In Memoriam: Kenneth S. Axelson
IMA® (Institute of Management Accountants) mourns the loss of former member Kenneth S. Axelson. First to serve as the deputy mayor for finance in New York City, the former J.C. Penney executive was enlisted by Mayor Abraham D. Beame, at the request of Governor Hugh L. Carey, to rescue the City from the brink of bankruptcy during the 1975 financial crisis. Mr. Axelson died at age 93 on May 23, 2016 in Rockport, Maine.
Prior to his tenure in New York City Hall, Mr. Axelson held positons in both public and management accounting, working for a number of companies and firms, including McKinsey & Company and Arthur Andersen & Co CPAs. He joined J. C. Penney in 1963, where he ascended the rungs of leadership from director to chief financial officer, before retiring as executive vice president for finance and administration in 1982.
As New York City faced financial collapse and the imminent threat of running out of cash, Governor Carey advised Mayor Beame to task Mr. Axelson with the crucial responsibility of reining in the city’s extravagant budget and restoring integrity and trust to City Hall.
Agreeing to a modest salary of $1 a year as the newly minted deputy mayor for finance, Mr. Axelson was granted a temporary leave of absence from J. C. Penney to lead efforts to save the city. Thrust headfirst into local politics and working alongside city officials under intense scrutiny and extreme duress, Mr. Axelson toiled behind the scenes and, after a year, left with his objectives for the position essentially accomplished. He kept the city from falling into bankruptcy and established internal controls, transparency guidelines, and strict accounting rules to prevent the recurrence of another crisis in city budgeting.
In 1976, with New York City well on its way to recovery, Mr. Axelson returned to his post at J. C. Penney. There, he introduced IMA to Marc Palker, CMA® (Certified Management Accountant), IMA Global Chair, principal at MPP Associates.
Reflecting back on his connection to Mr. Axelson, Palker says, “Ken was a driving force in the financial management of J. C. Penney and also the City of New York. He fully supported involvement in IMA, which is how I was introduced to the organization.”
Mr. Axelson was preceded in death by his wife, the former Roberta Bearhope, and is survived by his four sons, Stephen, Kenneth, Jr., Jerrold, and Chris; eight grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.