Editor’s note: This is another in an occasional series of stories by reporter Andy Hyland, asking Kansas University staff to share “16 Things I’ve Done.” This week, we talked with Susan Wachter, the chief financial officer for Kansas Athletics, who plans to retire this year.
1) Grew up enjoying sports in Moberly, Mo., where her father had season tickets to University of Missouri football games and basketball games at Moberly Junior College. She admits that although she’s a “Jayhawk through and through” today, she grew up rooting for that other team to the east.
2) Took physical education classes in junior high from future NBA head coach Cotton Fitzsimmons, who was serving as the head basketball coach at Moberly Junior College.
3) Worked in the food industry growing up for her father, who owned several restaurants. Wachter did a little bit of everything, including waitressing, busing tables, doing dishes and even a small bit of cooking.
“If you don’t finish your degree, you’ll always have this to fall back on,” she remembered her father telling her. “I said, ‘Dad, I’m going to go get my college degree.’”
4) Got that college degree from Pittsburg State University in 1970, in business with a major in accounting. Her mother suggested she take the classes, and she enjoyed them.
5) Got started at KU in the department of internal audit in 1976 before then-Chancellor Archie Dykes asked her to move to athletics on an interim basis in 1980.
6) Worked with more athletic directors than football coaches during her time in athletics, if interims are counted.
“Everybody brought their own strengths to it,” she said of the 11 athletic directors she worked with — Bob Marcum, who hired her on a full-time basis, Del Shankel (who served as interim director twice while Wachter was in athletics), Jim Lessig, Monte Johnson, Bob Frederick, Richard Konzem, Al Bohl, Drue Jennings, Lew Perkins, Sean Lester and Sheahon Zenger.
7) Worked long hours at the beginning of her career at Haskins & Sells, the accounting firm that would become Deloitte & Touche. She moved to a smaller firm where the hours were more manageable: No more than 55 hours per week at the smaller firm, she said.
8) Traveled ahead of the football team on all road games and with the men’s basketball team during the tournament at the beginning of her career with athletics. She helped arrange hotels, meals and other financial expenses for the teams. Today, officials with the teams handle those kinds of arrangements themselves.
9) Watched a bus on one of those trips crash into the team plane on a football road trip to play Auburn in 1987. No one was hurt, she remembered then-coach Bob Valesente being very thankful about that. KU still lost the game, 49-0.
10) Oversaw a budget of $4.5 million when she first took over the books at the athletics department in 1980.
11) Oversees a budget of $67 million today, nearly 15 times the amount in 1980.
12) Taught accounting classes for a year at Pittsburg State while her husband was going to law school in Topeka. The school wanted her to teach a governmental accounting course, an area with which she wasn’t familiar. She took it on and learned the material a day or two ahead of the class. They never figured that out, she said.
“From a job standpoint, it’s probably the job I loved the most,” Wachter said, though she only did it for a short time.
13) Met her husband on a blind date when they went to see “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” on a Friday night, and went to a KU-MU football game the next day in Lawrence in 1969.
“I was in black and gold,” she admitted. KU lost 69-21, or, as her husband, John, says, 10-3. He just counted the touchdowns.
14) Served as a member of the NCAA review team on certification visits for other schools, including at Arizona State, Idaho, Temple and Buffalo.
“I enjoyed those trips,” she said. “You could learn a lot from other schools and how they were doing things.”
15) Served in several leadership roles at the College Athletics Business Management Association, a professional group for people in similar roles at colleges and universities across the country, including a term as president. The first vice president’s job was harder, though, she said. That person had to arrange the program for the conference, including finding a speaker.
16) Made plans to spend retirement working part time, spending time with her two grandchildren, 3-year-old Henry and 1-year-old Landry, and enjoying some golf.