For Three And a Half Decades, 10,000 Plus UH Students Accounting Professor James Pratt Relishes Student Success

Published on May 15, 2008
Professor Jim Pratt and PwC Global CEO and Bauer alum Sam DiPiazza have built a lasting friendship over three decades.

Professor Jim Pratt and PwC Global CEO and Bauer alum Sam DiPiazza have built a lasting friendship over three decades.

The University of Houston C. T. Bauer College of Business didn’t exist when James Pratt, the PricewaterhouseCoopers Professor for Accounting & Taxation, began attending school here in 1961.

Charles “Ted” Bauer’s generous, transformative gift was decades away. The UH business school was part of a private, not public institution. Yet Pratt’s student years embodied the essence of a typical Bauer student of 2008 – he was the first in his family to attend college, and he worked his way through college, never able to take more than 12 hours of classes at a time. All these years later, he has been recognized for his ability to inspire current and former students, fellow teachers and world leaders in the accounting profession.

When Pratt received the Outstanding Achievement Award at the Accounting Advisory Board’s Awards Banquet, it was the culmination of many years’ contributions to the business school.

“I’m obviously very pleased and honored,” he said a few weeks later, “but for me, the award is getting to meet students and watch them grow and indirectly receive some credit for their success.”

Of the tens of thousands of students he taught or worked alongside during four decades, there are standouts. Pratt taught Fran Keeth, MS ACCY ’80, the retired president of Shell Chemical LP, a commencement speaker at graduation this spring. And Pratt got to know Sam DiPiazza, MS Accountancy ’73, when DiPiazza was a student here. The Global CEO of PricewaterhouseCoopers holds one of the top accounting positions in the world, and sent his congratulations to Pratt in time for the awards banquet, calling him an “outstanding educator as well as a wonderful person. The skills and business values I employ each day were further shaped in Jim’s classes. Jim Pratt is truly an asset to the University of Houston as well as the accounting profession!”

Pratt can’t pinpoint exactly how he came to the conclusion that he wanted to be an accountant, but since becoming involved, he has never grown weary of the profession. Early on, he joined a firm, only to find his true calling was teaching. After earning a Ph.D. at the University of Southern California, he returned to UH to teach.

“Probably the most important thing that’s happened (during Pratt’s tenure at UH) is Mr. Bauer’s gift,” Pratt said. Another positive change over the years has been the influx of women into the profession, Pratt said, recalling that there was only one female in his own classes.

“I think the reason so many women saw an opportunity in accounting is that you go directly into the profession (from college) and you’re on the same pay scale as everyone else at that level. Once you achieve excellence, people can set aside prior preconceived notions.”

Even the accounting scandals that occurred earlier in this decade brought about positive changes, Pratt said. With the watershed passage of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, “The accounting profession changed its approach and needed more people,” he said.

The quality of students has also been on an upward climb, Pratt said, something that businesses have made note of. “Recruiters come out in greater numbers than we ever dreamed of,” Pratt said.

Another advantage Bauer students have over others, Pratt said, is that “our students come to work with a work ethic; it’s not something that has to be developed,” he added. “Most have been paying some or all the cost of school. And the diversity of the school helps our students develop an appreciation for all different kinds of cultures. I think they’re going to be much better suited for international business.”

Pratt is also proud of Bauer’s Beta Alpha Psi chapter, and the Professional Program in Accounting, both of which he helped to start. But Pratt insists on sharing the credit with other members of the accounting department, deflecting the praise that comes his way.

At the Accounting & Taxation Awards Banquet, Pratt had no choice but to absorb the words of admirers like Paul Peacock, ’81, a partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers who first met Pratt when he was a student, but over the years has become a close friend.

“I often tell my colleagues that their personal legacy will be measured not by the clients they serve or the engagements they win, but instead by the impact they have on those around them — the people they mentor, teach and develop,” Peacock said. “By that measure, he has had a tremendous impact on so many of us who passed through the halls of the Bauer College of Business.”

“Your dedication over the last 35 years has led to countless careers in accounting and taxation being formed at UH, and successful livelihoods secured and enjoyed. I have very fond memories of the University of Houston. Said more accurately, those memories are of the friends I made, of people who invested in my growth and development, of people like you who took the time to care. Thank you for all that you did for me and for thousands of other students.”

By Julie Bonnin

About the University of Houston

The University of Houston, Texas’ premier metropolitan research and teaching institution, is home to more than 40 research centers and institutes and sponsors more than 300 partnerships with corporate, civic and governmental entities. UH, the most diverse research university in the country, stands at the forefront of education, research and service with more than 35,000 students.

About the Bauer College of Business

The C.T. Bauer College of Business has been in operation for more than 60 years at the University of Houston main campus. Through its five academic departments, the college offers a full-range of undergraduate, masters and doctoral degrees in business. The Bauer College is fully accredited by the AACSB International – the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. In August 2000, Houston business leader and philanthropist Charles T. (Ted) Bauer endowed the College of Business with a $40 million gift. In recognition of his generosity, the college was renamed the C.T. Bauer College of Business.