Like an Indiana Jones of accountants, professor Ronald Bagley has a secret life that takes him in search of hidden gold and financial adventure.
By day, he is a casual, bespectacled professor at the University of Utah, tutoring students in the finer points of accounting principles and practice.By days off, he draws upon his expertise and some G-man training to help bankruptcy trustees get to the bottom of tangled finances and unearth missing assets.
A soft-spoken, dapper man with graying hair, Bagley fits the typical academic role he adopted at the U. in 1972. But he came to teaching with an atypical background: a short-lived career in the FBI.
He said a friend who worked nights as an FBI clerk talked him into it. "I never thought of becoming an FBI agent," he told U. news writer Lori Bona Hunt. "That friend would say to me, `Do you really want to sit at a desk all day wearing green eyeshades.' Little barbs like that."
The FBI was always recruiting good accounting or law students as agents, and Bagley, with a degree in accounting, qualified for the job. So, for two years, the then-agent Bagley was assigned to the usual assortment of espionage, embezzlement, kidnapping and other high crimes and misdemeanors that keep the FBI in business.
However, he didn't care much for the FBI's rigid, round-the-clock demands, including (in the 1960s) a dress code requiring agents to wear a conservative hat. He didn't like hats, still doesn't.
After leaving the FBI, he took a job with an international accounting firm and then decided to return to graduate school at the University of Minnesota with the aim of becoming a professor.
Because of his expertise in accounting and FBI training, Bagley is frequently asked to assist bankruptcy trustees in his spare time, particularly when fraud or mismanagement is suspected. In that capacity, he has unraveled investment schemes and once traced $20 million in missing assets.
Another time, he was tipped that the owner of a failing company had hidden a can full of gold coins in his basement. Armed with a trusty can opener, Bagley and a bankruptcy court representative spent a day searching for the missing treasure but came up with nothing but lots of open cans of food.
His students don't often hear about his off-campus work. "Unless I feel it is relevant, I hate to take class time to talk about personal experiences," he said.