Business Acumen XI: Robert N. Anthony on Management AccountingRobert N. Anthony, who died on December 1, had a long and distinguished career as an pioneer in management accounting, a field to which he contributed a substantial body of path-breaking work.
A major claim to fame was Anthony's innovative framework for accounting that was geared to the decision-making needs of managers. For instance, as recalled in the obituary published by the Harvard business school where he was on the faculty for over 40 years, his 1952 book, Management Control in Industry Research Organizations, "examined the problem of measuring intellectual output a much more difficult task than measuring more tangible output." Since being able to measure what researchers are producing is fundamental for making decisions on how to invest capital, Anthony's insights are of great practical value to managers.
A strong theme in Anthony's work is the importance of keeping the role of humans front and center. His thinking is captured in this passage from Management Accounting: Text and Cases, first published in 1956:
An obvious and fundamental fact about organizations is that they are made up of human beings. The management control process in part consists of inducing the people in an organization to do certain things and to refrain from doing others. Although for some purposes an accumulation of the costs of manufacturing a product is useful, management literally cannot “control” a product or the costs of making a product. What management does or at least attempts to do is control the actions of the people who are responsible for incurring these costs. (3rd ed., 1964, pp. 361-62.)According to the Harvard obituary, Anthony's self-guided text, Essentials of Accounting, first published in 1964, "is the most widely used programmed text on accounting." It is an excellent choice for inclusion in a curriculum aimed at building employees' business acumen.