Professor Robert McGee completed his PhD in Industrial and Business Studies at the University of Warwick in 1986. Since leaving Warwick, Professor McGee has led a successful career in accountancy and academia. Most recently, at the age of 74, Robert won six gold and two silver medals at the Taekwondo World Championship in Phoenix, Arizona. Discover his inspiring story in the interview below.
Congratulations on your recent success at the Taekwondo World Championships! When did you start practising Taekwondo and why did you choose this sport in particular?
Thank you. I started practicing taekwondo in 2012, at the tender age of 65. Shortly after moving from Miami to Fayetteville, North Carolina, I felt the need to exercise on a regular basis. I had been working with stationary weights when I lived in Miami. Since moving to Fayetteville, I felt like I was getting out of shape, so I looked for a place to train. I couldn’t find a gym that was conveniently located, but while driving to work I noticed a road sign in a shopping mall that said “ATA Black Belt Academy.” I decided to stop in to see what they had to offer. It turned out to be an American Taekwondo Association training facility. Since I was 65, I didn’t know if I would be able to engage in such vigorous training, and I told them so. They offered me 30 days of free training. At the end of the 30 days, I would have to decide whether to continue. I started training about three days a week. By the end of the 30 days, I had lost weight, had improved my general physical condition, and had not had a heart attack, so I decided to continue training. I have been training ever since.
How often do you train and what to you get from your training sessions? Is it mainly physical fitness or do you feel it helps with your mental health as well?
When I was a colour belt, I trained Monday through Thursday plus Saturday. After I earned my first black belt, I didn’t train as often because they only offered two black belt classes a week, but I sometimes practiced at home on my off days. At some point, my taekwondo instructor suggested I take up tai chi to improve my stances and balance. I took her advice, and added tai chi to my training schedule. I now take tai chi lessons two days a week in addition to my taekwondo training, and practice tai chi at home seven days a week. It is a nice, gentle form of exercise and martial art. I am now a 3rd degree duan (black belt) in tai chi as well as a 3rd degree black belt in taekwondo. Although there is a physical element to both martial arts, tai chi also contains a strong mental element.
What advice would you give to any other Warwick graduates who are thinking of taking up a new sport?
My advice would be to become involved in something physical. It doesn’t matter much which activity or sport you choose. The important thing is to get regular exercise doing something you enjoy.
Can you tell us a little bit about your career journey and what you currently do?
I am a tenured, full professor at Fayetteville State University. I teach accounting, mostly in the MBA programme. However, I didn’t start out in accounting. In fact, as an undergraduate student in the USA, I changed majors from Accounting to Economics after three semesters because I thought accounting was boring, and I was fascinated by economics. My first job after graduation was a high school Maths Teacher. I didn’t especially like teaching high school, so I got a job in banking. That exposed me to the practical aspects of accounting. I became interested in accounting once I saw how it was applied to real world situations, so I decided to go back to night school to study accounting while working in the accounting field during the day. My accounting career included auditing, tax, financial and managerial accounting and consulting. My consulting assignments took me to some exotic and not so exotic places in North, South and Central America, the Caribbean, Eastern and Western Europe, Asia, Africa and Oceania. One of my assignments was to help the Armenian Finance Ministry convert the country to International Financial Reporting Standards [IFRS], and to raise the university accounting curriculum at all their major universities to international standards. After completing that assignment, I was hired to do the same thing for Bosnia.
Why did you choose to study at Warwick?
I needed a PhD in order to continue teaching at university level, but there were no good accounting PhD programmes at any American universities within commuting distance, so I investigated the PhD programmes at a number of European universities. One of my colleagues told me that it was possible to earn a British PhD on the basis of dissertation, and that it was possible to enrol as an external student. I liked that idea, because I could not afford to quit work and enrol full-time in a domestic PhD program. At Warwick, I was able to enrol as a part-time external student. I flew to Warwick every year to consult with my dissertation supervisor (Roger Fawthrop), and corresponded via airmail during the year (it was before the internet). I had investigated a few other British universities, but some of them were not interested in my thesis proposal, and others did not bother to reply to my letters.
What was the most important thing you learnt from your time at Warwick?
The most important thing I learned at Warwick was how to conduct PhD-level research. I had already published some articles and a few books, but PhD research was different. Once I learned the skill, I was able to use it for my future research.
Do you have a favourite memory of studying at Warwick?
I have a few favourites. Working in a PhD environment gave me intellectual growth. Although I was fairly well-versed in the U.S. accounting system, I hadn’t had much exposure to British or European accounting prior to coming to Warwick. Some of the concepts and terminology were a little different. It was a growth experience. I also enjoyed spending time in England. The sights were new to me, and the language was a little bit different. Some of my ancestors came from England, so it was nice to see where they came from. I also enjoyed listening to the World War II stories Roger Fawthrop had to tell. He had experienced it first-hand, and had participated in some of the most historical battles of the war.
What are you working on now? What are your plans for the future?
I’m working on some academic research projects, as usual. I’ve published more than 700 refereed journal articles since my first one appeared in 1975. I’d like to push that to 800 before I retire, and I might decide to keep doing academic research after I retire. I started writing articles about tai chi and qigong for medical journals a few months ago. I enjoy doing research in this field, which is relatively new for me. I’m editing three books for a major academic publisher. I plan to finish those by the end of 2021. I’ve published five novels and novelettes, and I would like to continue writing fiction. I found a producer who might want to turn one of my novels into a full-feature film, so I’m writing the screenplay for that. And of course I plan to continue training in tai chi and taekwondo, although I might stop competing in tournaments at some point. Maybe I’ll get a part-time job teaching tai chi on cruise ships. It’s a good way to see the world and get paid for it.