenberg delivered opening remarks, while Briloff’s daughters were in attendance. Stan Ross Department of Accountancy Chair Donal Byard hosted the event alongside former student Charlie Dreifus to spotlight Briloff’s academic journey in the accounting field. The event welcomed current students and alumni.

Briloff was one of Baruch’s most distinguished alumni who constantly questioned Wall Street’s conventional wisdom and established transparency and ethical conduct in accounting and financial industries.

He graduated from Baruch — while it was known as the School of Business at City College — in 1937 and won an award for academic scholarship in accounting.

Zicklin School of Business

Briloff wrote for the business magazine Barron’s, which seemed unusual for an accounting professor. He emerged as a critic who questioned accounting principles that were generally accepted.

He based his first book, “The Effectiveness of Accounting Communication,” on his doctoral thesis and published it in 1967. His other published works are “The Truth About Corporate Accounting” and “Unaccountable Accounting: Games Accountants Play.”

While pursuing a master’s degree in business administration at Baruch, Dreifus was one of Briloff’s students. He currently serves as a portfolio manager and managing director at Royce Investment Partners.

As a close friend of Briloff, Dreifus shared his experiences working collaboratively with him during his college years. When Dreifus first met him in 1967, Briloff was legally blind and “hadn’t suffered much regarding his eyesight yet.” He asked attendees to “think about analyzing financial documents when you are legally blind.”

“He had students read him these documents,” Dreifus said. “He personally wrote like no accountant I’ve ever encountered. He was more of a poet. But the fact that he can absorb all of that information and then dictate an article and all these numbers remain in his mind, incredible disability that he overcame.”

Caryl Anne Francia

Even with his disability, Briloff had the market bearing influence. He asked colleagues to look for telltale signs, signs that are not so obvious, earnings that can be surfaced in future years and complicated issues, such as pension accounting.

Briloff questioned the companies of whether this is the proper way to account for it and challenged the ethical conduct of the financials.

Dreifus said that the companies were upset due to the stock prices, while the auditors were upset and did not welcome Briloff in the community. They respected him for challenging the financials and ethical conduct.

May Khin

“Abe was not afraid and became a lightning rod,” Dreifus said. “People were upset when they were confronted with the games they were playing.”

Briloff wrote an article that appeared in “Natural Mind Analysts Journal.” It addressed the consulting practice that was known as management information system services.

He was against the idea because if one is helping make the decision, then it is no longer independent.

Dreifus mentioned the scandal surrounding Enron Corp. and how accounting firm Arthur Andersen faced criminal charges for its roles in it. He said that there have been improvements since the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was passed.

Byard said Briloff was instrumental in the broader public debate that predated Sarbanes-Oxley and had a huge impact in accounting regulation.

May Khin

Dreifus said his relationship with Briloff blossomed over the years. They had phone calls every Friday, but Briloff never told Dreifus the topic of the article he was writing. Dreifus had to wait until it was published.

“We would get sandwiches, sit on the bench, so this is the early ‘70s, and incidentally, never before an article when he mentioned to me the topic,” Dreifus said. “As close as we work and as much as he trusted me, he never breached that confidentiality.”

At the end of the discussion, Dreifus encouraged current students to form similar relationships with professors they admire, ones like his with Briloff.

“If there’s faculty you identify with in any field, when you try to establish that kind of mentorship relationship, it can only endure to your benefit,” Dreifus said. “You will have a much easier fulfilling life, if you are blessed with likable relationships.”

May Khin