An Academic Entrepreneur

Dennis Chambers

Much to his surprise, Dennis Chambers ’77 decided to study business at Westmont. “I just understood economics,” he said. “It seemed interesting to me.” He learned he liked teaching as well when he worked as a teaching assistant for Professor Ira Rapson. Today he combines these interests by teaching accounting at the University of Kentucky.

After graduating from Westmont, Dennis started a doctoral program in economics. But he found he wasn’t prepared for the level of math required and decided to leave.

Instead, he and his sister became partners in a business they learned from their parents: managing apartments and homes and selling investment real estate in Southern California. Eventually the firm moved into managing condominium associations.

“Building a business is fun, and I enjoyed getting new clients,” he says. “But after a while, it became tedious. I got bored.” He surprised his sister when he wanted to sell his share of the business after 11 years. “It was like a divorce she didn’t want; it took us six months to make the transition,” he notes.

Dennis returned to school and earned an M.B.A. with an emphasis in accounting from UC Irvine. He had such a good time being a student, he applied to doctoral programs in accounting and enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin at the age of 35. After earning his degree, he taught at the University of Illinois in Champaign for seven years before going to the University of Kentucky.

“Academic life is very entrepreneurial,” Dennis says. “I get to choose the topics I research and discuss in class. “Like entrepreneurs, academics are evaluated on output — the quality of their research and teaching — not on inputs like the number of hours they work.”

Accountants transmit information, and Dennis studies how effectively they do their job. Is their data useful and easily understood? Does it affect stock prices? He’s interested in market efficiency and how well markets incorporate information available to the public.

Of course, some companies have manipulated data fraudulently to influence their stock prices. Dennis recognizes the need for some regulation to prevent future fraud. “Required company financial statements have actually strengthened the market by providing useful information to the public,” he notes.

Dennis has never forgotten a chapel talk by President David Winter encouraging students to prepare for lay leadership in their churches. He took these words seriously and accepted leadership positions in several congregations. But when he and his wife, Beth, joined a large church in Kentucky, they did something different. “Our ministry is cleaning the staff offices every month,” he explains. “It’s very anonymous, and we’re enjoying that kind of service.”

Dennis and Beth live on a large lot in Lexington with a small creek and lots of wildlife. Avid sports fans, they follow college women’s volleyball and basketball teams. They also enjoy bird-watching and hiking.

Looking back, Dennis is thankful he changed careers. “The worst day here is better than the best day of management,” he says. He tells students not to worry about choosing the right career as people change both jobs and careers. “Career decisions by students don’t necessarily determine their future,” he says.

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