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Wayne Upton — An appreciation

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15 Sep 2016

Wayne Upton, the IASB’s Director of International Activities and Chairman of the IFRS Interpretations Committee, who has died suddenly, was a friendly and thoughtful man and a benign though invariably forthright presence in all his activities.

He listened to people. As he said in an interview reflecting on his role as Director of International Activities: ‘The purpose is not to attempt to boil down a single view but to get people together talking about issues. And what you find then is that thought leaders emerge and the quality of the response is much better’. And he maintained the same philosophy in his role as Chairman of the Interpretations Committee. He summed that role up with the words: ‘I am the Chair. I’m the facilitator, hopefully a consensus builder, but to have a vision or a mission I am not sure is appropriate’.

And he was also a man who looked for solutions. He was not going to hide behind a barricade of formality. Referring to the procedures of the Interpretations Committee and how it worked he once commented: ‘I think there is enough wiggle room, and there’s a technical term for you, in those criteria that if we see something that needs doing then we can find a way to do it’.

And as an archetypal American accountant at the London-based IASB he had developed a characteristically perceptive overview. He had been almost twenty years at the US standard-setting body, FASB, and he had been with the IASB almost since its inception. He would joke that he felt that the last time he had been a ‘real’ accountant must have been around the time ‘when Eisenhower was President’. But his view of the relationship between the FASB and the IASB was the real insight. ‘I think the IASB is culturally different than the FASB’, he said, ‘and all of that really stems from the fact that we have a hundred jurisdictions or so that are involved in our process and the FASB has only one. And that means that we have to create a different dynamic’. And he well understood the differences that this created. ‘I think it’s a mistake to characterise our standards at the IASB as principles based and the FASB standards as rules based’, he said. ‘I didn’t spend 17 years over there being unprincipled. As I say, it is a difficult balance between the appropriate level of assistance that you give people and keeping the standards to a manageable level’.

He will be sorely missed in many ways and at many levels.

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