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Sir Walter Scott (1903–1981)

by C. B. Schedvin

This article was published:

Sir Walter Scott (1903-1981), accountant and management consultant, was born on 10 November 1903 in Perth, second of three children of Victorian-born parents Alexander Scott, billiard marker, and his wife Selina, née Jenkins.  His family, which lived in modest circumstances in Leederville, was devoutly Presbyterian and Walter remained an active church member (later with the Uniting Church).  His father and his elder brother both died of tuberculosis in 1912.  Walter was educated at Perth Modern School, where he showed mathematical ability.  Needing to provide financial support for his mother and younger brother, he studied accounting at night.  His first employment as a trainee accountant was in the timber industry at Kulin, south-east of Perth.  After a year he returned to Perth, in the same industry; its often haphazard approach to accounting shaped his commitment to improving financial practices.

On 19 September 1931 at West Leederville Presbyterian Church Scott married Dorothy Ada Cecelia Ransom, a book-keeper.  Two years later the couple moved to Melbourne, a courageous decision during the Depression, but the financial stringency of the time presented the disciplined accountant with an opportunity.  In 1935 Scott developed a comprehensive paper entitled 'Managerial Sawmill Accounting' that advocated a 'progressive movement' to rectify shortcomings.  Subsequently he was invited by Queensland Forests Ltd and Queensland Timber Millers Ltd to develop a costing system for one of their sawmills near Innisfail, North Queensland; his detailed 'Harvesting and Marketing Report' led to basic reforms in purchasing and stock-control policy.

Scott’s work for the timber industry and recommendations for change provided a basis for a broad approach to the emerging discipline of cost accounting, which he eventually applied across many industries.  He advocated that it was not sufficient simply to identify costs along a production chain.  The management practices that fed directly into the cost regime required most attention.  Cost accounting was incorporated into Australian management practice, later becoming known as managerial accounting.  The Scott family moved to Sydney in 1936 and within two years he had established a cost-accounting consultancy, W. D. Scott & Co. Pty Ltd.  The 'D' in the company’s title came from his wife’s first given name.  Dorothy was essential to the enterprise, combining her book-keeping expertise with typing Walter’s dictation.

The practice remained small because of the onset of World War II; Scott undertook cost-accounting assignments for the Commonwealth government until 1945.  He worked with (Sir) Edwin Nixon, director of finance, Department of Munitions; Scott’s primary task was to assess munitions production costs in a regime that was based largely on cost-plus principles.  Subsequently he was appointed finance member and deputy-chairman of the New South Wales board of area management, Department of Munitions, a responsibility that brought him into close contact with (Sir) Essington Lewis, director-general of munitions, and (Sir) John Jensen, secretary of the department.  In 1943 Lewis persuaded Scott to join the Secondary Industries Commission, an advisory body established to prepare manufacturing industry for the changeover from war to peace.  Much of this work involved financial aspects of the transfer of factories, many in regional areas, from public to private usage.  Wartime involvement greatly increased the range of Scott’s experience, and established his reputation as a first-class finance professional.

After the war Scott returned to building and expanding W. D. Scott & Co., which became Australia’s first management consultancy.  He added industrial engineering to the company’s capabilities in 1945 and steadily introduced new services over subsequent decades:  personnel selection, economic advice, market research, top-management organisational studies, information technology, operations-research modelling, strategic planning and multi-disciplinary strategic studies for both public and private sectors.  By the mid-1960s it had pioneered the role of management consulting in Australia to the point where it employed over one hundred professionals.  Increasingly the firm accepted clients from developing countries, often via international aid projects.  Conducting more than 250 aid projects and undertaking assignments in over fifty countries, it became the first Australian consultancy with wide international reach.  The company adapted readily to change in the Australian economy and established, for example, an economic forecasting service.  It opened advisory services for the mining industry during its rapid growth in the 1960s and 1970s and offered export-market development services from 1960.

Scott became prominent as a leading business authority.  Among his personal friends he included (Sir) James Kirby, (Sir) Robert Webster and (Sir) William Pettingell.  A leading force in promoting the professional place of management in business, Scott was one of the founders of the Australian Institute of Management (chairman 1953-56) and the inaugural winner (1962) of the Sir John Storey medal.  He emerged as a leader in the International Congress of Scientific Management (CIOS), and helped to bring the world management congress to Australia in 1960; he became the world president.  In 1966 he received the CIOS gold medal.  Chancellor (1969-75) of the International Academy of Management, he brought a range of management leaders from overseas, including Peter Drucker and Joseph Juran, to conduct executive development programs in Australia.

In 1959 Scott was appointed chairman of the Commonwealth Decimal Currency Committee, established to advise on the feasibility of decimal currency, and in 1963 he became chairman of the Decimal Currency Board, which was to plan and oversee full decimal implementation in 1966.  Appearing regularly on national television, Scott simply and directly offered reassurance about the technicalities of the change.  His assistance was also sought across the political spectrum, including as a member (1954-56) of the royal commission on the Collinsville colliery disaster, president (later patron) of the Australian Organisation for Quality Control, and chairman of the Industrial Design Council of Australia (1961-66), of the New South Wales Productivity Council (1964-68), of a committee investigating class sizes and teaching loads for the New South Wales Department of Education (1969), and of the Commonwealth committee of inquiry into procurement policy (1973-74).  After resigning as managing director of W. D. Scott & Co. in 1974 in favour of his son Brian, he became group chairman.

Scott’s first book was Business Budgeting and Budgetary Control (1939), which built on the principles developed in the sawmill treatise and other consulting work.  He drew substantially on international best practice in budgetary management.  His second, The Principles and Practice of Cost Accounting (1944), had its origin in a postgraduate course in cost accounting delivered in Sydney in 1939-41 for the Commonwealth Institute of Accountants.  This book, revised and updated through a number of editions, was the standard text on the subject for almost thirty years.

Two other books followed on ever-broadening management themes.  Greater Production: Its Problems and Possibilities (1950) responded to postwar shortages of labour and materials and emphasised the importance of the human dimension and labour relations in the achievement of greater production.  In 1957 Scott wrote Australia and the Challenge of Change, a broad essay on the 'second industrial revolution' and its possible effects on Australia.  He highlighted the potential of mass production, electronics, automation and operations research to improve economic efficiency.   However, the literary association of his name could create some confusion:  on meeting Walter Scott, one young lady remarked that she had read all his novels.

Scott was a quietly disciplined, even courtly, figure of strength and innovative thought.  Teetotal throughout his life, he was a family man of warmth and gentleness.  His community contributions included founding membership (1964-78) of the council of Macquarie University and service with the Rotary Club of Sydney.  Appointed CMG in 1960 and AC in 1979, he was knighted in 1966.  One of Sir Walter’s last tasks was a review within St Stephen’s Uniting Church, Sydney.  Survived by his wife and their two sons, he died on 12 February 1981 at St Leonards and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 16 February 1981, p 11
  • private information.

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Citation details

C. B. Schedvin, 'Scott, Sir Walter (1903–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


10 November, 1903
Perth, Western Australia, Australia


12 February, 1981 (aged 77)
St Leonards, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.