Friday, November 12, 2010

Remembering BNA's Susan Webster

(L-R Francine McKenna, Edith Orenstein, Susan Webster, at FEI CFRI 2008)

This time of year, when it's CFRI season (on the eve of FEI's 29th annual Current Financial Reporting Issues Conference) I think back fondly to my first meeting with BNA Managing Editor Susan Webster.

That first meeting was over coffee after I finished working the registration desk the eve of CFRI 2007. I remember discussing with Susan at that first informal meeting not only current events of the day (in the world of accounting standard-setting and the regulatory environment) but also sharing stories about other common threads in our lives, including the challenges and joys of having teens and tweens, the advent of Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus, and the use of social networks and technology by our generation vis-a-vis that of our children.

Our working relationship grew, albeit virtually, as I reached out to Susan for contacts/guidance on seeking permission to link to some of BNA's outstanding - indeed, exceptional - reporting, as I was a subscriber to BNA's Daily Report for Executives. She was very helpful in getting me in touch with the right people to be granted permission on occassion to reprint/post such material on our website and link to it in our blog. We also shared informal views with each other from time to time on topics of interest in our separate publications.

The following year, at CFRI 2008, I had the pleasure of joining together with Francine McKenna, Managing Editor of the blog Re: The Auditors, Steve Burkholder, BNA Staff Correspondent covering the FASB beat, and Susan Webster, for an informal dinner. [I remember specifically requesting that our entire conversation be 'off the record' and it was a fascinating evening indeed.]

Susan was also a member of a panel presentation coordinated and moderated by Francine at the Maryland Association of CPAs (MACPA's) June, 2009 Business Expo. Other panelists included former FEI President and CEO Colleen Cunningham, now Global Managing Director, Finance and Accounting, at Resources Global, and Joanne O'Rourke Hindman, Special Advisor to Board Member Steven B. Harris of the PCAOB. As usual, Susan shared the depth and breadth of knowledge that comes with the access BNA Editors and Correspondents have on Capitol Hill and beyond, and she provided helpful handouts from BNA explaining complex legislative developments and regulation.

The more I got to know leading journalists like Susan Webster, Steve Burkholder, Francine McKenna, and others, like CPA Trendlines Editor and Bay Street Group President & CEO Rick Telberg, the more I became interested in enhancing my journalistic skills to improve the quality of this blog. Susan and Rick were unmatched in their willingness to have me reach out to them and provide their support and insights, for which I am deeply grateful.

When CFRI rolled around again in November 2009, Susan was not able to attend (at the time, I did not know why). As Fall turned to Winter, she shared with me confidentially that she was facing some significant health issues. I remember speaking to her in January 2010 and our conversation was pretty much business as usual, without Susan dwelling on the gravity of her health issues; in fact, as I recall, I got the feeling that she was hopeful for the future.

Thus, it was with great sadness that I learned earlier this year of her passing away from her illness. I have wanted to write about her for quite some time since then, and now that CFRI 2010 is here (the 'anniversary' of my first meeting Susan) I feel it is time to put my thoughts to paper (to the screen?), in honor of her memory and how much she contributed to my own development and that of others who have shared their remembrances of Susan below.

In addition to those whose comments appear in this post, I welcome others to post a comment with your thoughts and memories of Susan, or thoughts about how a person within your own firm or organization, or in a shared industry or area of interest, has really make a difference in the lives of members of that profession or organization, and the profession or community at large. (Our readers tend to be a shy group, but we always welcome your comments.)

Steve Burkholder, BNA
BNA Staff Correspondent Steve Burkholder, well known on the FASB beat, shares these memories of Susan Webster:

Susan had a variety of roles at BNA by the time she was forced to dive into the cold waters of accounting rulemaking several years ago. She did so with her characteristic drive - completely and with total commitment, often scouring fairly obscure sources for her "FYI" messages meant as spark plugs for stories.

Susan cared deeply about the copy that made up the new publication she piloted. Just as important, she cared very much about the reporters who produced that copy. She is missed.

The then-new BNA publication referenced by Steve above, which Susan launched, was BNA's Accounting Policy and Practice Report (APPR). She had gathered an all-star advisory board for that publication (which included a number FEI members, serving in their personal capacity, leading analysts, and others.)

Jack Ciesielski, Analyst's Accounting Observer
One member of the BNA APPR advisory board was Jack Ciesielski, owner of R.G. Associates, Inc., an investment research and portfolio management firm, and publisher of The Analyst's Accounting Observer. Ciesielski is also a member of FASB's Investors Technical Advisory Committee, and (as reported by Jesse Westbrook and Ian Katz of Bloomberg in 2009) was a rumored candidate for the position of SEC Chief Accountant prior to SEC Chairman Mary L. Schapiro's selection of Acting Chief Accountant Jim Kroeker as Chief Accountant.)
Jack shares these memories of Susan:
I met Susan as a member of a BNA advisory board. She was a thoughtful, intelligent reporter and editor: always more concerned with a thorough consideration of the facts before publishing, rather than just being first with the news. I liked her graceful demeanor and enjoyed working with her tremendously.

Denise Lugo, BNA
Denise Lugo, BNA Staff Correspondent - New York, also well known on the FASB/FAF beat, shares these thoughts regarding Susan,
Susan was an exceptional editor with an uncanny ability to view one issue from five differing dimensions (at the same time). I actually joked about this to her once. I really admired her news instinct and writing style. She was thorough, detailed--could be tough as nails but combined it with fairness and integrity. During the four years I worked with her I grew tremendously as a reporter and can say she sharpened my skills and helped make me a better reporter.

Stephen Bouvier, BNA
These days, we can't talk about FASB without talking about the IASB as well.

BNA Correspondent Stephen Bouvier, well known on the IASB/EU/CESR beat, shares:

Although Susan and I never met in person, I have enjoyed the privilege of working with her at BNA as a London-based correspondent for almost five years. I never imagined that our collaboration would end quite so abruptly and cruelly for Susan.

It was thanks to Susan and her support, encouragement and, yes, criticisms, that I was able to direct my journalism toward what was for me a whole new direction. For that I shall be eternally grateful.

What many people might not realize is the role that Susan played in transforming my attendance at standard setting meetings into something that hopefully now resembles journalism and imparts useful information.

The joy of working with her was that although she had her expectations, somehow she always had the good grace to leave sufficient space for people to deliver on them.

The one area of my work that Susan initiated was the coverage since 2007 that we
have been running on IASCF funding. In some ways it was our own private initiative, but when we eventually forced the IASCF to publish information about funding on their website, Susan went out of her way in Washington to make sure that I got the credit.

I think that was Susan through and through, really. And although we never met, I miss her.

Steven Marcy, BNA
Steve Marcy, staff editor at BNA (one of the 'three Steve's' associated with the FASB-IASB beat) remembers Susan:
She was a demanding yet fair taskmaster, who always strove to make the publication and everyone around her better, and made clear that this was her intent. In this she succeeded, and we greatly appreciated her for it. She will always be missed.

Re: The Auditors' Francine McKenna
Francine McKenna, a consultant and managing editor of the popular blog, Re: The Auditors, shares this remembrance:

I remember meeting Susan for the first time in November of 2008 at the FEI CFRI
Conference. We had dinner with Steve Burkholder at that little bar in midtown. You took a great picture of the three of us. I remember when I got the call from Denise Lugo, one of the BNA reporters a couple of months ago prior for my comments on FAS 5. That conversation resulted in a quote for me in Susan's article in BNA, in the same paragraph as Lynn Turner! What a thrill!

Susan and I met again in Washington DC the following summer for the Compliance Week Annual Conference and spoke on the phone and emailed fairly often. I was so glad to have such an experienced journalist as a friend and mentor. She was always so giving with her time and advice. I didn't call this past May when I was in DC
because my schedule was so tight that week. How to know I would never see her
again? I hadn't even known she was sick.

It's a reminder to never take friends, family and those who are special to you for granted. You never know when they'll be taken unexpectedly. I miss her presence in my life in spite of the fact we were more virtual friends than day-to-day companions.

PCAOB's Colleen Brennan
Colleen Brennan, Deputy Director, Public Affairs at the PCAOB, formerly worked with Susan at BNA. She shares, "Susan was well liked and respected by her BNA colleagues back in my time (the early 90s) as well as now."

BNA President and CEO Greg McCaffery
BNA's President and CEO, Greg McCaffery, sent the following message to BNA employees to inform them of the sad news regarding Susan in June. (Thank you to BNA's Steven Burkholder and Steven Marcy for providing this info.)
Susan Webster passed away June 21 after a brief but courageous battle against

Susan was an amazing managing editor, moving seamlessly and effortlessly between the narrow niches of banking regulation, health care law, and accounting regulation, mastering the arcane subject matter of each. In the banking arena, she was the managing editor of Washington Financial Reports,which was later renamed BNA’s Banking Report. She was instrumental in developing Health Law Reporter,which she managed for more than ten years and which remains our most successful health care product. Moving to the accounting field, she helped to create Accounting Policy & Practice Report,where she served as managing editor until her death.

Anyone who knew Susan was impressed by her agile and curious mind, by her tenacious commitment to her publications and to maintaining high journalistic standards at BNA, and by her willingness to help out wherever needed.

She was a member, and president, of the BNA Credit Union Board of Directors, she participated in various editorial quality programs and committees, and she helped launch an editorial training program for reporters.

Susan represented the best of BNA. She will be sorely missed.

In Susan's Own Words
Of course, no one could describe the essense of Susan better than she could. Here's what she wrote in her bio for the Twitter account she set up in December, 2009 to promote the BNA Accounting Policy and Practice Report (APPR), and this is why she is missed by so many. Although her loss leaves a terrible hole that can never be filled, particularly to her family, her mentoring, influence and friendship will be remembered fondly through the work and lives of many.

Susan Webster - Bio (on Twitter, 2009)
Editor: Accounting Policy & Practice Report, policy wonkette, social media fan,
wife, mother.

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1 comment:

Rachel said...

Pretty useful information, thank you for your article.