Obituary: Former AICPA President Wallace Olson


Former AICPA President Wallace Olson

Wallace “Wally” E. Olson, AICPA president from 1972 to 1980, died Sept. 20, at his home in Onalaska, Wis. He was 86 years old.

“He presided over an organization and a CPA profession undergoing rapid and unprecedented change,” said Gary John Previts, CPA, professor of accountancy at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland.

In the early 1970s, Olson was a member of the Study on Establishment of Accounting Principles (Wheat Committee), which recommended the establishment of an independent body, the Financial Accounting Standards Board, to keep accounting standards in the private sector.

“Wally led the AICPA during the first significant phase of Congress’ oversight of the profession,” said Barry Melancon, CPA, AICPA president and CEO. “The challenges of the day were very significant. He was the first staff president of the AICPA and oversaw tremendous growth in the number of CPAs. His place in the history of our profession is secure.”

Olson documented the significant occurrences in the profession, such as the completion of the Wheat and Trueblood committees’ reports, in his book, The Accounting Profession: Years of Trial, 1969–1980 , published by the AICPA in 1982.

Olson, a member of the Institute since 1949, also helped restructure the AICPA’s code of conduct, which led to the establishment of the Public Oversight Board and the division for firms.

“Questions had been raised about the quality of audits, auditor independence and federal regulation of the profession,” said Philip B. Chenok, who succeeded Olson as president and served until 1995. “Under Wally Olson’s leadership, the profession acknowledged that to maintain its self-regulatory status, it needed to strengthen accounting and auditing. Many of the self-regulatory efforts that have been undertaken subsequently can be attributed to Wally’s forceful calls for change.”

Olson served in World War II as an officer aboard the USS Epping Forest in the Pacific Theater.

Following the war, Olson began his accounting career as an auditor in the La Crosse, Wis., office of Alexander Grant & Co. (now Grant Thornton). In his more than 25 years with the firm, he rose to become its executive partner and led it as it expanded internationally to join firms from Australia, Canada and the U.K. in the late 1960s.

In 1980, Olson was the recipient of the AICPA Gold Medal, which recognizes significant contributions to the profession. And, in 1994, he won the John J. McCloy Award, given by the Public Oversight Board to honor those who have made outstanding contributions in auditing.


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