Autocratic Change

Lots of talk about how organizational change must be gradual, supportive, persuasive. People must buy into the need for change and the procedures advocated to implement change.

Sometimes there isn’t much time for that.

The John Molson School of Business has an excellent reputation in many areas, including accountancy and the training of professional accountants.

Wasn’t always so. In the mid-1980s, the reputation of the school (then known as the Faculty of Commerce and Administration) in relation to the training of professional accountants, was in tatters, and its research reputation at the time was decidedly modest.

With respect to the training of professional accountants, long time professor Howard B. Ripstein was in a state of professional embarrassment. He was a key contact with the Montreal professional accounting firms, and when he went to receptions, those days he found himself in the midst of professional accountants complaining about the quality of Concordia accounting graduates.

Enter Farhad Simyar. Followed him to Concordia from the University of Ottawa in 1987, when he was appointed Chair of the Department of Accountancy by then Dean Steven Applebaum. Simyar had a mandate to effect profound and immediate change in relation to the Department of Accountancy, with the Dean promising to back him in whatever Simyar felt he needed to do.

Simyar turned things around within little more than two years. In an academic world where one has to be so very sensitive about existing relationships and politics, he bulldozed things. Immediately removed the professor in charge of the professional qualification program, to be replaced by a much younger professional who was well-connected to the Montreal accounting profession and its needs. Other professionally-connected instructors followed, with some hired on a full-time basis. Professors who objected to the nature and rapidity of change were advised, on no uncertain terms to put up with it or at least not to try to sabotage the changes. Any active attempt to derail things would be met with the unprecedented action of seeking to “detenure” a professor–which, in many instances, could be justified due to a lack of research record as protection; why did they have tenure in the first place? The objectors quieted down quickly.

Those who resented things ultimately moved on to other concerns. For awhile. Until the Dean suddenly resigned in relation to a dispute with the Vice-Rector, leaving the power balance to reposition. The changes implemented by Simyar had a particular permanency, as professional qualification results quickly improved.

Though long knives are still long knives…


About brucelarochelle
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