Former Controller for the Dover Corporation, he's made sound fiscal decisions throughout his career.
Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.
Retired Controller, Dover Corporation
Favorite professors: “Benjamin Newman in the Accounting Department; and Dr. Curry for ‘Living Issues in Literature,’ in the English Department.”
Adelphi memories: Receiving the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants Award for “Outstanding Scholastic Achievement in Accounting as a Member of the Class of 1957 at Adelphi College.” This annual award was given to the top accounting student based on total grade point average and included a gold key. It was presented at a formal gathering of accounting and other interested students in the Quonset Huts. One of the attendees was his future bride, Mariann Mehlhop ’57. They were married soon after graduation, a marriage that lasted for 44 years until Mariann died of ovarian cancer. They had three children, all of whom are college graduates; two have advanced degrees; all have professional, meaningful jobs.
Greatest personal accomplishments: Passing all four parts of the CPA exam simultaneously on his first sitting, after which he wrote a note to Professor Newman saying, “it represented a tribute to fine teaching.”
Advice to students: “Work as hard as you can; give it all you’ve got.”
A Sound Fiscal Vision
Fred Suesser came to Adelphi determined to make up for lost time. After graduating from high school in 1951, he had no intention of going to college. He enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in the middle of the Korean War. Fortunately, he spent the first 20 months of his 36-month service commitment stationed at a guard company in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Later, he found himself in the middle of the Pacific Ocean on a troop transport along with 2,000 other Marines heading to Korea when it was announced that the armistice with Korea had just been signed. “They knew I was coming,” he quips. The ship changed course and he spent the remainder of his enlistment in Japan.
While in the Marine Corps he changed his mind about attending college; it was clear that the officers were on one side of the room and the enlisted men on the other. The officers had been to college. After returning home to Hollis, Queens, he enrolled at Adelphi on the GI Bill.
“I had lost three years,” he says. “My former high school classmates were now seniors at various colleges while I was only a freshman. I wanted to move forward as quickly as possible.”
He set a personal goal to complete his degree within three years. However, the maximum amount of credits the dean would allow a student to take per semester was 17, so he added intersession courses and summer school. He finally reached his goal by taking 17 credits by day and a four-credit evening course in his senior year. It was even more trying because he had been selected to teach an accounting help-class. The class met every weekday afternoon at 5 p.m. and lasted until every question had been asked and answered.
“It was open to all accounting students, so you never knew who or how many would arrive on any particular day, or if questions would spring from Introduction to Accounting, or an intermediate or advanced course,” he says. “No questions were off limits. I was paid a pretty meager hourly wage, but it was enough to pay for gas at 35 cents per gallon.”
After graduation, Mr. Suesser was offered a position with the Big 8 firm Peat Marwick, Mitchell & Co. (predecessor to KPMG). The position was in Manhattan, but with an opportunity to immediately transfer to the firm’s office in Honolulu. At his wife’s suggestion, the newlyweds traveled by train to San Francisco and then by ship to Honolulu.
The trip proved to be an all-expenses-paid honeymoon, capped off when Mariann won an on-board beauty contest. The couple was featured on the front page of the Honolulu Star Bulletin, the pre-eminent Hawaiian newspaper at the time. In those days, professional firms were not permitted to advertise, and when he reported for work on the first day the partners greeted him with: “Here is the young man that got our firm’s name on the front page of the newspaper.”
“It was a terrific way to start” he says.
After three years in the paradise of Hawaii, they returned to the East Coast, and Mr. Suesser continued his tenure at Peat Marwick, Mitchell in Washington D.C. After two more years of public accounting, he decided to accept a position with one of the companies he had been auditing, the Dover Corporation. A small, young, diversified manufacturing company, it was a highly acquisition-minded organization, determined to grow.
When he joined the small corporate office staff, Dover’s consolidated sales were only $5 million. When he retired 38 years later, sales were close to $5 billion. During those years, he worked his way up from assistant to the Treasurer to Corporate Controller, with all responsibilities for accounting, income taxes, and executive compensation. Mr. Suesser served as a chief financial officer for the New York Stock Exchange listed, Fortune 200 company, well before the term CFO had been coined.
Whenever possible, Mr. Suesser made certain to influence acquisition purchase agreements to state that Dover was purchasing the assets of the target company for cash. This would allow Dover to allocate the purchase price to the assets based upon the fair market value of each of those assets, invariably resulting in a stepped up basis, and those higher values would be depreciated or amortized against earnings. He even found precedence in tax law that permitted inventories to be written up to selling price less disposal costs for tax purposes. This caused reported earnings to be reduced, but it saved millions of income tax dollars each year.
Mr. Suesser also changed all of Dover’s domestic inventories from the FIFO method to the LIFO method during the high inflation years of the 1970s, a move which continues to save millions of tax dollars each year. Thanks in part to his efforts, Dover has had a long history of strong cash flow used to fund its acquisition program without external borrowing.
Because Mr. Suesser was spending more and more of his time working with lawyers, he decided to go to evening law school. Dover had moved its corporate offices to Manhattan, and he enrolled in Fordham Law School, which was within walking distance of his Park Ave office. Four years later he earned his J.D. and passed the New York Bar exam on his first try.
Mr. Suesser had changed Dover’s separate federal income tax filings to one consolidated return; however, Dover and its domestic subsidiaries were required to file hundreds of state income and franchise returns each year. It was time for expert help, and Mr. Suesser hired fellow Adelphi alumnus Charles Goulding M.B.A. ’81.
“I wanted a CPA with a law degree, who had had several years of public accounting experience, and Charlie fit the bill exactly,” he says. “His MBA was a nice extra.”
In 1998, Mr. Suesser retired, and he and his wife purchased more than five acres of beachfront farmland on the north fork of Long Island where they built their dream house. A portion of the house, which has been featured in Log Cabin magazine, is timber frame construction, which contains no nails or screws. Instead, oak pegs are used to hold the beams in place.
Looking back on his career, Mr. Suesser notes, “Whatever success I have had I owe it to Adelphi. One of my responsibilities at Dover was to produce the financial statements, including all footnotes, for the annual report. I often thought back to my days at Adelphi where we reviewed a periodical called Accounting Trends and Techniques, which featured reproductions of current annual reports that particularly exemplified proper disclosure. To now find that Dover’s Annual Reports were usually included in that journal was a real treat.”
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