Off hours: IMA global chairman not the retiring type

Larry White is executive director of the Resource Consumption Accounting Institute and former global chairman of the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA). On a recent regular trip to Dubai as an IMA board member, Mr White, 58, addressed the International Federation of Accountants’ Professional Accountants in Business Committee on improving financial processes. Claiming he is “mostly retired”, he has two grown-up children and lives with his wife Sherry in Florida. During his Middle East visit, the former US Coast Guard captain also spoke to IMA chapters in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Qatar and Kuwait.

How do you spend your weekend?

My main recreational activity is exercise. I have swim practice and lift weights. Normally I spend two to three hours a day at my computer. I have two main hobbies; management accounting – I’m almost always working on a research project and preparing speeches. The other activity, if I hit a mental block writing, is planning personal trips.

How did you become IMA global chairman?

I went to US Coast Guard Academy out of high school. I graduated in 1980, was on ships for four years and commanded an 82-foot patrol boat. I ran a rescue coordination centre for the Coast Guard, then went to Columbia University to get my MBA, concentrating on managerial and financial accounting. I did budgeting and accounting for the Coast Guard for 21 years and was deputy chief financial officer at one point. One day I stepped on a postcard for the certified management accounting exam and I thought “that’s exactly what I’m going to be doing”. I then started my career with the IMA that eventually led me to be global chairman.

What is your go-to gadget?

My Acer I7 computer. It’s four years old and holding up quite well. I haven’t become smartphone-dependent and am not quite comfortable with a tablet.

What was the lowest point of your career?

In command of the patrol boat, I was sent to tow a fishing boat run aground in a very bad inlet. My crew worked on it a long time. We weren’t making headway and went into dock. They told me to go back and keep towing. I said “we’re going to have something bad happen” and they said go back anyway. So I did and a line fell, a guy slipped, dropped the tow line, it caught in the propeller and I couldn’t manoeuvre the ship. Running a ship aground is generally considered about the worst thing you can do as captain, but due to the circumstances no one mentioned it again. I was pulled off and there was no damage. That was my single worst day in my professional career. We made the cover of National Fisherman magazine in the US.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

My business today really is accounting and financial management. I encourage people to do their best to not just focus on accounting, but to understand what causes businesses to make money; do something that’s not accounting and understand how business really works. Management accounting is about the laws of nature.

What is your most indulgent habit?

My wife and I take three or four major trips a year. This year I’ve had a month in French Polynesia, went to Australia and New Zealand, Russia, Finland and Estonia. In January we’re going to Antarctica and South America.

What do you have on your desk at work?

The computer, a Coast Guard cup holder and mouse pad. I have a box where I stuff papers that would normally go on my desk. I bought a really nice teak desk so I try not to put much on it because I like the feel of the wood.

What can’t you live without?

Exercise. It bothers me when I get a cold and I have to stop. I used to be a runner but my knee gave out. Fortunately I had swimming skills.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

My wife says I’m the most unretired person she knows. I’ve been working with the IMA since 1994; I’m on the board of directors and do research projects so on my résumé my hobbies are travel, exercise and management accounting. Part of my recreation is activating my brain, which I do by writing and doing projects. I don’t have pressure on me, but I keep plugging away.

If you could swap jobs with anyone who would it be and why?

My feeling is, if I wanted to do something I would do it. I ­haven’t been refused anything I wanted to do. My heroes are by and large IMA leaders or Coast Guard leaders I emulated. I wake up in the morning and say “man, I’m really happy with what I’m doing”.

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