Western alum Dr. Paul Gillis is back on campus after a 40-year hiatus, revisiting his old stomping grounds and reconnecting with the community that nurtured him as an undergrad. But this time around he’s facing the other side of the classroom.
Gillis is serving Western as a visiting professor in Accounting. He’s currently on sabbatical from his regular professorship at the Guanghua School of Management at the University of Peking in China, one of the top universities in the country, and arguably the world.
“I was due for a sabbatical,” Gillis explains. “And I thought Western offered an interesting challenge. I teach in the International MBA (IMBA) program in China, so it’s nice to be back to an undergraduate institution — and live through another Gunnison winter.”
Besides teaching accounting courses, Gillis is leading the Voluntary Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program. He says working with undergraduate students in America is a unique experience after his years as a professor in China.
“American students are more outgoing than Chinese, who tend to be more reserved,” Gillis observes. “Also, working with undergrads is a different teaching game; you have to be more hands-on, so I’ve had to adjust my teaching style.”
After many years abroad Gillis says that little has changed in Gunnison and that Western has maintained is strengths through the years since he was a student here.
Besides teaching Intermediate Accounting and a capstone course in accounting ethics, he’s also leading a class entitled “Doing Business in China,” where students not only learn to navigate various aspects of business in China, they are also creating marketing plans for locally-based businesses Irwin Guides and Eleven Experience to help increase Chinese tourism in the Gunnison Valley.
Dr. Pete Sherman, Dean of Western’s School of Business, observes that in his ability to lead practical courses such as these, Gillis shares a unique skill set with Western students.
“Dr. Gillis brings a vast knowledge of international business to Western. His experience as a senior partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers allowed him to advise corporations all over Asia,” observes Sherman. “Having Paul at Western allows our students to learn from one of the most respected experts in international business and be exposed to opportunities they had not previously considered.”
After completing a double major in Accounting and Business Administration at Western in 1975 Gillis received his master’s at Colorado State University. Once his education was complete — for the time being, at least — Gillis landed a job with PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC).
He was first sent to China nearly two decades ago by PwC due to his experience in international business. He says he jumped on the opportunity to go to China. His stay was only supposed to last three years, “but I’m still there,” he says.
Gillis retired from PwC after a 28-year career at age 50. He toyed with the idea of becoming a pro golfer, but decided on a more intellectually stimulating path. He completed his Ph.D. at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney, Australia.
Naturally, his doctoral thesis focused on the development of the accounting profession in China. Gillis’ professional and academic area of expertise is securities regulations, and his thesis correctly predicted that regulatory gaps would lead to corruption within the country. No sooner than he published his thesis, accounting fraud began to show up in China.
Due to his ability to see the accounting issues in China from all sides, and his prominence as an expert in his field, Gillis was hired to help develop and serves as the co-director of the IMBA program at Peking University.
He is often quoted by international press, including the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and China Radio International. He says he’s given “a lot of academic freedom” in China, where he’s encouraged to vocalize issues with the media.
“What I’ve learned is there are limits on what I can do,” Gillis observes. “The basic way to stay out of trouble is don’t attack people, don’t challenge the legitimacy of the party, but in terms of policy, I criticize policy all day long, and I’ve been told that’s my job.”
Gillis will teach at Western through the Spring Semester and will return to his professorship at the Guanghua School of Management in the fall. Read Gillis's blog at www.chinaaccountingblog.com.
Written by Laura Anderson, University Communications.