When a CPA visited Ken Bills’ high school class, Bills recalls asking himself, why would anyone do this for a living?
He can laugh about it now.
Bills learned a lot from his teacher, Mrs. Tubbs, who taught economics at his high school in Price, Utah. She inspired Bills to explore the different business disciplines through his school’s Future Business Leaders of America (FBLA) club. He soon realized that accounting was fascinating. So much so, it was his college major.
Now Bills teaches accounting majors at the University of Arkansas, joining the Sam M. Walton College of Business in June 2015.
He likens accounting to law. The standards are always changing, and a good accountant and auditor needs to stay apprised.
“It’s more of an application within the business field,” he says of accounting. “It’s a technical skill.”
Bills earned both his bachelor’s and master of accounting degrees at Southern Utah University and then worked as an auditor for Tanner LLC, the largest locally owned public accounting firm in Salt Lake City. His clients included construction, oil, gas, mining and software companies.
But he yearned to be in academia. Newly married with a baby daughter in tow, Bills and his family moved to Norman, Oklahoma, so he could pursue a Ph.D. in accounting at the University of Oklahoma. Though he knew he liked teaching, he wasn’t sure about research. That soon changed. “I think there’s a lot of synergy between the two,” he says.
After graduation, Bills taught accounting at Colorado State University for three years before joining Walton faculty. He says he was already familiar with many of Walton’s accounting professors as their research interests align with his. When an opportunity arose for him to join the faculty, he pursued it.
Now that he’s settled in, he continues to be impressed by the accounting department’s collegiality and availability. “There are always doors open up and down the hall,” he says.
Bills teaches undergraduate courses in auditing and assurance services. He particularly enjoys teaching students who already have some real world experience, whether it be through working their way through school or through internships.
“It lends a much better understanding of the concepts covered in the class and the practical application of what is taught,” he says.
Many of the accounting students have jobs lined up before graduation. He also praises the department’s Ph.D. program, which he says produces outstanding candidates.
Bills’ research interests are primarily in the area of archival auditing, which involves collecting or using collected data to test causal relations. For example, he has studied how small audit firms compete with large audit firms through industry specialization and joining together in accounting associations. His findings have been published in several journals, including The Accounting Review, Contemporary Accounting Research and Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory.
Meanwhile, he’s getting used to Arkansas hospitality.
“I feel like the students are so respectful here,” he says. “I have never been called ‘sir’ so many times in my life!”