This profile was originally published in the May/June 2015 issue of CPABC in Focus magazine.
Profile by Michelle McRae
“Why are things done this way? Is there a better way?”
Chris Duff had already been teaching accounting and finance full-time at Royal Roads University for about seven years when he found himself pondering such questions in 2005.
“I pursued teaching initially because I wanted to pass on my knowledge and skills to others,” he says. “But as time passed, my own curiosity increased, and I became somewhat dissatisfied with aspects of my education.”
This education consisted of a B.Sc. in chemistry with first-class honours from the University of Sussex and a master’s degree in business from Cass Business School at City University in London, England. He’d also earned his CA in Canada and his FCA in England and Wales, and had gained experience working in senior management with organizations in the UK and Canada prior to entering academia.
“My business experience convinced me that I was more interested in the relationships between people in organizations than in the technical aspects of accounting,” Chris says. “But I had never pursued the study of social science in a serious way, and I had no research training, so I couldn’t effectively answer a lot of the questions I was asking. I realized that the only way I could be satisfied was to pursue a Ph.D.”
In 2006, bolstered by the support of the Chartered Accountants’ Education Foundation of BC (CAEF), which had chosen him as the first recipient of its newly launched Doctoral Support Program,* Chris began his studies at London South Bank University in England, researching cost-management techniques in BC’s health-care sector.
“I recognized the challenges BC faced in funding health care with an aging population,” he says. “By pursuing research in this area, I hoped to be able to contribute in some small way.”
At the time, Chris had no way of knowing that his research would soon be interrupted by not one, but two life-threatening illnesses. The first arose in 2007, while he was in England presenting a conference paper.
“Shortly after the conference, I found myself in emergency,” he recalls. “The following day, they concluded that I needed emergency heart surgery—a quadruple bypass.”
His wife Julia, also a CPA, CA, caught the next plane to be by his side. The tables were turned in 2009, when a routine exam led to a cancer diagnosis for Julia. Chris put his research on hold to act as nurse over the 12-month period of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation that followed.
Happily, both are now in good health. Chris became a professor emeritus at Royal Roads in 2010, completed his doctoral degree in 2013, and attended his graduation ceremony last fall. He now has two publications on health-care management under his belt, and will be presenting at the CPA Canada-sponsored conference of the Canadian Academic Accounting Association in Toronto in May.
Chris also volunteers his skills to CPA Canada’s Financial Literacy Program, serving as an area leader and instructor in Vancouver. He is also the president designate of Autism Community Training and a member of MOSAIC’s finance committee.
So, what about the questions that set his doctoral odyssey in motion?
“I’m very happy with what I achieved in the Ph.D. process,” Chris says. “It allowed me to take a different perspective on the world. I have a whole new framework for researching problems and pursuing solutions. In that sense, I am now able to answer those questions.”
* A new charitable education entity will be created for CPABC. Stay tuned.