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Professor named to hall of fame


As a Smith professor from 1993 to 2020, Daniel Thornton taught many students the ins and outs of financial accounting. But his influence went well beyond the classroom, to the highest levels of research, industry and government.

Thornton’s contributions were recently recognized when he was inducted into the Canadian Accounting Hall of Fame. In a ceremony in June, the hall noted his accomplishments. By the numbers, they included 51 published articles in refereed journals (several winning best paper awards); 38 PhD students supervised; and 20 expert-witness appearances under oath in U.S. and Canadian courts. Thornton also sat on standard-setting bodies, edited journals, volunteered with industry groups and worked with the Department of Justice and nearly all of Canada’s top law firms on accounting issues.

Notably, in 2000, Thornton was asked to serve as a Professional Accounting Fellow at the Securities and Exchange Commission in Washington, D.C. His arrival couldn’t have come at a better time. The dot-com bubble was bursting and a series of late ’90s derivative induced bankruptcies was fresh in regulators’ minds. Thornton was one of the few accountants who grasped derivatives — a financial contract whose risks didn’t appear on balance sheets. Over the next year, he taught hundreds of SEC staff about derivatives.

Then, when Enron went bankrupt, in 2001, Thornton appeared before the Senate banking committee in Ottawa where he described Enron’s collapse as “a perfect storm” of risk-taking and governance failure. When it came time to issue their findings, the senators remembered his words; they titled their report “Navigating Through the Perfect Storm.”

Now an Emeritus Professor of Financial Accounting at Smith, Thornton says that throughout his career he strived to make the financial industry, accountants and government understand the value of academic research.

In his speech during the Hall of Fame ceremony, Thornton said he enjoyed every minute of his career. That alone, he added, “has been more than adequate to reward any contributions I’ve made to the profession.”