Scholars are usually faculty or researchers attached to a university or other intellectual institution. Their scholarly home either supports their research itself or serves as the organizational sponsor of grant funding.
But what about the independent scholars who pursue their interests outside the ivy-covered walls? Usually they have to scramble for funding on their own or support themselves with other jobs, often by teaching. Occasionally such a scholar finds a niche in the business world.
Hugh Lindsay is one of the lucky ones — he found work with his national professional organization, the Canadian Institute of Chartered Accountants (CICA).
Lindsay shares his story when he speaks on “Can Scholarship Protect Your Savings?” on Saturday, June 17, at 9 a.m., as part of a seminar, “Making Independent Scholarship Work,” at the Scholars Without Borders conference, which takes place from Friday, June 16, at 3 p.m., to Sunday, June 18, 1:15 p.m. The National Coalition of Independent Scholars organized the conference, which is hosted by the Princeton Research Forum at Princeton University. For a complete listing of the program and a registration form, go to www.ncis.org.
Session topics range over a variety of subject areas: biography, art restoration and collection, Internet research, archival work, cultural identity and practices, and social justice and revolution. Lindsay’s talk is one of the more pragmatic ones, taking its place alongside Richard Magat’s “Tricks of the Oral History Trade,” Zephorene Stickney’s “Speaking as an Archivist and Curator,” and Princetonian Ellen Gilbert’s “Independent Scholarship + Internet = A Flourishing Field.” The more unusual research paths are suggested in titles like Georgia Wright’s “Medieval Sculpture and Nuclear Science” and Vincent Morgan’s “Discovering and Researching the Private Papers of a Prominent American Fossil-Hunter and His World-Wide Expeditions.”
Lindsay’s independent scholarship came out of the work he did for most of his life. He is a chartered accountant in Canada, which is much like being a CPA in the United States. “After many years of working,” he explains, “I didn’t want to do 9-5 and I quit.” It wasn’t that he was tired of accounting, but he was ready to get off the corporate treadmill.
Lindsay was already a volunteer for CICA, which sponsors research and publication in the fields of accounting, business management, and corporate governance. After he left his job, the institute realized he could write and asked him to switch sides: instead of being a volunteer, they wanted him to become a professional writer and researcher for CICA. “I’m an example of one of those people — and there are more of us around nowadays,” says Lindsay, “who, toward the end of a conventional career, quit 9-5 corporate work and switched to contract and part-time work.”
His metamorphosis into an independent scholar was almost happenstance, but he was well prepared for his new role. “I’ve lived in the world I’m writing about, and I understand it, and I can write,” he says. Because of his expertise, the CICA was willing to support him in this new role: “I had the luck of being in the right place at the right time, and it’s difficult to package it.”
Lindsay’s scholarship is driven by his desire to share the expertise gleaned over his corporate career with other accountants, chief financial officers, and directors. For the CICA he writes what he calls “20 questions” books on issues that its committees have deemed critical for those who manage and protect other people’s wealth. After pinpointing the “20 Questions Directors Should Ask About ... (as each title begins) Strategy, Risk, Privacy, Executive Compensation, Pension Plans, and more,” he describes why it is important for directors to ask each question and what answers they should expect given the current best practices in the field.
“We realized some time ago,” says Lindsay, “that if we want corporations to have good accounting, it is not just a matter of keeping the books but of managing and governing companies well.” With Enron, for example, the issue had to do with governance. “You may have the best accountants in the world, but if a corporation is not properly managed and governed, many bad things can happen.” Hence the institute’s educational mission.
Lindsay develops a draft that the involved committees review, adding material from their own experience. “We hammer it out until we have something that will be useful for somebody,” says Lindsay. In these 25-page books the directors get a quick, easy-to-read snapshots. “It is a sort of how-to book, and is becoming quite popular in Canada.” The book he wrote on internal audits, for example, was picked up by the Institute of Internal Auditors, which distributes it internationally. The books reach beyond businesses themselves to universities, which use them in their business programs.
Lindsay also found another way to educate people out in the field. He realized that many small companies have outgrown the capabilities of the young accountants who work for them and need people to mentor, coach, and handle more the complex issues. “In the early ’90s,” he says, “I joined with a number of other older accountants who had either been downsized or were looking for a career change and formed a financial mentors group.” Members of the group, for example, may work as contract CFOs.
Lindsay, now 65, was brought up just north of London. He did not attend university, but became a certified accountant by correspondence — a relatively common path in the early 1960s. Financial management was in his blood: his uncle was a certified accountant, his godfather the comptroller of a large corporation, and his father was a banker. His dad advised him that accountancy would be good field — the training was good, chartered accountancy was a professional designation, and accountants have a lot of mobility because demand for them is high.
That mobility turned out to be important for Lindsay. “When I got the designation, in my early 20s, I was kind of adventurous,” he says, so in 1965 he decided to move to Canada, which was growing quickly. He visited Price Waterhouse in London, and the firm offered him a job in Vancouver. Canadian immigration was happy to have him. After five years, he moved to the finance department of Simon Fraser University, and then he joined a government-run automobile insurance company, where he stayed for nearly two decades.
“After 19 years,” he says, “I decided that working for them for the rest of my life was not something I wanted to do.” And then he found the perfect niche as a freelancer with CICA.
Although Lindsay calls himself an independent scholar, he distinguishes himself from most people in that class. “One tends to think of scholars as doing huge amounts of research and complicated stuff,” he says. “I see my job more as trying to synthesize knowledge in a fast-growing field and make it as simple as possible. I see myself in the simplification business, not adding complexity.”
Lindsay got involved with other independent scholars through friends at Simon Fraser University. “This work is kind of lonely,” he observes. “I sit in my basement in my home office and write away, and it’s good to get out and share ideas with other people.” His group gets together once a month for a presentation by either a member or an invited speaker, followed by discussion and networking. About his group, he says: “It’s amazingly diverse.” Not so different from the gathering at the upcoming Scholars Without Borders conference at Princeton University.
Diverse, and also unique, scholars tend to be comfortable being by themselves. Lindsay’s role model, for example, also comes from the mold of a scholar whose goal is education. An admiral and communications expert, his mentor is not stuffy, he says, even when talking about nuclear physics.
“She manages to grab the essence and put it in way that anyone can understand,” he says. For example, she carries in her purse a one-yard length of wire that she uses to explain to both children and corporate executives why it takes some time for a message to travel from New York to San Francisco or from the moon.
She shows them the piece of wire and tells them, “This is how far an electronic signal can travel in one nanosecond.” And just as she makes physics crystal clear, Lindsay, following in her footsteps, will be continuing to do the same with the esoteric concepts of accounting and corporate finance.