Jack Kempner, A SoBA Legend

Jack Kempner

Retired accounting professor, Jack Kempner, passed away this year leaving behind a legacy of excellence in accounting education. According to Professor Teresa Beed, an award-winning professor in her own right, “Jack Kempner was ahead of his time in many ways.”  In particular,  “Jack Kempner gave both female and male students equal respect and encouragement to pursue a profession which was dominated by men when Kempner began teaching.  He encouraged me to pursue my Ph.D. when I had no intention of doing so.“     

When other students were asked what they remembered about Kempner, many readily volunteered: “He changed my life.”  “He is the reason I came to UM.” “He is why I became an accountant.” “He gave me confidence that I could succeed.”

Kempner worked hard to help his students transform themselves into professionals.  One of the ways he did this was to demand excellence. A former colleague commented, “He set high standards.  And he expected students to live up to those standards. He was not afraid to ‘tell it like it is’ if they didn’t.”

The story goes that when one student queried why he had received a lower grade than he expected, Kempner pulled out his grade book and recounted class by class, each day of the semester, the exact problems the student had missed on his homework, the exact problems he had missed on the test and the days the student had not shown up. Kempner graded his assignments carefully. He lived up to high professional standards as well.

One former student described Kempner’s classes as being a “real world test.  Dr. Kempner made sure we would be prepared for anything the profession would throw at us. We were kids from Montana. He was preparing us to function as professionals wherever we would end up working.”

Kempner did his best to ensure that SoBA accounting students were employable by the best firms in the country.  He also made certain that the students would have the opportunity to be employed. Toward that end, Kempner persuaded recruiters to interview SoBA accounting students.  He created an accounting advisory board to help provide guidance and publicity for the accounting program. He raised money for accounting scholarships.  All the while, Kempner’s research was being published in the best accounting journals at the time.  He did what he could to carve a national reputation for the accounting program in Montana.

Of all his talents, teaching was Kempner’s passion.  Through his efforts, SoBA acquired national recognition.  UM students were in high demand by firms from coast to coast. According to Beed, “He created a reputation for Montana as one of the strongest states for accounting professionals in the country.” Today, that reputation lives on in the fact that many undergraduate and approximately 90 percent of graduate accounting students are employed by firms before they graduate from SoBA.

A testimony to Kempner’s legacy of teaching excellence is that so many former students have held and still hold executive positions in all types of firms and government agencies throughout the United States.  Many now head their own firms. The Montana Society of CPAs has also created a state award to honor him: The Jack Kempner Teaching Award recognizes the positive influence he had on the accounting profession.

As with any legend, Jack Kempner, is portrayed as someone almost larger than life. Indeed, he was the consummate professional. But those of us who had the good fortune of knowing Kempner, the man, might describe him in the following way:

Jack Kempner was a person who cared deeply for the welfare of others.  He was a man with a dry wit that could cleverly point out the absurdity of a situation. He had a strong sense of fair play and appropriateness.  He was always a gentleman as well as a scholar.

Jack Kempner was 99. 

Hear Jack Kempner describe his career in his own words.