Ruben Davila, CPA, MBA, J.D.




Professor, University of Southern California

When I take my students to places like Thailand and Singapore, they have to leave their American conventions behind. They see what a great impact culture has on the way business is done. You can read about what it’s like, but the look on people’s faces when they realize they’re in a foreign country is amazing.

I’m the first person in my Latino family to go to college—that includes aunts, uncles and cousins. My uncle got me interested in accounting. He said his tax accountant charged him $50 for 30 minutes of work. I did the math and figured that sounded like a good living. At first, I didn’t understand the opportunities the certification created or the lifestyle it would afford me. I had a misconception that CPAs were bookkeepers and did tax returns.

My classmates opened up a new world to me —auditors tend to have great people skills, so they were all very bright and very diverse. They exposed me to so many new things—going out to nice restaurants and plays and traveling. Before I started working, the farthest I had been out of L.A. was Las Vegas. While working, I routinely took one or two months of vacation each summer and traveled across the United States, Mexico and Europe.

As an auditor, I was exposed to a variety of businesses with different management styles and people. I began supervising audits at the age of 23. It was a great experience. I worked with a group of bright, highly motivated and very social people. They opened up a new world to me. But computers were changing the business landscape and I wanted to know more about them, so I decided to pursue my MBA at the University of Southern California. I taught at a local community college to earn a little spending money. During my second year, a professor at USC had a family emergency and had to go on leave. One of my professors recommended me, and I was hired to teach two accounting courses. And I’ve been at USC ever since—for 21 years.

I also do forensic accounting/expert witness work. It allows me to help people. For example, I worked on the Lincoln Savings case and helped the people who had been defrauded get back 98 cents on every dollar they had invested. I also teach executive courses. I’m teaching one now for managers in the food industry.

I’m involved with the International Qualifications Appraisal Board, a joint body of the AICPA and the NASBA that negotiates mutual recognition agreements with other countries, so U.S. CPAs can practice there and their CPAs can practice here. As businesses become more global, the ability to practice across borders is a huge issue. We have reciprocal agreements with our closest neighbors, Canada and Mexico, and with England, Australia and New Zealand, and are considering others. I’m also a member of the California Board of Accountancy.

I love to travel. I just came back from a trip to Singapore and Bangkok with some of my MBA students. Seventy of us went for 11 days. We toured businesses and cultural sites, talked to business leaders about their projects and met with the American Chambers of Commerce Abroad. A year ago, I took 35 students to Mexico and Cuba, also to China. When I was a young man, the learning happened in the classroom. The difference now is that going to a foreign country and meeting people who do business there, you realize that what makes sense in the classroom doesn’t make sense on the factory floor in Thailand.

USC’s Leventhal School of Accounting has developed several programs that promote diversity by reaching out to kids in tough socioeconomic circumstances. I have taught in three of these programs. As someone from a similar background, I love the idea of showing someone what is possible, to let them know they can make it at the university and as a professional. It is one of the most rewarding things I do. 


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