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Books on Accountant Entrepreneurs

Books on Accountant Entrepreneurs
Successful entrepreneurs who had been accountants

By Tommy L.

One day, I found two articles from the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) talking about the most successful accountants or the richest accountants in the world.  I am really interested to know who they are so I read through both article.

The two articles mention ten names. Some of their names are familiarised by most of us but I am doubt how many of us are aware of they are accountants or bookkeepers.

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The ten successful accountants listed by ACCA articles “Five highly successful accountant entrepreneurs” and “Meet six of the world’s richest accountants” are:

  1. John D Rockefeller, Founder of Standard Oil Company

  2. Phil Knight, Co-Founder of Nike

  3. Arthur Blank, Co-Founder of The Home Depot

  4. Tony Fernandes, Founder of AirAsia

  5. Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group

  6. David Ross, Founder of Carphone Warehouse

  7. Bob Parsons, Founder of GoDaddy

  8. Denise Coates, Director of

  9. Paul Coulson, Chairman of Ardagh Group

  10. Sir Brian Souter and Ann Gloag, Founders of Stagecoach Group


They are all good examples of turning from accounting professional qualification to great entrepreneurs. Their successful stories or biographies are worth to read and learn from them.


I summarise John D Rockefeller, Phil Knight, Arthur Blank, Tony Fernandes and Kumar Mangalam Birla stories below but will update for other successful accountants stories soon.

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John D. Rockefeller, Founder of the Standard Oil Company

John Davison Rockefeller is name familiarised by many people as he founded Standard Oil Company in 1870. However, many people do not know Rockefeller’s first job is a bookkeeper!

After finished his high school study, Rockefeller went to Folsom’s Commercial College to study bookkeeping. In September 1855, Rockefeller got his first job as an assistant bookkeeper working for a Cleveland merchant company, Hewitt and Tuttle, when he was sixteen.

Though working long hours, he’s delighted on his job.  In his role, he needed to calculate transportation costs, negotiating with barge canal owners, ship captains and freight agents and collecting debts.

These experiences served him well later in his career that he treasured a lot.


How do we know he treasured those experiences?


Every year, this oil industry business magnate celebrated “job day” every September 26 to celebrate the anniversary of landing his first job. He considered the date is more important than his birthday. Later in his life, he reminisced “All my future seemed to hinge on that day,” “and I often tremble when I ask myself the question: ‘What if I had not got the job?’”


At 1913, Rockefeller’s wealth was about 2% of U.S. gross domestic product. Forbes and CNN conclude he is the richest man in U.S. (or even world) modern history.


Rockefeller's wealth soared as kerosene and gasoline grew in importance, and he became the richest person in the country, controlling 90% of all oil in the United States at his peak.


Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

If you would like to know more how this bookkeeper became the richest man in the world, the book Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr. is an essential, endlessly engrossing biography of the oil industry giant.


Drawing on unprecedented access to Rockefeller's private papers, the author, Ron Chernow, reconstructs his subjects' troubled origins (his father was a swindler and a bigamist) and his single-minded pursuit of wealth.


But he also uncovers the profound religiosity that drove him "to give all I could"; his devotion to his father; and the wry sense of humor that made him the country's most colorful codger.


Titan is a magnificent biography--balanced, revelatory, elegantly written.

Phil Knight, Co-founder of Nike

Phil Knight is a co-founder of Nike Inc., a multinational athletic footwear and apparel corporation, is ranked at No.340 in 2018 Fortune global 500.

Knight was a Certified Public Accountant (CPA). He’s firstly with Coopers & Lybrand and then Price Waterhouse in 1965. Prior to work in Nike Inc (formerly known as Blue Ribbon Sports), he’s an Assistant Professor at Portland State University.

Knight is a legend while he was a ‘part time’ entrepreneur during the time working as auditor in professional accounting firm. Then, he was also an Assistant Professor but he quit the job very soon and grow the company into one of the biggest athletic apparel companies in the world.

As mentioned by Inc. Magazine, “Back in 1965…… Knight, only 27 at the time, was an auditor with Coopers & Lybrand in Portland, Oreg. After work and on weekends, he’d load up his station wagon with Japanese sneakers, drive to local track meets, and hawk the sneaks from his tailgate.”


In 1965, Knight applied for a position of an accountant and got recruited by Price Waterhouse. He met a big influence to his life – Delbert J. Hayes, who was the leader of his team. Hayes guided Phil in the job which allows Knight to understand different kinds of company’s financials and how they go under, and how the ones that survive flourish.


Hayes is one of Nike’s first employees which contributed a lot to its development.


The largest sneakers company, Nike Inc. is also the only fashion stock in 30-member Dow Industrial index.

Source: Forbes

Photo by Ray Piedra from Pexels

Shoe Dog is a book written by Knight to tell his story.

Candid, humble, wry and gutsy, he begins with his crossroads moment when at 24 he decided to start his own business. He details the many risks and daunting setbacks that stood between him and his dream - along with his early triumphs.

Above all, he recalls how his first band of partners and employees soon became a tight-knit band of brothers. Together, harnessing the transcendent power of a shared mission, and a deep belief in the spirit of sport, they built a brand that changed everything. 

A memoir rich with insight, humour and hard-won wisdom, this book is also studded with lessons - about building something from scratch, overcoming adversity, and ultimately leaving your mark on the world.


Knight also shares in his book he only hired nothing but accountants and lawyers to lead the company in early days. The reason behind is these professionals are “proved that they could master a difficult subject. And pass a big test. Most also demonstrated basic competence. When you hired an accountant, you knew he or she could count.


Do you agree with Knight?

Arthur Blank, Co-Founder of The Home Depot

Many people hear the name Arthur Blank as he co-founded Home Depot with Bernie Marcus in 1978. He is ranked 394 in the Forbes Billionaires list 2019. In addition, he owns two professional sporting teams, Atlanta Falcons and Atlanta United FC, in United States.

Do you know Blank starting his career as an accountant?

After graduating from Babson College in 1963, he became an accountant in New York at Arthur Young and Co., which was an accounting firm merged with Ernst & Whinney to form Ernst & Young (EY) in 1989.

During an interview with EY Atlanta office Managing Partner, this successful entrepreneur shared his great memories of his time in the New York office, though he admitted the work could be tedious, for example, he had to physically verify each and every securities receipt.


Still, Blank said ‘the training and exposure to industry he received during his nearly five years at Ernst & Young as “tremendously helpful” in launching his career’.


Before setting up the home improvement retailer, Blank was the vice president of finance in Handy Dan Home Improvement Centers and reporting to CEO Bernard Marcus. As they were on the losing side of an internal power struggle, they were fired in 1978 and founded their own home improvement retailer, Home Depot.


Home Depot is one the largest home improvement retails in the world serving USA, Canada and Mexico. It is always in the Fortune Global 500 list.

Source: Forbes

Photo by Alexander Isreb from Pexels

Built from Scratch is the story of how two incredibly determined and creative people--and their associates--built a business from nothing to 761 stores and $30 billion in sales in a mere twenty years.

The book, Built from Scratch tells many colorful stories associated with The Home Depot's founding and meteoric rise; shows that a company can be a tough, growth-oriented competitor and still maintain a high sense of responsibility to the community; and provides great lessons useful to people in any business, from start-ups to the Fortune 500.

Tony Fernandes, Co-Founder of AirAsia

Tony Fernandes was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to an Indian father and a Malaysian mother. He pursued the high school education in England before going into London School of Economics and graduated with a degree in accounting.

After the graduation, Fernandes started his career in Virgin Communications in London as an auditor and subsequently becoming the financial controller.

His career was then moved to Warner Music Group and served as the Southeast Asian regional vice-president for another nine years, before co-founding AirAsia in 2001.

Fernandes was qualified as an Associate Member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (ACCA) in 1991 and then admitted as a Fellow Member in 1996.


In an interview by The Journal of The Global Accounting Alliance, Fernandes said his background in accountancy “helps [him] keep an eye on the details,” “It’s so easy to focus just on the big picture – only to be tripped up by the details.”


With the character of not be afraid to try and to fail, the detailed mind accounting professional became one of the founders of the first budget airline in Asia.


In 2019, Fernandes is ranked at 32 in the Malaysia’s 50 Richest List by Forbes.


In 2019, AirAsia is the World's Best Low-Cost Airline for the 11th successive year rated by SKYTRAX. Back in 2001, it's in financial crisis and was rebuilt to a budget airline by a group of entrepreneurs including Tony Fernandes.



Image by Arivaran Ravichantar from Pixabay 

This ACCA Member wrote a book, Flying High: My Story, which is the memoir of his entrepreneurship experience; how did he create Asia's first budget airline, democratizing air travel in Asia and building AirAsia into a multi-billion-dollar company in the process. 

Fernandes has been awarded a CBE, titled twice by the King of Malaysia and awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French government. He has also received awards from major business media outlets including the International Herald Tribune, Business Times, Business Week, Fast Company and Forbes.

'What a life. Tony Fernandes has accomplished amazing things - and who's to say what he can go on to achieve?' Sir Richard Branson

Kumar Mangalam Birla, Chairman of Aditya Birla Group

Kumar Mangalam Birla is the fourth generation of Aditya Birla Group, a business conglomerate with more than 160 years in India.

Birla did his high school and bachelor’s degree in India. He was then studying Chartered Accountancy and became CA in four years.

In 2015, Birla gave a speech at the Times Lit Fest saying he never wanted to become a Chartered Accountant. “My father was keen that I become one because he thought that was the right thing for me to do. I didn’t have the courage to tell him that I don’t want to do it. But now I can’t thank him more for having put me through it.” Birla said.

What makes Birla different from other successful accountants listed above is he inherited the family empire at age of 28, by taking over the group chairman role after the death of his father.


However, it was too challenge for this 28-year old man when he took the chairman role as the average employee was about 54. He recalled, “It is more difficult to mend things than to build things from scratch.”

Aditya Birla Group is a commodities empire with interests spanning cement, aluminum, telecom and financial services.

Source: Forbes

Photo by Markus Bürkle from Pexels

During his tenure, he grew the family business’s annual turnover from US$3.3 billion in 1995 to US$48.3 billion in 2019. The Group is now spreading across different industries, including aluminium, copper, cement, textiles, carbon black, insulators, natural resources, power, agribusiness, telecommunications, financial services, IT/iTeS, retail and trading.

Now, Birla is ranked at 122 in Forbes Billionaires List 2019.


In Think, Lead and Strategize Like Kumar Mangalam Birla, Rajiv Agarwal shows how the group rose to the top in diverse industries—be it telecom, asset management, cement or chemicals—under the astute leadership of Mr Birla.


Displaying attention to detail and a deep understanding, the author uncovers little-known details about one of India’s game-changing and most profitable brands. Lucidly written and sharply argued, this is a must-read for anyone who wants to run a successful business and thrive like an industry giant.


There are many other entrepreneurs well trained in accountancy before becoming successful. As said by Arthur Blank, the accountancy training and exposure as tremendously helpful in understanding business.


Billionaire investor Warren Buffett said in a speech in 2003, “You have to understand of accounting. It’s the language of business and you have to be comfortable of that.”


Note: Some of the links in this page contain affiliate links. I will earn a small commission for any purchases you make, though there is no extra cost to you. 

The products or services I recommend only I use them myself or after my investigation and truly believe they are useful to you. Don’t forget there are many other options out there – these are simply my preferred choices.

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