Learning from the past

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA

One hundred years ago, CIMA was founded by a group of forward-looking businesspeople. Their intention was to transform the accountancy profession into one that would support them in managing and leading their businesses.

Early on, there was a strong link with engineering. "Mechanical knowledge" was the title of a paper in the first Institute exam in 1920, and our early vice-presidents represented key industry segments including steelmaking, cotton spinning, car manufacturing, and printing.

The initial work of the Institute was around cost management: The period up to the late 1930s can be described as the development of costing as a science. It culminated in the publishing in March 1937 of "Costing Terminology" in The Cost Accountant, the Institute's journal.

Over the century we have continued to lead on cost management and evolve it into the concept of value creation. The journey has taken us through cycles of automation, the evolution of risk management, tools such as balanced scorecards, and frameworks such as activity-based costing. Our history is contained in Leading the Transformation — 100 Years and Beyond, written by the Association's Martin Farrar, Ph.D., which I commend to you (available at

In October 1950 this journal announced that an Institute team was to visit the US to investigate the use of costing information through the Anglo-American Productivity Council. It marks the point when management accounting entered the lexicon of our Institute and its members. It is clearly an important evolutionary step in CIMA's route of progress throughout the past century. Today, management accounting is recognised as the essential part of "decision support", and management accountants work alongside business leaders and managers as trusted and objective partners.

Over the years, we have added value to business. We have also provided opportunities for people across the world to have rewarding and satisfying careers. Our members have made a difference not only to the businesses they work for but also the communities they live in.

Today, CIMA continues to lead in the accounting profession. As a founding body of the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, we are driving a global management accounting profession, creating value for businesses and the proud individuals who make up our profession.

Going beyond our centenary, we anticipate change on a scale and at a speed we have not experienced before. However, with our updated CGMA Competency Framework, the 2019 CIMA Professional Qualification Syllabus, and our growing suite of CPD programmes, we are equipping our members to thrive in that digital future.

As work becomes increasingly technology-enabled, I believe the management accountant's role will become even more critical to the success and longevity of organisations. Canadian historian Margaret MacMillan neatly makes the case for learning from the past. "History can help you ... to make sense of your present situation; to remind you that there were other situations like it in the past; and to help you formulate the right questions." I believe learning from past experience can prepare you to bring order quickly when faced with the ever more complex scenarios that accelerating change in business brings.

Our members' roles are increasingly about asking the right questions that can lead to better decision-making.

Our Association will also continue to ask the right questions and continue to invest in our ability to provide learning and career support for our members that is relevant and of high quality. That learning means they can continue to lead their own organisations to even greater success.

Andrew Harding, FCMA, CGMA, is chief executive—Management Accounting, at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants.