Dennis Chookaszian, ’68, has been impressed with the quality and importance of Chicago Booth’s Accounting Research Center (ARC) and the journal it publishes since his days as a Booth student. As a business leader and corporate governance expert, he has been actively involved in the process of setting accounting standards and is a firm believer in accounting standards that create transparency and integrity.
To permanently secure ARC’s future at the school, Chookaszian and his wife, Karen, have made an $8 million gift to the center, which will now be called the Chookaszian Accounting Research Center.
“Throughout the years, ARC has done a great job of promoting accounting transparency and developing thought leadership in accounting,” Chookaszian said. “The Journal of Accounting Research, (published by ARC) is the most prestigious journal in the profession. Supporting the center with an endowment is our way of ensuring that ARC is able to continue its good work.”
“Dennis has been a dedicated alumnus and enthusiastic supporter of the school on so many levels: as a Council member, philanthropist, and faculty member,” said Madhav Rajan, Chicago Booth Dean and George Pratt Shultz Professor of Accounting. “We are so grateful to Dennis and Karen for their latest generous commitment to the school, which will permanently sustain the important work of the Accounting Research Center.”
The ARC and the Journal of Accounting Research have long played central roles in establishing and maintaining Chicago Booth’s worldwide academic leadership in the field of accounting research. Increasingly in recent years, the ARC has also come to play a central role in supporting the Booth accounting faculty and its PhD students in their research efforts, according to Philip G. Berger, ARC Executive Director and Wallman Family Professor of Accounting. As accounting research has continued to become more interdisciplinary and also more international, ARC has expanded its conference support beyond the annual Journal of Accounting Research Conference to now also include the Global Issues in Accounting Conference, the Biennial Theory Conference, and occasional special conferences.
“For all of these current endeavors as well as new initiatives to enhance ARC’s impact, the extremely generous gift from Dennis and Karen Chookaszian provides indispensable support,” Berger said.
Chookaszian always enjoyed math and science and earned his undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from Northwestern University. As the first in his family to attend college, Chookaszian was intent on furthering his education. He went on to earn an MBA from Booth and an MS in economics from the London School of Economics.
“Although my career has been focused on business, I’ve never regretted getting an engineering degree. I use my engineering education, which taught me how to think analytically, every day in both business and personal matters,” he said. “I chose Booth for my MBA because I wanted to study finance and accounting, and the school was very highly rated. Many of the luminaries in finance and accounting were teaching at Booth at that time, and I was able to take classes from a number of future Nobel laureates, including Milton Friedman, Gene Fama, Merton Miller, George Stigler, and Ronald Coase.”
After receiving his MBA, Chookaszian began his career at Deloitte and worked as a management consultant for eight years. He joined CNA Insurance in 1975 and served as CFO for 15 years, added CIO duties, and eventually served as chairman, president, and CEO for nine years. He also served on the board of directors as chairman of the executive committee for three years after his retirement.
Chookaszian then struck out on a new path for the next phase of his career and became the CEO of an internet startup, mPower, the first electronic advisor for managing retirement funds. He also served for five years as chairman of the Financial Accounting Standards Advisory Council (FASAC), which advises the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) on its agenda.
A teacher for more than 40 years, Chookaszian serves as an adjunct professor at Chicago Booth, where he has taught corporate governance for the past five years, and was quickly able to make the transition to online classes during COVID . He also teaches courses in corporate governance at two universities in China, Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business and Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance. He also taught for 10 years in India at IIPM, the Indian Institute of Planning and Management, and developed the Finance and Accounting for Non-Financial Executives course for the American Management Association.
“I really enjoy teaching,” he said. “I’m continuing to create new courses based on the latest governance developments. At Booth, I developed the corporate governance course on the practical aspects of running a business, and it’s evolved over the years. I enjoy incorporating new material such as blockchain, cryptocurrencies, autonomous vehicles, the sharing economy, cybersecurity, and internet marketing.”
He has continued to expand his board service. In the course of his career, Chookaszian has served as a director of 13 publicly traded corporations, 70 private companies, and 15 nonprofit organizations. He is also a lifetime member of the Chicago Booth Council.
“I knew that once I left CNA, my career was going to be a combination of board service and teaching,” he said. “I have enjoyed helping a variety of companies in diverse industries to develop and implement their strategic plans.”
Chookaszian has a reputation for coming up with new and creative ideas. He is an investor and entrepreneur, frequently partnering with his three adult children on a variety of projects. His investments have included building the first Wrigley Field rooftop venue in Chicago; a hotel in Aspen, Colorado; and 12 restaurants in the Chicago area, which he has had to adapt to Illinois’s strict closure and occupancy limits during the pandemic.
But it’s not all work for Chookaszian; his home is filled with toys. He has an elaborate model train set from his childhood and a fireman’s pole—which he urges guests to try—running between three floors of his home. He also has a collection of vintage cars, which he drives regularly on his commutes into the city.
“My focus is on strategic thinking and how to apply it to the development of organizations,” he said. “And I really like to have fun, whether it’s working with my children on a business project, taking my grandchildren on a mystery vacation, or bringing boards and my Booth class out to our hotel in Colorado.”
Chookaszian counts philanthropy among his top priorities, as he and Karen decide where their investments will go furthest—most often with a focus on education.
“We invest in education because we want to give back to the institutions that helped me build my career and it is an area where we can really make a difference,” he said. “I am grateful to Booth for helping me learn how to be a creative thinker. As a student at Booth, I was able to explore many ideas and consider whether I agreed or disagreed with them. It’s a place where I was constantly challenged and I’m happy to give back to assist others in having the same experiences.”