Robert Libby to be Inducted Into Accounting Hall of Fame

by Donna Talarico

By: Staff
Bob Libby speaks in front of a classroom of students.

Robert Libby, professor of accounting, teaching at the Johnson School in 2014 (Photo by Robert Barker)

For his more than 50 years of research, teaching, and industry service, accounting professor Robert (Bob) Libby is one of three 2024 inductees to the American Accounting Association (AAA) Accounting of Hall of Fame.

Libby, the David A. Thomas Professor of Management at the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, has been at Cornell since 1989. His research focuses on the intersection of psychology and accounting and has led to six textbooks, more than 60 journal articles, and scores of conference presentations. Libby has also been an editor or editorial board member for several scholarly journals.

His first textbook, Accounting and Human Information Processing: Theory and Application, introduced the predictive validity framework to accounting that became widely known as “Libby Boxes.” The framework helps students tease apart cause-and-effect relationships by prompting them to identify relevant variables and determine the right measures to quantify effects. He explains that the idea of Libby Boxes was built off concepts he’d learned as a student, and others simply picked up on it.

“There are very few people whose ideas are all that original,” he explains, adding that rather people discover “usefulness of others’ ideas and incorporate them into their own work.” That is, after all, the essence of research and knowledge sharing.

Headshot of Bob Libby.
Robert Libby, David A. Thomas Professor of Management

While having a framework named for him is humbling, Libby says the success of his MBA students is a more important measure of his mark on the field. Teachers don’t immediately know if they’ve made an impression. So, when former MBA students return to campus as guest speakers or to recruit on behalf of their companies and “still reference concepts they learned my class, that’s how you know that, as a professor, you’ve made a contribution.

“When I walk through the atrium and one of my former students yells my name—now that really makes my day,” he says.

Mark Nelson, SC Johnson Family Professor of Management and a professor of accounting, says Libby’s contributions to the field have for decades informed how auditors, accounting regulators, and investors do their work.

“[Libby] has shaped the work of countless faculty members, thereby having a ripple effect that extends far beyond his own work,” Nelson says. “Even more impressive, Bob is now in his sixth decade of making these contributions, with his first publication in The Accounting Review in 1975 and his most recent publication in the same journal in 2022.”

Libby has taught thousands of students at Cornell, and what he hopes sticks with them most—no matter what they do after graduation—is an understanding of the importance of financial reporting systems.

Nelson says Libby’s students would describe him as demanding, well-prepared, exceptionally clear in conveying concepts—and really, really funny.

“That’s a great combination,” Nelson says. “Students work hard, but they know it’s worth it—and all can tell a story from [Libby’s] class that made them smile while also bringing home an important point.”

Libby’s mentoring hasn’t been just for students; Libby has also served as a role model for his accounting colleagues, including Nelson, who says he came to Cornell in 1990 specifically to work with Libby.

“He was then the leader of my research area, and now, after almost 35 years, Bob is still the leader of my research area,” explains Nelson. “Moreover, though, he is a wonderful mentor and colleague, freely sharing his insights and inspiring others to do great work.”

Libby says he’s grateful for his own Cornell role models, particularly Thomas Dyckman, professor emeritus and 2009 AAA Hall of Fame inductee, and Robert J. Swieringa, professor emeritus.

“Bob and Tom’s approach became my approach [to teaching],” says Libby, of his longtime colleagues. Also on his list of influential colleagues: his wife and co-author Patricia Libby.

“She’s more instrumental than anyone in the success of our financial accounting textbooks,” he says, adding that Cornell and the city of Ithaca have been a great place for his family. “I owe so much to this place.”

Libby is proud to be recognized by his AAA peers—and considers it a prime opportunity to recognize others.

“The biggest and most important part of this honor is that I’ll get to thank everyone I’ve worked with,” he says. “I’ve learned an enormous amount from my senior colleagues, junior colleagues, and PhD students.”

Established in 1950, the Accounting Hall of Fame has honored 117 members; Libby will be the 118th. His induction will be held in August during the organization’s annual meeting.