The American Book Co. building (top photo), now NYU's Main Building, constructed in 1894, served as the School's first location when Charles Waldo Haskins (bottom photo) founded Stern in 1900.

By Marilyn Harris

Charles Waldo Haskins was the original accounting evangelist. He didn’t just co-found Haskins & Sells in 1895, which within a few short years was the country’s preeminent public accounting firm (and which later morphed into the modern accounting giant, Deloitte & Touche). He served on a joint commission of the US House and Senate that investigated the executive departments of the government, examined Cuban finances after the Spanish-American War, held key state offices relating to the regulation of accounting, secured legislation in New York State that led to the creation of the first CPA exam, and in 1900 co-founded, with his partner Elijah Sells, the NYU School of Commerce, Accounts, and Finance – known today as NYU Stern. With all this, he also wrote a manual – “a pleasant little book,” he called it, aimed at women – on household bookkeeping. The absence of accounting practices from the masses of instructional literature about the domestic sciences was a “staring gap” that troubled him, so he took it upon himself to fill that gap.

Haskins was born in 1852 in Brooklyn to a renowned American family with substantial business interests and New England origins – his uncle was Ralph Waldo Emerson. Originally intending to become a civil engineer, at 17 he changed his mind and joined the accounting department of a New York importing house. Five years later, he took a break to travel in Europe and study in Paris, but ultimately stuck with accounting, eventually working for the New York, West Shore, and Buffalo Railway. In 1886, shortly following his marriage to Henrietta Havemeyer, daughter of an even wealthier, politically connected New York family, Haskins opened his own practice. His clients included some of the nation’s most important businesses, including banks, railroads, and steamship lines.

At Stern, Haskins taught and served as its first dean, fostering an approach that went beyond the narrow accounting training that characterized business programs of the day. The public accountant, he stated, was “the consulting physician of finance and commerce,” who “understands the anatomy and physiology of business and the rules of health of corporations, partnerships, and individual enterprises. He diagnoses abnormal conditions and suggests approved remedies. His study and interest is the soundness of the world of affairs.” Three years after founding Stern, in 1903, Haskins died of pneumonia.

Today, the School honors Haskins by giving its most prestigious award his name. The Haskins Award was established to recognize outstanding individuals whose careers have been characterized by the highest level of achievement in business and public service. Past recipients have included Paul Volcker and Alan Greenspan (BS ’48, MA ’50, PhD ’77), former chairmen of the Federal Reserve Board; Henry Kaufman (PhD ’58), president of Henry Kaufman & Co.; and William H. Donaldson, former chairman and CEO of the New York Stock Exchange.

Those who support Stern most generously belong to a cadre known as The Haskins Partners. Their efforts fuel the Campaign for NYU Stern with consistent dedication to the School’s strategic priorities, including strong support of scholarships, facility renovations, and new programs, as well as the annual Stern Fund, which provides critical funding for a host of initiatives. Haskins, the accounting evangelist, would be pleased. n

Marilyn Harris is editor of Sternbusiness.