Our Enduring Legacy: The History of IMABy
Invitations were sent out on September 16, 1919. Major J. Lee Nicholson, a visionary in the field of cost accounting, had contacted his friends—accountants, lawyers, and academics—to inform them that a “conference of cost accountants has been arranged, to meet in Buffalo, N.Y., for the purpose of forming a National Association of Cost Accountants” about one month hence.
Nicholson outlined his ambitious goals for such an entity:
- First, an organization which shall be national in scope;
- Second, the essential purpose will be acquiring and diffusing cost accounting knowledge; and
- Third, spreading the science of correct cost accounting among the business men of the country, not for the object of any personal gain on the part of any particular member, but on the broad platform of general good and advancement of American interests.
The resulting meeting on October 13-14, 1919, brought 37 professionals to Buffalo, and they, along with 60 others who wanted to belong but weren’t physically present, became charter members of the National Association of Cost Accountants (NACA).
It’s unlikely that Nicholson could have envisioned what his fledging gathering of “business men of the country” would become over the next 100 years: IMA, the world’s leading association of accounting and finance professionals, a 125,000-member-strong global organization with members in 147 countries and across five continents.
THE PREMIER DESIGNATION
Helping to drive that member growth has been IMA’s CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) certification, respected around the world as the premier designation for management accounting practitioners.
Talk of such a certification began as early as the mid-1940s, yet it wasn’t until 1965 that IMA President Joseph L. Brumit appointed a long-range objectives committee to determine where the organization should be headed in the future.
The path to offering that first exam, in December 1972, included establishing a Board of Regents and the inspired guidance of James Bulloch, author of the original exam and the first staff director for the CMA program. More than 400 individuals sat for that first five-part exam in 22 locations across the United States, including Boston, Mass.; Minneapolis, Minn.; Anchorage, Alaska; and New Orleans, La. They have been joined by more than 68,000 individuals over the past 47 years.
Those who have earned the CMA certification come from nearly all corners of the world. Such a global emphasis, in fact, traces its roots to the association’s earliest days. According to 100 Years and Counting: A History of the Institute of Management Accountants, “It could be argued that we were an international organization from the very beginning, given the fact that we had two non-Americans as charter members of the Association.”
But significant international growth happened slowly. Until the 1960s, the association focused its international efforts on Canada and Latin America, both because of their proximity to the U.S. and the belief that these areas offered the greatest potential. IMA chartered its first international chapter in Cuba in 1943, but it took another two decades to establish chapters in Mexico (1962) and Buenos Aires, Argentina (1963). Expansion outside the Americas occurred later in 1967 with chapters in France and Italy.
After fits and starts, with modest success across four decades, the association reached a turning point in 2007, with the decision by the ICMA® (Institute of Certified Management Accountants) Board of Regents, and approved by IMA’s Global Board, to translate the CMA exam into Arabic and Simplified Chinese. The decision was prompted by the growing interest in the CMA exam in the Middle East and Asia, and it accelerated the association’s commitment to provide targeted programs and services to members and potential members in these and other regions.
Today, IMA has eight offices outside the U.S.—including locations in Asia/Pacific, the Middle East, Europe, and India—and members from outside the U.S. comprise nearly two-thirds of total membership.
AHEAD OF THE TIMES
Ever since its earliest days as NACA, the organization has embraced the challenges facing the management accounting profession. Nowhere is this more evident than on the subject of ethics. In the first NACA publication, dated December 1919, objective No. 6 of the organization states:
“To project the interest of all members of the Association by the establishment and maintenance of high moral standards within the Association and by aiding in the suppression of all practices which may tend to prejudice the good reputation of the profession of cost accounting.”
Indeed, NACA created a Committee on Ethics as one of its original standing committees in 1919. After only five years, volunteer leaders and staff began discussing the idea of developing a written code of ethics that could be adopted and distributed among all members. Interest in the topic stalled, however, and it wasn’t until 1983 that the committee wrote the first code of ethics for management accountants in the U.S., titled “Standards of Ethical Conduct for Management Accountants.” Since its issuance, this code has been revised, expanded, and updated to reflect changing requirements of both the profession and the association. All members are required to abide by the latest iteration, now known as the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice.
ADVANCING THE PROFESSION
Another original standing committee formed in 1919 was the Committee on Education and Research. In the words of 100 Years and Counting, this committee reflected the association’s commitment “to provide knowledge of existing practices, new approaches, and developing topics that could be used to the benefit of individuals and the organizations that employed them.”
The association’s earliest founders—Nicholson and first staff leader Stuart Cameron McLeod—firmly supported this mission while Raymond Marple, technical activities director and assistant secretary from the 1930s through the 1960s, helped solidify this commitment still further. Under Marple’s direction, the association established its reputation for thought-leadership research throughout the profession.
Over the years, the focus of research has changed, from an emphasis on cost accounting best practices in the mid-1960s to a more conceptual focus through the mid-1980s. In 1986, things shifted yet again, back to more “cutting-edge” research that had useful applications to members. More recent subject areas include business leadership and ethics, strategic cost management, risk management, and technology enablement.
As a membership organization, IMA continues to evolve, realigning priorities, pursuing new opportunities, and discovering emerging challenges. Yet while the future is uncertain, the past remains clear. In words found in the foreword of Proud of the Past, which celebrated IMA’s 75th Anniversary: “[IMA] is resolved to build on the traditions established by the founders. In accepting all challenges encountered by the management accounting profession, it will respond effectively to the legitimate demands of present and future members.”
100 Years and Counting: A History of the Institute of Management Accountants, the comprehensive history of the most influential association of management accountants, is available for download or purchase at https://ima100years.org/book/.