By Steven Mintz and Roselyn Morris
McGraw-Hill Education, 2019, ISBN 978-1259969461, $287.30 (Hardcover) Reviewed by Edward Mendlowitz
Before I begin my review of this casebook on ethics, I must admit that I am not fond of the mandatory ethics courses CPAs have been required to take as a result of the Enron and WorldCom debacles. I believe, and know from my own experiences, that CPAs have a very high degree of ethical responsibility, so I do not think these courses are necessary to reiterate this point. That said, I attempted to review this book with the same professionalism I would bring to any other task.
When I opened the book, there was an “Ethics IQ” test on the very first page, so I decided to take the test. I thought some of the 10 questions were not worded properly to elicit valid answers, but I did my best. When I “graded” my answers, half of them were wrong by the authors’ rubric, which did not fill me with hope for the rest of the experience.
Upon reading the entire text, however, I ended up loving this book. It is very interesting, well written, and extremely thought provoking, and I think it would be a valuable resource for anyone planning engagements and managing people. Some of the main things CPAs do, besides generate our tangible deliverables, are develop ideas, be imaginative, and think creatively. The most successful of us have this ingrained in our work every day. Ideas are our currency, and this book is an idea machine. The book’s premise is ethical behavior, and ultimately, ethics pertains to everything CPAs do.
Not only did I find the book to be a page-turner, but I took voluminous notes; that is a good indication, for me, that I learned from the book and got ideas. It is a textbook, but I suggest it be in every manager and leader’s library. The authors suggest that, in addition to always trying to act in an ethical manner, accountants need to convert ethical intent—which we all have, or should have—into ethical actions. Managers engage in many subtleties that unintentionally indicate or signal unethical movements, and they need to be aware of this so they do not create incorrect impressions and become models of inappropriate ethical behavior. The book draws attention to these many variances.
One thing that makes this book a valuable resource is the plethora of example cases. The way these cases are described is quite interesting, and many are about well-known companies and situations typical in many accounting offices. The cases are listed with brief descriptions at the beginning of the book, making them easy to access. Managers should periodically peruse the case list and read the ones that seem to relate to current situations that have the potential to deviate from an expected norm.
The authors teach ethics as, fundamentally, a choice, and they focus on how ethical choices are made; however, while ethics provide a moral compass and there should be no degrees of honesty, the reality is that there are. Interpreters of facts and data do not always see things the same way or come to the same conclusions, and therefore they might act differently based on how they define ethical behavior. A case in point is my clear disagreement with the authors in some of the results of the Ethics IQ test. My vantage point includes my experience working as an active accountant and advisor, while theirs come from their positions as professors, researchers, and regulators. Even our differences, however, caused me to rethink my responses and to consider their views, and that created an opportunity for me to learn, although my opinions on the test did not change.
This is a great book. I highly recommend it, and it should not be restricted to academia. It belongs on the shelves of active practitioners, managers, and leaders.