Author: Matt Waldman

Published

A front man at the center of a controversy so heated that it not only caused Silicon Valley to march in protest, but also prompted the federal government to consider shutting down the Financial Accounting Standards Board.

A straight-talking, populist kind of guy who a captain of industry once threatened to toss from a private jet at 38,000 feet because he wouldn't back down.

A risk-taker who waded in to help fix the corporate turmoil at MCI-WorldCom and Fannie Mae and emerged with his reputation not just intact, but enhanced — to the point that, at age 69, his name is now a brand, a symbol of integrity with which Fortune 500 companies seek to align themselves.

But what makes former FASB chairman Denny Beresford such an unlikely rock star - in both corporate boardrooms and the academic world — is that the bespectacled Ernst & Young Executive Professor of Accounting acts nothing like the part.

Misperception, exaggeration, and understatement — those three words summarize the fallout of the New Economy of the Go-Go 90s. It was an era when eyeballs and web hits took precedence over profits and as a result, downplayed the potency of the balance sheet and reinforced the stereotype of accountants as a bunch of introverted scorekeepers lacking imagination, compassion, and flexibility.

The accounting profession took some of the heat for what happened — particularly those who behaved as though "What do you want 'two plus two' to equal?" was an acceptable business practice. But the overall financial scandal was mostly a case of corporate leaders acting in a morally corrupt way.

As oxymoronic as the term rock star-accountant may seem, Beresford's sound judgment, integrity, and dedication to his profession was a high note during this unfortunate era when corporate ethics sank to a new low.

Beresford takes immense pride in his work. But you have to look closely to see his inner fire. When he's asked a question about his career, he leans back in his chair, locks his fingers behind his buzz cut of white hair, and searches the ceiling of his modest Brooks Hall office for the right words to complete a thought. And oftentimes, his pearls of wisdom are couched in self-deprecating plain speak: "I believe you have to take your job very seriously, but not yourself."

It's a principle he sometimes takes to the extreme: Beresford's daughter wasn't aware of his May 2006 appointment to the board of Fannie Mae until she read the Christmas letter that Marian, Denny's wife of nearly 47 years, wrote to family and friends. To appreciate the magnitude of Beresford's career, you only have to ask his Terry colleagues.

"How often does someone of Denny Beresford's experience and influence on a national level come to this university?" says Terry MBA Director Peter Shedd. "Here's a man who is one of only three people who can tell us what really happened with the financial restatement of WorldCom and the reconfiguration of MCI because he is one of the three board members who salvaged that company. The only UGA person that I would say has greater name recognition than Denny on the national scene is Dean Rusk."

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