Obituary: Professor Stewart Hamilton, educator, accountant and writer

Stewart Hamilton: Multi-talented educator and accountant known for his integrity and charisma
Stewart Hamilton: Multi-talented educator and accountant known for his integrity and charisma
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Born: 5 March, 1945, in Stirling. Died: 5 May, 2014, in Edinburgh, aged 69

Stewart Hamilton was a man of many talents who lived a varied and international life, but never wavered in his love for his homeland – Scotland. A committed nationalist, he was looking forward to voting on 18 September.

He was known as a man of great integrity and charisma – dedicated to ethical behaviour and leadership, with zero tolerance for jargon and self-importance.

A lifelong educator, for more than 30 years he was Professor of Accounting and Finance at IMD (formerly IMEDE), the leading Swiss business school – indoctrinating MBA students with the importance of financial rigour – “find the facts behind the figures” and “cash is fact, everything else is opinion”. His special interests were in the areas of corporate governance, investor protection and risk management.

Over a period of time, Stewart also taught accountancy to nearly every lawyer in Edinburgh through his work on the Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Edinburgh and training for newly appointed partners.

He chaired the audit committee and acted as a lay member of the executive of the Law Council for Scotland from January 2006 until his death; his contributions there were highly valued.

Throughout his academic career, Professor Hamilton wrote many thoughtful and prize-winning case studies, a number of which are taught at leading business schools around the world. He insisted on depth of analysis and his book, Greed and Corporate Failure: Lessons from Recent Disasters, written with Alicia Micklethwait in 2006, contained notable insights into the root causes behind scandals and disasters in global business.

His most recent publication, Doing Business with China (2012), co-authored by Ann Zhang, offered essential cultural insights into working effectively with Chinese companies – extrapolating lessons from mistakes made by Western companies. By invitation, he lectured around the world and was able to tailor his insights and humour to each context.

The international stage he has left was a far cry from his early years. He was born in Stirling and lived briefly in Portobello, but spent his formative childhood years near Inveraray in Argyllshire – a place he loved above all.

The family later moved to Burntisland, Fife and he attended Kirkcaldy High School, where he met his wife Mairi.

He was the eldest of four children; his mother Ella ended her career as deputy head of Burntisland Primary School and father John as company secretary of the Burntisland ship yard, near where Stewart had his first work experience labouring on the site of the new alumina plant.

He was fiercely opinionated, and his debating skills were honed at the University of Edinburgh from where he graduated in 1966. While there he was actively involved in the Student Representative Council, was on the Students Union committee, ran charity campaigns, helped run the successful Rectorial campaign for James Robertson Justice, found time to play bridge and was an active member of the NAT club. Additionally, he joined the Territorial Army in the Black Watch, later Highland volunteers. It was a surprise to many that he managed to squeeze in a degree at the same time.

After getting married and qualifying as a chartered accountant with Robertson & Maxton Graham, he went to Vancouver for his post-qualifying experience rather than to London. One of his more memorable audits involved counting log booms from a small float plane.

While in Vancouver he started teaching part time at the University of British Columbia. He subsequently took a full-time teaching post in the University of Calgary’s new business faculty.

A former colleague from Calgary led to the Swiss connection later. Stewart prided himself on mixing academia with practical experience and decried the ability of anyone to teach accounting without being active in the profession.

Throughout his career he taught, advised and practised in equal measure. He was proud to be both a Scottish and Canadian CA.

To the delight of his family and friends, after two years in Canada Stewart and his wife Mairi returned to Scotland in 1971. For the next few years he worked for the Institute of Chartered Accountants and Ivory and Sime before establishing his own practice, which he maintained until the late 1990s, apart from a three-year stint as a senior partner at Armitage and Norton from 1987.

He also held directorships in Scottish companies including Glencast and Ellison Harte Developments Ltd.

He retained the skill, polished at university, of being involved in a seemingly inconceivable number of things. He was promoted to Major in the Black Watch on his 30th birthday and ended his service as Joint Services Liaison Officer for the Borders Regional Council in 1992; was a director of the Scottish folk festival; learned to play the bagpipes and was a member of the Royal Scottish Pipers Society – acting as secretary for a number of years; played and was a lifelong supporter of Scottish rugby.

He enjoyed reading the works of Scottish crime writers such as Ian Rankin and Quentin Jardine, and on occasion demonstrated his ability to recite Tam O’Shanter from memory.

One of his legacies is the donation of a large proportion of his financial library and research materials to the newly opened Library of Mistakes in Edinburgh.

He led life to the full. He was always busy, but he made time for people. He had thousands of former students whom he remembered by name and often retained contact with – giving advice when it was sought – always questioning, always inquisitive, always learning.

Stewart is survived by his wife Mairi, his three daughters – Iona, Eilidh and Mairi – and his adored grandchildren – Constance, Grace, Isaac and Leander. He will be much missed.