Stepping into Retirement: Professor Jim Sepe
Happy Retirement, Dr. Sepe!
Professor Jim Sepe will be retiring at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year. Even for accountants who specialize in collecting and summarizing information, it is difficult to list all the contributions Jim has made to our accounting department and more broadly to accounting education. He has taught and advised countless students, influenced at least three-quarters of a million students through his textbook, and vastly expanded the department’s scholarship program. Under his leadership, the accounting department deepened and formalized strong relationships with the professional community, broadened our major offerings, improved accounting education for our undergraduates and attained AACSB accreditation.
Jim embarked on his career as an accounting graduate of SCU (Class of 1969). His senior accounting class numbered twenty-five: 23 men and two women. Immediately after graduation he joined the Army Reserves and completed basic training, then entered the MBA program at UC Berkeley. Even at this early moment, he knew that at some future point he wanted to teach and work with students. He subsequently began his accounting career as a staff auditor at Arthur Andersen, then transitioned to a small firm in Washington state. In 1976, he entered the University of Washington doctoral program. He completed the accounting Ph.D. in only three years, highly motivated by a family that included three children!
Jim rejoined SCU as an Assistant Professor in 1979 and was awarded tenure in 1985. In 1988, he was asked to take on the leadership of the department, and served as Chair for eight years. Under his leadership the department developed in new and important directions. The foundations were laid to strengthen the department’s research productivity, and our approach to general accounting education for all business majors changed from a bookkeeping orientation to an approach that teaches students to understand and interpret financial statements. An Advisory Board was formed, including representatives of many of the most prominent accounting firms and companies in the Valley. This Board has continued for almost 30 years, supporting accounting education and keeping the department in touch with the needs of the professional community. A yearly newsletter was initiated to inform alumni, parents and students, and the existing scholarship program was greatly expanded. To date, the scholarship program, supported by the generosity of our professional partners, has given almost a half million dollars to support academic excellence. A few years later, Jim was instrumental in creating the Accounting and Information Systems major.
Another major accomplishment was the successful application for AACSB accreditation for the Accounting Department in 1996. The accreditation process involves a thorough review of the quality of all aspects of the department’s operations, and must be renewed every five years. Only four other California universities hold this prestigious accreditation.
While working on these departmental initiatives, Jim was also teaching the Intermediate I accounting class, and becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the available texts. He joined with Professor David Spiceland to write a text that would better serve students by being written in a conversational style, as though the professor and student were sitting across the table from each other, and include real life examples instead of lists of accounting rules. Through 26 years and eight editions, at least 750,000 students have used the Sepe, Spiceland text, including a Canadian version, an International Financial Reporting Standards adaptation, and a Chinese translation.
Jim’s contributions to education were recognized in 2013 by a generous alumnus, Lewis Chew (SCU ‘84), Chief Financial Officer of Dolby Laboratories. Lewis endowed the Sepe Scholarship to honor Jim’s teaching and service and to support the academic achievement of Accounting and A&IS majors. Lewis wrote to us:
I think I was a sophomore the first time I took one of his classes. I was too young to know much about anything. At the time, I probably thought that he was "just" a really good accounting professor. In reality, it was far greater than that. Forget the debits and credits. I was also learning the value of passion and collaboration and integrity - don't forget to throw in a sense of humor. It would be easy to underestimate, but difficult to overstate, the positive impact that Dr. Sepe has had on me and my family. I will be forever grateful to him.
What will the coming years hold? Jim says he isn’t sure, but he will enjoy spending more time with his wife, Barbara (retired from teaching in the San Jose Unified School District), children (Matt, Dave and Kristina) and three grandchildren. Jim and Barb also plan to travel, with Africa, Alaska and Australia on the short list (and then on to Zimbabwe?). They also plan to spend more time skiing at their Tahoe home and other snowy destinations. Jim promises he will be back on occasion - don’t be surprised if he turns up at a future department event.
From all the Accounting faculty and staff, we wish Jim and Barb the best of luck and a long and joyous retirement, filled with family and fun.
Thanks for everything!