Chapter 6: A Peacemaker in a Time of War: 2003–2009
The discipline, in short, was both increasingly central to daily life, and yet struggling with the trivialisation of its insights by the economic machinery that it served. This was a truth that came crashing home with the collapse in 2001 of Enron … The dissolution of Arthur Andersen, one of the largest accounting firms in the world, sent shock waves through the industry and refocused many international accounting programs towards accountability rather than merely "keeping the score" in what could otherwise be a crooked game.
Fiji had influenced Patel to be a peacemaker, while the influence of his supervisor, Harrison, had imprinted on him the need for an open door policy on leadership: he would spend hours every day working directly with people. Given recent staffing ructions, he was just the man for the job: he appreciated the "very clear direction" Davis gave the faculty, particularly in the shift of Faculty organisational culture towards research. He set about "overhauling" the governance structure of the Department, forming a Management Committee, and establishing new committees for Research, Teaching and Learning, and Alumni.
The swing towards the practical in many degrees had effectively transformed accounting and its sister disciplines into elements of the "new humanities". In the new economy, "you can have many lives" notes CPA Australia CEO Alex Malley, "but you have got to have a core skill. I truly believe that accounting is that core skill".
Having come in under the Department's elder statesman (Harrison), Patel too joined the ranks of the emeriti who made the Department such a vibrant, connective organism. Concentrating on developing younger staff members, he would over the next five years (and still at the time of writing) attract a "full card" of young PhD candidates. He knew where they were going: after all, it was the path he too had trod on his arrival at Macquarie.
In a sense, Patel's exhaustion was symbolic of the whole Department. They were surrounded by change (a total redesign of their undergraduate degree structures, for example), and few resources with which to engage it. They had good people, and rising research outcomes, but a seemingly continuous line of bad news. … And the farewells kept coming …