Sunday, April 15, 2012

Alumna chairs the Chamber

New chair Suzanne Forbes at the Daytona Regional
 Chamber’s annual dinner with outgoing chair Tom Leek.

Suzanne Forbes grew up with pet lobsters, barracudas and angelfish in her back yard of the endless turquoise waters of the Florida Keys. With her friends and siblings, she swam, snorkeled, boated, weathered storms and used bridges for high dives.

But the girl from Big Pine Key, population about 2,000 at the time, was more than a curious child who loved the marine environment. She also excelled in school and as an 11th-grader enrolled in community college. She had aspirations beyond her sunrise/sunset island horizon.

“I set my goal to be a CPA in 9th grade,” the Stetson alumna said. “I liked math and was pretty good at it, but I knew if I wanted to get ahead, I would need to work hard and get off the ‘rock,’ the island I grew up on.”

Tom Leek passes the gavel to Suzanne Forbes. Reprinted with 
permission of the Daytona Beach News-Journal.

She left the island after high school, but it has always stayed with her.

Forbes became an Accounting major at Stetson and, under the tutelage of the renowned Professor Joe Master, graduated in 1987 with her Master of Accountancy. Master also steered her to a job with James Moore & Co., one of the largest CPA firms in this area and the firm where he was a partner at the time.

Today, 25 years later, Forbes is a firm partner and oversees its real estate service division. She’s a trusted advisor to investors, private companies, business owners and real estate holding groups.

Forbes was sworn in earlier this year as the new chairwoman of the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce, which represents and influences not only the metro area’s diverse economic base of business and industry, but forges partnerships far beyond the Halifax Area.

Her years with the chamber, and decades in area business, give her broad-based insight, but don’t make her an economic wizard. Generally, she thinks the economy will continue to show slow growth and businesses should position themselves with stronger recruitment and other advantageous moves so that when the credit crisis is resolved and the economy surges, they will be ready.

Suzanne Forbes, partner in James Moore & Co.

However, I tell everyone my crystal ball broke a while back,” she said. “I started using a Magic 8 Ball, but it just doesn’t give the best answers!”

Forbes developed her work ethic early, she said, by watching her father who had many jobs on the island. Her first job was at 11, selling ice cream, and in high school she landed her first accounting job with a CPA firm.

At Stetson’s Business School, she met Master. The lessons he taught Forbes, she said, are the “most significant” she learned at the university.

“Not only did he teach the technical aspects of accounting, but the professionalism that goes with it,” she said.

Forbes also loves being creative.

“Although most people probably think that isn’t what most CPA’s would like,” she said. “It gives me my greatest satisfaction in business. At home, it’s doing things with my husband and kids.”

Watching her son and daughter learn and grow and pursue their interests is unequaled, she said. She doesn’t remember when she first met her husband, Bret, because she has known him since she they were both children on Big Pine Key. He became her high school sweetheart. They were married her final year at Stetson.

In a way, she never left Stetson. She lives and works nearby and stays involved in the school that helped shape her life. Until she assumed leadership of the chamber, she served for many years on the Accounting Board of Advisors and continues to serve on the Business School Foundation.

“Stetson was so instrumental in my success as a professional,” she said. “My way of giving back to the university is through board involvement.”

Enjoying simple pleasures with family is a high priority for
 Suzanne Forbes, seen here in the Florida Keys with her
 husband, Bret, and two children, son Collin, 13, 
and daughter Cayman, 10.

Forbes’ work and public service takes an exceptional amount of her days and nights, but she makes family time count.

Family vacations are often spent on the water, enjoying the simple pleasures and natural beauty of the Florida Keys as she did when she was a child.

“It is still about the water, the boat, the marine life, fishing, diving, lobstering, or just walking on the beach,” she says. “Of course, the real thrill is if we catch a nice fish, bring back lobster or see pods of dolphins or even a waterspout. I love the unexpected.”

One of the simpler pleasures she enjoys includes sharing a bottle of wine and good food in a special restaurant, especially with family or friends.

“‘Work hard, play hard’ has been my life’s motto,” said Forbes. “It is important for the kids to know when they need me I will be there. There are certain family things that I won’t miss – birthdays, anniversaries, recitals, teacher meetings, etc. I believe having a happy personal life makes me a better professional.”

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