By Jennifer Boscia-Smith
David Pfeil, BA ’72, BS ’72, came to UB in the fall of 1967, eager to pursue a political science degree. It was an era of political unrest in the United States, and after a paper he wrote received a failing grade, Pfeil says he “dropped political science as a major so fast that it never appeared on my transcript.”
Moving on to history, and then economics, the Western New York native pursued his education at UB while also working 32 hours a week as a desk clerk at the Holiday Inn near the Buffalo Niagara International Airport. A chance encounter before his senior year with some accountants from Arthur Andersen who were staying at the hotel led to a visit to the firm’s Rochester office and a new direction for Pfeil—he was going to major in accounting.
He had two semesters left to pull it off—needing 28 hours of accounting classes on top of 15 more hours to complete his economics requirements. Staring down the prospect of 46 credit hours in his senior year, plus his full-time job, Pfeil turned to his secret weapon: his friend, Kenneth Colwell, BA ’71, BS ’72.
“If it hadn’t been for Ken, Dean Tesluk would still be trying to figure out how to get someone in his 47th year as a senior to graduate from the University at Buffalo,” quips Pfeil. “Ken helped me understand accounting principles, assisted me with homework and prepped me for exams. To this day, Ken doesn’t really understand what he did for me.”
He understands a little more now.
In September, nearly 50 years after the pair graduated from the UB School of Management, Pfeil made a surprise contribution in honor of his lifelong friend, making a gift to UB to endow the Kenneth W. Colwell Chair in Accounting and Law. The $1.5 million gift is one of the largest cash gifts in school history.
“I was honored to learn that because of our friendship, David had named this prestigious endowment after me,” Colwell says. “It is an especially important honor as it is the first endowed chair in the Department of Accounting and Law. Our friendship has been one of helping each other through our lives and careers since the day we met at UB.”
The gift, which will support a faculty position, will enable UB to recruit a senior-level scholar to teach while also expanding the department’s research expertise in cutting-edge areas like artificial intelligence and data analytics, and growing the department’s industry partnerships and relationships (see sidebar).
“Ken’s advice never stopped,” says Pfeil. Colwell and Pfeil both joined Ernst & Ernst (now EY) after graduation and eventually made partner, Pfeil in Dallas and Colwell in Buffalo. “Ken moved on to the nursing home industry and I moved on to a health care consulting firm, but in those 25 years in the consulting field, I could always talk to him. He would always listen.”
Colwell’s influence on the Pfeil family now extends to David’s two sons, who have also benefited from his business acumen and guidance over the years.
“Friends help each other out,” Colwell said at the celebration announcing the creation of the endowed fund. “That’s all it was for me. We’ve been great friends for a lot of years. Our families have been together for a lot of years.”
“David’s gift, in honor of Ken, is a fitting testament to the power of the friendships formed by UB students,” says Paul Tesluk, dean of the School of Management. “We are enormously grateful for David’s generosity, and Ken’s generosity of spirit that led to this transformative gift for our school.”
The Kenneth W. Colwell Chair in Accounting and Law is nothing short of a game-changer for the School of Management’s Accounting and Law Department.
“Simply put, David’s gift is historic,” says Feng Gu, professor and department chair. “Adding an endowed chair position will lift our profile and be a clear signal to the business and business-school communities of the high-quality education we provide.”
Throughout its history, the School of Management accounting program has cultivated an impressive reputation for student success and innovative faculty research—and Pfeil’s gift stands to elevate it to new heights. The program is one of only 188 accounting programs worldwide to earn accreditation by AACSB International. Moreover, its internal audit track is one of just 33 programs globally endorsed by the Institute of Internal Auditors, and UB graduates’ CPA exam pass rates consistently rank No. 1 among large schools in New York State.
“Our program already has a well-known, well-deserved reputation,” Gu says. “For our alumni, this endowed chair position will only increase the value of your degrees.”
The gift will enable the School of Management to recruit a senior-level scholar to teach students, lead curricular innovation, expand the department’s industry relationships and conduct research with national and international impact.
“When this position is filled with a top-notch accounting research and education leader, our students, alumni and other stakeholders will see and feel the impact in the quality of our program and the caliber of our research,” Gu says. “It also opens the door for other named gifts and scholarships, and to recruit talented faculty and students to UB to build on our past success.”