David Frederick Hawkins

December 13, 1933November 5, 2020

David Frederick Hawkins, 86, a professor emeritus at the Harvard Business School and a former competitive swimmer in the Olympic Games for Australia, passed away on November 5, 2020 in Boston, MA.

Born on December 13, 1933 in Manly, New South Wales, Australia, David was the only son of Heather Ruby Adelia Baird and Gordon Frederick Hawkins.

David was invited to attend the elite North Sydney Boys High School, where he excelled in studies and athletics, enjoying the aquatic lifestyle of swimming and surfing around the pristine beaches and rock pools of Manly. From a young age, David was guided by his much-admired grandfather, Edwin Harrison Baird, affectionately known as “Pal”, who encouraged him to take his swimming talents in a competitive direction. After winning numerous State and National swimming titles, he was invited to train at the Palm Beach Swim Club under the tutelage of legendary coaches Forbes Carlile and Professor Frank Cotton. Carlile and Cotton had set up Australia’s first Sports Science lab, where David and his fellow “guinea pigs” were early adopters of the elite athlete training methods and swimming techniques that would later come to revolutionize and define modern competitive swimming.

At 16, David made his debut on the international swimming stage, representing Australia at the 1950 British Empire Games (now Commonwealth Games) in Auckland, where he became the youngest swimmer in Games’ history to win a gold medal in a breaststroke event. After two Australian Swimming Championships wins, he was invited to compete at the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Despite swimming the fastest breaststroke time of his career, he just missed qualifying for the final. David’s experience in Helsinki afforded him the opportunity to pursue the larger goal in his “grand design” of furthering his education at an American university. He oft-quoted the advice given to him by a high school sports master, “David, you can’t eat gold medals”, in realizing that swimming was a means to other ends.

David enrolled at Harvard College in 1952 and became the first freshman to hold a national title by winning two National AAU championships. At the time first-year students were technically ineligible for varsity competition, but David became the first Harvard athlete to earn four swimming letters, as the College took an unprecedented vote and awarded him a Major H as a freshman. That year, David also was named winner of the Frank Scott Gerrish Scholarship, awarded to the outstanding member of the freshmen class, for his athletic prowess and scholastic attainment.

As a sophomore, David captured two more NCAA titles in butterfly events. He set a world record in the 220-yard breaststroke, and continued to break numerous Crimson, AAU, and NCAA records over the next two years. In 1954, swimming for Australia in the British Empire and Commonwealth Games, David earned two gold medals for swimming the breaststroke leg of the winning 3x110-yard medley relay and the freestyle leg of the winning 4x220-yard freestyle relay. Having aspired to be a freestyler, David felt his swimming goals had finally been realized. He officially retired from world-class competition, though continued to swim for Harvard in dual meets. In 1980, David was inducted into the Harvard Varsity Club Swimming Hall of Fame and, in 2010, was awarded an Australian Sports Medal by the Commonwealth of Australia for his swimming achievements.

In 1956, David graduated from Harvard College with honors, and went on to the Harvard Business School, where he received an MBA degree with distinction in 1958 and was awarded a DBA in 1962. David joined the HBS faculty as an Assistant Professor in the Accounting Unit, specializing in the field of financial reporting and analysis and, in 1970, was promoted to full professor with tenure. David was awarded a faculty chair, becoming the fourth Lovett-Learned Professor of Business Administration. This honor was particularly meaningful for David, who had the opportunity early in his career to work with all three previous incumbents of the Lovett-Learned chair: John D. Glover, Walter F. Frese, and Richard F. Vancil. “Jack taught me casewriting and course development, Walt stimulated my interest in financial reporting, and Dick got me to use numbers creatively, so all three of these men have been great mentors to me,” said David.

Over his HBS tenure, David taught introductory and advanced courses in global and domestic financial reporting and control. His research interests included the formulation of corporate financial reporting strategies, the role of earnings quality in equity security valuations, the harmonization of global financial reporting standards, and the management of corporations during periods of high inflation. He authored over 200 HBS cases and teaching materials, and published numerous textbooks, accounting bulletins, and academic articles directed at corporate managers, accounting standard setters, and institutional investors. David’s seminal corporate financial reporting textbook is still widely used across universities today.

As a professor, an author, a leading accounting expert, and a pioneer of the HBS case method, he influenced generations of scholars and practitioners through his global research, course development, and teaching. Over his dedicated 55-year Harvard career, David taught more than 25,000 students in the classroom. He was widely respected by students and faculty alike for the energy, discipline, and creativity he brought to his work. One memorable MBA section paid tribute to his inimitable style by declaring an official “Hawkins Look-alike Day”, with 95 students dressing in their best versions of the Professor’s “uniform”: white button-down all cotton shirt, burgundy or yellow English print foulard tie, khakis, penny loafers, and navy blazer. With his aphoristic wit and classroom theatrics, he leavened even the most complex course material, often through his spontaneous hurdling of chalk at the blackboard that would, often, accurately hit the point he was driving home.

In addition to his work at HBS, David was the Accounting Consultant at Drexel Burnham Lambert from 1972-1990 and at Merrill Lynch from 1990-2003. During this time, David was consistently named number one or number two on the Institutional Investor’s All American Research Team in the accounting category. He was also a member of the Financial Accounting Standards Board Advisory Committee and several FASB Task Forces.

In 1979, David met his wife Barbara, beginning what became both a beautiful life partnership and a fruitful professional one. They formed Aerion Resources Corporation and, as a team, provided accounting and financial consulting to a number of major Fortune 100 companies, as well as serving as expert witnesses in a number of historic corporate accounting cases, over the next three decades. In 2015, David retired from the active HBS faculty as the Lovett-Learned Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus.

Happiest by the water, he spent countless summers on Cape Cod with his family, where they enjoyed fishing expeditions, sailing races, and catching crabs and digging for clams. Busy days were followed by relaxed evenings on the veranda overlooking Buzzards Bay sunsets with freshly cracked oysters and a game of dominoes. David loved teaching his children and passing

down to the next generation of grandchildren the tricks of these trades. David was an avid fisherman, a passion he developed through his children’s shared love of the sport. He reveled in the endless excitement and challenge of tracking down a school of elusive false albacore and the ensuing camaraderie among his “first mates” after successfully arriving home with the day’s big catch.

David was an active member of The Country Club in Brookline, MA, where he enthusiastically partook in tennis, paddle, and social events with Barbara. He pursued a life-long love of golf, the skills of which somewhat eluded him but for which he never gave up on the desire to improve. David was also a member of the Porcellian Club at Harvard College. David was a voracious reader, consuming multiple books a week, and developed an encyclopedic knowledge of his hero Winston Churchill and the history of modern wars. He was a dynamic story-teller regaling friends and family with tales from a life rich with experiences. He could be counted on to interject a clever off-hand remark capable of sending the room into delighted roars of laughter. David had charisma in abundance and a gentle warmth, and approached each day with gratitude and an enviable joie de vivre. The greatest pleasure he said he took in life was in that of having a loving family.

David is survived by his beloved wife Barbara of 38 years and their two daughters, Whitney and husband Michael, and Lauren. From a previous marriage, David is survived by his children Phillip and wife Nikki; John and wife Cathy; Peter; Andrew; Katherine and husband Richard; Matthew and wife Risa; Thomas and wife Jennifer; and was predeceased by his son Richard and was a proud “Grandad” to 25 grandchildren and 5 great-grandchildren.

A memorial service to celebrate David will be held on December 4, 2020 to a limited group of family and friends due to health and safety protocols. The service will be available to view live online through request.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to support the Dr. James Kirshenbaum Academic Fund at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Memorial gifts can be made online at or checks can be made payable to Brigham and Women's Hospital with “in memory of David Hawkins” in the memo line and sent to: Brigham and Women's Hospital, Development Office, 116 Huntington Ave., 3rd floor, Boston, MA 02116. Alternatively, donations can be made to support the David and Barbara Hawkins Swimming and Diving at Harvard College. Gifts should reference the Fund and may be sent to: President and Fellows of Harvard College, PO Box 419209, Boston, MA 02241-9209.


David Frederick Hawkins

have a memory or condolence to add?

Christian Slavin

December 8, 2020

Prof Hawkins. You were a favorite professor among first year at HBS. You had an amazing talent for using stories to liven a potentially dull topic.
You were cutting with your satire.

Larry Concannon

December 8, 2020

HBS 1985 Section I sends their condolences. We had "the Hawk" in the fall of 1983, our first year at HBS. He made Finance fun.

It was the time of the America's Cup with the US vs Australia in the finals, held in Newport RI. The American team went up 3-1 and our class was eagerly anticipating a win. After each of the next three races, Professor Hawkins would walk in and update the race: 3-2; 3-3; 3-4; on the chalkboard without saying a word. Later that night one of our classmates (Jonathan C) ran the Australian flag up the flagpole in front of Baker Library.

We noticed that Professor Hawkins usually wore khaki pants, a white dress shirt and a red tie. Just about every day. Towards the end of the semester, Professor Hawkins walked into the Aldrich 007 classroom, went to the desk, and looked up to see 90 students all dressed in khaki pants, white dress shirts and red ties. The classroom is a horseshoe shaped amphitheater so it is a rather formidable site. He just smiled and said "very nice, well played"...

He had a positive impact on each and every one of us. A long life, well lived. RIP

Ann Kelly Zalla MBA 1992

December 8, 2020

My condolences to the family. Professor Hawkins was a very memorable teacher who made financial accounting accessible for those of us without a business background. I will remember his humor, enthusiasm, and sage advice to "never trust an EPS" or a pretty annual report cover.

Christian Slavin

December 6, 2020

God bless prof hawking. He elevated our understanding and made us understand how important it was to look behind the numbers to find truth. My most memorable prof. at HBS. God speed

Kathleen Ryan

November 30, 2020

I worked with Professor Hawkins for all of my 25 years at Harvard Business School. He was always such a kind and caring person – a true joy to deal with. As a part of the Baker Library Faculty Research Department I dealt with Professor Hawkins on a regular basis. His requests for information were always accompanied by wonderful chats on everything from current events to vacations to family. He was one of the greats of HBS.

My sincere condolences to the entire family.

All the best - Kathleen Ryan