Remembering John C. Burton ’56, PhD ’62

The former dean of the School, who died on May 16, was a member of the Accounting Hall of Fame and an advocate for full transparency in financial reporting.
May 25, 2010
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John C. “Sandy” Burton ’56, PhD ’62, professor emeritus and former dean of the School, died in New York on May 16. He was 77.

“Professor Burton had a powerful impact on the School, actively contributing to the Columbia Business School community over decades, and our thoughts are with his family,” Dean Glenn Hubbard said.

Burton served as the Arthur Young Professor of Accounting and Finance, teaching corporate finance, security analysis and accounting to decades of MBA students. In 1982, he succeeded Boris Yavitz, PhD ’64, as dean, leading the School until 1988. Burton’s time as dean was marked by a robust push to recruit faculty members both junior and senior; his efforts dramatically strengthened scholarship and teaching quality at the School.

A 1956 MBA graduate of the School, Burton went on to complete his PhD at the School in 1962 with the help of a fellowship from the Ford Foundation. He joined the faculty upon receiving his degree.

In the accounting world, Burton was known as an advocate for full transparency in financial reporting. Indeed, his commitment to this area was prescient in light of the Enron scandal of 2001 and the recent financial crisis.

In 1972, Burton was appointed chief accountant of the Securities and Exchange Commission and began work on June 19, 1972 — the day of the Watergate break-in. Under his aegis, the commission made important changes in accounting rules to promote clearer valuations of public companies. Using his broad authority as chief accountant, Burton told accounting firms to take more responsibility for the accuracy of the records they audit and not simply adhere to “generally accepted standards.”

Burton also served as deputy mayor of finance for New York City; a director of Scholastic, Inc., Commerce Clearing House and the Manville Corporation; a trustee of the Tax Foundation; and an adviser to the U.S. Comptroller General. In 1997, Burton was inducted into the Accounting Hall of Fame.

A memorial service will be held at St. Paul’s Chapel at Columbia University on June 17 at 2:30 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that donations be made to the JCB Memorial Fund at Columbia Business School. Contributions may be sent to the attention of Rebekkah Brown (, Columbia Business School, 33 West 60th Street, 7th Floor, New York, NY 10023.

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