The Role of Athletics in Haskins & Sells' Corporate Culture
Charles Waldo Haskins and Elijah Watt Sells first met in 1893 when they were selected to work as expert accountants on behalf of the Dockery Commission in Washington, D.C. The commission, named for Representative Alexander M. Dockery, was created by an act of the 53rd Congress to "examine the status of the laws organizing the Executive Department, Bureaus, Divisions, and other Government Establishments at the National Capital" in order to "secure greater efficiency and economy." Haskins and Sells had backgrounds in the railroad industry as well as extensive experience in establishing accounting systems and internal auditing procedures. Based on their recommendations, new systems of accounting and auditing procedures were installed in various government departments, resulting in annual savings of $600,000. On March 4, 1895, following their successful collaboration for the Dockery Commission, the two men founded the public accounting firm Haskins & Sells.
In 1896, Haskins, a native of Brooklyn, promoted the passage of legislation in New York State that regulated public accountants in the state and created the official designation "Certified Public Accountant" In 1897, Haskins was elected the first president of the NYSSCPA, an office he held until his death in 1903. In 1900. he was instrumental in establishing the School of Commerce, Accounts and Finance, at New York University, and served as its first dean.
Sells served as president of the American Association of Public Accountants in 1906 and 1907 and was involved in establishing the American Institute of Accountants. In 1923. Sells was honored by having an accounting award named for him, the Elijah Watt Sells Award, given semiannually by the AICPA to the highest-scoring candidate on the CPA examination.
The Importance of Recreation
In 1902, Sells purchased a farm in northern Westchester County, 35 miles from New York City. With his tennis and horseback-riding hobbies in mind, he had stables built for the horses and a tennis court constructed on the self-sustaining farm, named North Castle. Products of the farm included fruits and vegetables, flour and cornmeal, bacon, hams, and fowls. According to the book that Sells sponsored about the farm, A Land-Lover and His Land, Sells chose to give away the farm's excess products rather than sell them.
North Castle was profitable for Sells on several levels. According to a firm history that Haskins and Sells coauthored, included in Haskins & Sells: Our First Seventy-Five Years, 1895-1970, "[Sells] often stated that his best ideas in accountancy and organization came to him as he was 'stumbling around' in the woods." John R. Wildman verified this in the preface of The Matured Business Year and Thirteen Other Themes (A.W. Shaw Co., 1924), which quotes Sells as saying that the development of one paper. "Corporate Management Compared with Government Control," occurred while "stumbling around in the woods near his farm." Wildman added, "Much of the other material was the result of the same process and represents, in the main, the product of mental recreation pertinent to a mind made clear and strong by outdoor life and exercise."
Sells was not alone in his pursuit of outdoor exercise. Robert Montgomery's book Fifty Years of Accountancy (Ronald Press Co., 1939) had a chapter titled "Any Decent Hobby Will Add Ten Years to Your Life if You Have Any Use for Ten Years More." Montgomery said, "Any hobby, even a poor one, will add years to one's life. A hobby which takes one out of doors, if taken cheerfully at any time before fifty, will add at least ten years. Obviously, I recommend the out-of-doors type." He added, "If a business or professional man does not have a hobby, he should not retire. If he does retire, the usual result is early death. If a man has the right kind of hobby, he can retire at any time and count on living indefinitely. …