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Dr. McFie: One Silver Hair, A Million Pots of Gold

Who is the Legendary Dr. McFie?

“Legendary you say?…

Alright…Okay. So my name is James ‘Jim’ McFie. I almost never use Boyd.

You are regarded as arguably the god-father of Accountancy in Kenya. What is the genesis of your passion for Accountancy?

My mother was a qualified accountant and ever since I was a little boy, I’d get fascinated by her big book-keeping books. I developed an interest and soon after realized it was worthwhile. I actually did my A Levels in Strathmore College in 1963-64 where I got a good background through my beloved subjects; Maths and Physics. I got a scholarship to Oxford University and did my BA in Mathematics. I later did the MA in the same area.  When it became difficult to get a job in that field, I then decided, in (19) 69-70, to study Accounting. I joined Ernst & Young in 1974 as an Audit Junior and worked up my way to become the Training Manager.

That was in 1977 and after four years at the firm, I then decided to go back to teaching accounting subjects at the Strathmore School of Accountancy. When the Strathmore College transitioned into a University, I was sent to do my PhD; that was in 2002. I came back to Strathmore after getting my PhD and I’ve been teaching accounting ever since. One of the greatest things about accounting is the fact that, well, accountants are required in every sector of the economy.

There is an unpopular belief that the accounting market is flooded. How true is this according to you?

As I’ve just told you, accountants are required in every sector of the economy. In every organisation, you need a Finance Department; in a hospital, in a university, in a school…many NGOs. All these are very big employers of accountants, okay? You then have them again in embassies. I have a past student in the Venezuelan Embassy. The American Embassy and IMF employ many of our students. So the fact is, accountants are required right across the whole economic sphere of any society.

The thing is, you’ve got to really prove yourself to any employer. You have to be highly qualified and show them you’re the best. Give them a reason to employ you from a pool of many brilliant graduates. Stand out and be at the very top of the ladder because the competition is really intense. And the first step for me will always be a CPA or an ACCA qualification to complement your undergraduate degree. They’re not time-consuming yet the benefits you reap are incredible. I sit on many boards and I tell you, these are some of the biggest qualifications that set many apart during assessment for employment.

Talking of standing out, every class you teach seems to excel. What’s the secret?

It is not a secret really. I tell you what, it is a culture that we at Strathmore have nurtured and inculcated in our students over the years. What culture, you ask?

Well, many keep saying accounting and finance is tough. I say it is tough because you haven’t been taught by me. Today I was teaching my first year Bachelor of Commerce students and I showed them an excerpt from The Business Daily that shows new job recruitments have been slashed by a staggering 58% in just four months during this COVID – 19 era. The economy itself is already struggling because we have been importing more than we have been exporting; thus the public debt of over one trillion.

Why am I bringing this up? Because what institutions have been teaching young people is straight from the textbook. It’s not practical. We at Strathmore teach what is practical and relevant to the market, because we are and have been practicing professionals and know what the market requires. I start teaching business proposals, business plans and financial projections right from first year. Now tell me, what do you expect of this individual upon graduation?

If you want a superior education, learn from people who have experience from having worked out there in the field.

Who would you say is your best past student?

Oh I can’t really say I have a favourite. I mean with all respect accorded, I have come across brilliant, brilliant minds. The likes of Oscar Onyango, a CFO of a company in the Silicon Valley, Nancy Kiriira, a CFO at an insurance company in Los Angeles, Petronilah Muriuki, an Executive Coach in Johannesburg, Risper Genga, a Finance Director at East Africa Breweries, James Mwangi, CEO of Equity Bank, James Mworia, Stephanie Mwangi, Joshua Oigara… The list could go on and on. All these are smart and successful people and I’m certain more are to come. I’m immensely proud of them.

You are quite compassionate about assisting the less privileged in society. Tell us about your scholarship foundation.

The interesting thing about this foundation is that Lilian Munene, who’s since left Strathmore, together with Prof. Izael Da Silva saw the need to help me start this foundation after I ran into debt with the University while trying to support a number of students financially. The idea behind the foundation was to primarily help CPA and accounting students because the fees are reasonable and these students can be financed much more easily than the degree students. So I just do what I can in my capacity.

On a very light note, could you kindly tell us about your “love affair” with the stray cats on campus?

When you see the beauty of this animal, you truly see God’s perfection in creation. When you see these cats walking, oooh it’s a sterling perfection. Majestic! It’s mind-blowing how they can just balance on the smallest of slabs as though they’re just taunting you with their ability.

I don’t even know how many they are. These two are siblings but they are not mine. They just follow me because I feed them. And no, I haven’t named them, I just call both of them pussycat.

From recycling printing paper to preserving water and electricity, and mostly gardening. What do you try to achieve with all these?

I’d always been in interested in planting trees but I became a disciple of Wangari Maathai right after she planted a tree just outside our auditorium. I met her in 1974 while I was auditing Kenya Re Insurance Corporation. What we don’t realise is in fact that trees are essential in cleaning our air and reducing global warming. What I am trying to do is play my little part to improve the environment for the people around me. See, the beauty is that if you really give your best as an individual; you can actually do much more than committees.

Planting trees and gardening is also very therapeutic for me, an escape from work and any form of stress. You’ll find me in shorts because it’s a form of exercise for me. That’s how seriously I take it. I love it!

Parting shot for us, Dr. McFie.

If you want to succeed, work at being the best version of yourself through constantly improving, working smarter than yesterday, and recognizing that there will always be people who can be better than you, so don’t stop. That right there is excellence.


This article was written by Francis Kabutu.


Would you like to share your experience of living through the circumstances brought by the Covid-19 pandemic? Kindly email: communications@strathmore.edu