Bianca de Loryn
College of Business, Law and Governance
11 November 2022
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A wake-up call
When 65-year-old Richard Lane saw his mother losing all her memories due to Alzheimer’s, he realised that only lifelong learning could save him from a similar fate. Now Richard is 83 years old, a professional accountant with an MBA and a PhD under his belt, but also an accomplished artist and a radio announcer in his own right.
“My mother was somebody who wanted to achieve,” Dr Richard Lane says. When his father left the family after World War II, leaving Richard, his brother, sister, and his mother to fend for themselves, he remembered her first scrubbing floors, then becoming a dressmaker, a bookkeeper and finally, an artist. “While she was doing some secretarial or bookkeeping work, she was also spending time at the National Art School in Sydney, learning to make pottery. She was definitely an achiever,” Richard says.
However, when Richard was 65, Alzheimer’s caused his mother to no longer recognise him. “That was probably the biggest shock I've ever had in my life, that my mother didn't recognize me,” Richard says. At the time, Richard was a successful accountant with decades of experience, an accomplished artist specialising in watercolours and pottery and a longstanding local radio announcer. However, his mother’s decline was a wakeup call for Richard.
Going back to uni in his 60s
Richard decided to postpone retirement and take his fate in his own hand. He chose to do an Master of Business Administration (MBA) at JCU, to round off his accounting skills. “So, I went back to JCU and said, 'look, I'm 65, am I too old to do an MBA?' and they said, 'No. It'll take you three or four years.’ But I dug into it, and I finished it in 16 or 18 months.”
Even though Richard was the most mature student in his class, there were other mature MBA students as well. “There was only one student that was straight out of a bachelor’s degree, he was about 22 or 23,” he says. “But there were also a lot of students in their 40s and 50s that had come back to uni, just like me.”
Fraud in the US-banking sector
An important part of the Master of Business Administration (MBA) is working on either a research project, or a in a professional internship. Since Richard had a lifetime of professional experience already, he chose to do a research project.
“I researched fraud in American companies after the fraudulent collapse of Enron (an energy company) in 2001. I worked about six months on that, and I got the equivalent of two subject credits for doing that,” he says.
To Richard’s surprise, his professor suggested they should publish his research . “He said, 'you'll be the lead author, and I'll be a co-author',” Richard says.
“The research paper won an award from the publisher, which was nice, because I've always been interested in why companies go bankrupt.”
From student to lecturer at JCU
Almost instantly after finishing his MBA, Richard was invited to become a lecturer at JCU. JCU was in the process of setting up a new auditing subject, and as Richard has previously worked as a qualified tax auditor in New South Wales, he was asked to teach it.
Richard was also asked to develop the curriculum for the new subject himself. But he did not want to do it alone. From his time as a practising accountant, Richard knew a senior partner of PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) and decided to discuss the proposed subject with him.
“I sat down with him and said, 'here is a book I've chosen that covers everything in auditing. But you can't cover everything in auditing in a three-hour lecture once a week',” Richard says. “So, we went through every chapter to identify which ones were important from his point of view. After all, he was the head of a very experienced team. That's how I drew up the course.”
Researching company collapses in Australia
Even while teaching accounting and auditing at JCU, Richard never lost interest in research, and especially in fraudulent company collapses. “I was keen to find out what was happing in Australia. In the 1960s, when I was studying accounting, a whole lot of companies failed,” he says.
Richard says that Australian companies in the 1960s collapsed for various reasons, and he knew that these collapses were still happening in the financial crises of 2000 and 2008, as if few or no lessons had been learned from the 1960s.
When his professor asked him if he’d like to do a PhD, Richard knew he wanted to examine the unexpected corporate failures across 50 years in Australia and see if there is a commonality of causes.
The future: From accounting to conflict management
During his MBA studies, Richard also discovered his interest in conflict management issues. He didn’t cover this aspect in his PhD thesis, so he finished a Graduate Certificate in Conflict Management and Resolution as a next step after his PhD.
Richard is currently working on a research paper as a JCU adjunct. “The paper is about the Adani mine conflict,” he says. “I'm interested in learning more about issues now than when I was in accounting, actually."
"Lifelong learning matters to me, and I will never get tired of encouraging people to become lifelong learners themselves,” Richard says. "During my learning journey I've had wonderful support from my wife, Jenny. We recently celebrated our forty-fifth wedding anniversary as well."