Ada Title

1919: The Birth of IMA

By Margaret Michaels, Manager, Brand Content & Storytelling, IMA


I recently toured the Ford Mansion in Morristown, NJ, the place where General George Washington lodged in the winter of 1779 before he led the Continental Army to Yorktown and successfully forged a path for the United States of America, free from British rule. The tour guide let me open the door to the mansion with an old-fashioned iron key. The experience gave me goosebumps. World history mesmerizes me.

Same goes for IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) history. Recently, I had the opportunity to read historic IMA publications, dating back to 1919 when the National Association of Cost Accountants (NACA) was formed to promote knowledge and professionalism among cost accountants and foster wider understanding of their role in management.

1919 was a pivotal year, one that laid the foundation for the work of IMA today. J. Lee Nicholson presided over the NACA (headquartered in the iconic Woolworth Building in NYC) and though he may not have known it then, he was making history as the father of cost accounting and IMA.

The first bulletin NACA issued articulated the organization’s mission and vision, namely to:

  • Serve as a clearinghouse for the best thought of the leading men in all phases of the work
  • Maintain the highest standards of professional work
  • Disseminate reliable information as to the latest and most approved methods of procedure
  • Further in every possible way the study of cost accounting

The fact that this mission and vision still holds true today is a testament to the enduring work of people like Nicholson, who created the NACA with room to grow. He and others like him saw a need (no existing professional association was serving the needs of cost accountants) and did something about it.

Since then, IMA continues to evolve this vision, expanding its focus on figuring out how management accountants can add value across the organization. The CMA® (Certified in Management Accounting) certification as well as IMA products and services (webinars, online courses, research) all are designed to help accounting and finance professionals meet the increased demands of their roles. Management accountants set strategy, make decisions around technology, and steer their organizations through challenges. They sit at the table where key decisions are made and inform the decision-making process with the latest tools like data analytics.

At a time when television had yet to be invented and an accountant’s favored tool was a calculator, for J. Lee Nicholson and his contemporaries, technology was the stuff of science fiction. IMA recognizes the profound role technology plays in the profession today and has developed a suite of tools and materials to keep management accountants up-to-date and relevant. The new Technology and Analytics Center, an online resource for IMA and non-members to access materials related to technology’s role in accounting and finance, is an excellent example of how IMA is in lockstep with technology trends.

Another good example of IMA’s evolution can be seen in its committees. In 1919 just 13 committees existed, each focused on the most pressing needs of members. IMA committees have shifted in focus and grown in number, but they remain as important to the organization as they did in 1919. IMA members benefit from sharing perspectives and knowledge about emerging issues and challenges no one single individual can solve.

Whether you’re building an association, a business, or a nation, foundational values and principles must be in place. But you also need to design it so it can grow and adapt to ever-changing needs. That IMA has grown from the seeds planted in 1919 to more than 100,000 members strong in 2019 demonstrates that great things are possible when dedicated people join together to serve each other.


Margaret Michaels

Currently serves as IMA’s Manager of Brand Content and Storytelling where she works on IMA’s blog, executive-level presentations, and CMA stories. Margaret has over a decade of experience creating and executing marketing communications in the financial services and non-profit sectors. She recently headed up communications for the City University of New York’s Institute for State and Local Governance (ISLG) where she worked on public affairs for the Equality Indicators, a Rockefeller-funded performance measurement tool for cities.

She holds a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Delaware and a Masters in Information Science from Pratt Institute.