For Gary Sundem, accounting is much more than numbers. And he should know, he wrote the textbook.
"I'm probably better known for my textbooks than for any research I did," says Gary, co-author of two best-selling accounting books, now in their eleventh and sixteenth editions. Throughout his career, Gary spent a great deal of energy changing the way that accounting was taught. "I view accounting as a broad communication tool rather than a set of rules and regulations that you need to memorize in order to prepare financial statements. Much more oriented toward using accounting information because that's what the majority of people really need out of an accounting course."
Before retiring in 2008, Gary spent a 37-year career with the University of Washington as Professor of Accounting, Associate Dean for Masters and Executive Programs and chair of the Department of Accounting. He was named Outstanding Accounting Educator twice: by the American Accounting Association in 1998 and by the Washington Society of CPAs in 1987. Being the first person elected president to both the American Accounting Association (1992) and the International Association of Accounting Education and Research (2012) is an accomplishment in which he takes great pride.
As Gary looks back, there are many influential factors from his time as a Minnetonka student. Sixth grade teacher Gerald Neuman made him think about excelling and doing things right. Don Adamek, math teacher at Deephaven Junior High, helped him to imagine the exciting possibilities of a math career. And high school English teacher, William Chisholm taught him how to write – a skill he credits as an advantage throughout his career.
The most exciting and surprising aspect of his career has been international dimension. He's lived and taught in Norway, France and Singapore and traveled extensively giving lectures or as part of a business school accreditation team. "The travel has certainly been rewarding and not something that I anticipate while I went to graduate school," says Gary. "It broadened my perspective not just on accounting but on life in general." As it did years before when he and a friend spent the summer after graduation from Minnetonka High School traveling through Europe, whetting his interest in all things international.
As a math major at Carlton College, Gary was more interested in application than in theory, and combined his math classes with the study of economics, which opened a potential path into business. "I was lucky," he says, "to go straight from Carlton to a very special program at Stanford, where I earned my Ph.D." After two years at Stanford, he debated whether to go into business or stay in academe. Observing his professors' lifestyles and daily work, academe won out. He's spent nearly four decades deriving great enjoyment destroying students' preconceptions that accounting will be boring. "Being a professor, the kids keep getting younger, but you stay with them and that keeps you young also. It keeps one going."
Another motivator in Gary's life has been competitive sports. Playing football, basketball and baseball through high school and college, he appreciates the example and role that his coaches played in his life. As an adult, Gary has run the Boston Marathon, coached youth athletic teams and climbed mountains with his sons.
"I moved to Minnetonka when I was going into sixth grade. My parents picked a house in what they thought was the best school district," says Gary. "I'm grateful to them for picking Minnetonka and to Minnetonka High School for providing a great base of education."