The 500 Ties of Dr. Habib

 

Dr. Abo-El-Yazeed Habib, 66, longtime professor of accounting and business law at Minnesota State University, Mankato, has a little something in common with the main character in the beloved Dr. Seuss book, “The 500 Hats of Bartholomew Cubbins.”

Except in Habib’s case, the magically multiplying hats would be replaced with ties.A few of Dr. Habib's recent ties

As part of a cherished tradition, Habib estimates that he’s received more than 500 ties, many with effusive notes of gratitude, over the past quarter-century from former students to mark their passing of the rigorous Certified Public Accountant (CPA) exam, a test for which he spends hundreds of hours preparing them.

Phil Holz is one such former student. After Holz, now an accountant with McGladrey LLP, took and passed all four CPA exams, he sent Habib a tie, as well as an e-mail explaining the gift.

“Dr. Habib: It is with great pride and joy that I am writing you this e-mail. … If it were not for you, I would have never fully understood the trials that I would soon endure in preparing for and taking the CPA exam. Your teaching and guidance throughout my college career is worth more than any words I could ever say to thank you. However, I will say it anyway. THANK YOU!… [W]hen I struggled to continue studying, the thing that kept me going was the thought of how proud I would be to purchase you a tie. It is a sign of both my success as a student, but more importantly, your success as an educator. Having the honor to send you a tie will truly be my proudest professional accomplishment.”

Habib chuckles as he reads through this note, one of many similar pieces he’s received since he began teaching at Minnesota State Mankato 24 years ago and one of dozens that he keeps tucked in a folder in his office. Holz also sent him an invitation to his wedding, which Habib and his wife happily attended last May.

As he rustles through a stack of papers on his desk, Habib uncovers several more notes, reading a few words from each as they rise to the top of the stack. The general tone is remarkably similar: You were a very hard professor and I’d like to thank you for it!

“When we talk about the ties, it’s actually a way of motivating the students to do well on the CPA exam,” Habib says of the origins of this particular rite of passage. “I tell them [during class], ‘You may hate me now, but if you love me in the future, you’ll know that what I was doing was right and then you may send me a tie,’” he says laughing.

Habib, who is originally from Egypt, came to Mankato by a circuitous route. He taught accounting in Egypt for 10 years, and then moved to the United States, spending several years teaching in Texas and Arkansas before coming to Mankato. “I came to Minnesota just by chance,” he says. “I was giving a paper in San Antonio and I met the dean [from Minnesota State Mankato] there, and he said, ‘Why don’t you come and visit us?’ I came to visit the campus, and he offered me a job. I love the people here.”Dr. Habib reading a thank-you card

Habib’s own children have trotted around the globe. One daughter works in Shanghai; a son worked in Japan and Geneva and now is in Minneapolis; another daughter is a dentist in Baltimore, pursuing her medical degree for facial surgery, and his youngest daughter is currently in Egypt studying architecture.

Habib summarizes his teaching philosophy like this: “I focus on teaching students how to learn how to learn accounting,” he says. “I always say to them three things: You need to be competent, you need to be professional and you need to have a lifetime of learning. These are the three things that I push really hard in the classroom. Also, I really focus on listening skills, because kids nowadays don’t always listen or pay attention. I have a lot of oral communication skills in my classes. My main point is always listening skills.”

Habib himself follows his own mandate about lifetime learning. He holds two bachelors’ degrees, two master’s degrees and a Ph.D. He also indulges himself in a little bit of fortune telling when it comes to which of his students will pass the notoriously difficult CPA exam (statistics show that only roughly half of those who take the tests pass on the first attempt).

“Every semester, I predict which students will pass the CPA exam on their first attempt. And I am 100 percent right all the time,” he says. “I talk to them and say, ‘You promise me, because you cannot let me down, you have to pass on the first attempt.’ To do that, you need to be very well prepared.”

Habib remains passionate about teaching, and would like to eventually celebrate his 50th anniversary as a teacher, finishing his career at Minnesota State Mankato. And while he pursues that personal goal, he’s also continuing to push his students to study harder, learn more and to position themselves for success.