21st Financial Woman of the Year Event held on September 21, 2016 at the Hyatt Regency San Francisco

By Sandra Camacho

Approximately 710 professionals took a break from their busy schedules to enjoy the luncheon to honor Debbie Messemer, Managing Partner for KPMG’s Bay Area Market. Debbie was selected by the Financial Woman of San Francisco organization as the 2016 Financial Woman of the Year for her career achievement and the fact that she is passionate about mentorship and sponsorship. Due to the generosity of many sponsors this was also one of the most successful fund raising events in the history of the organization with approximately $337,000 raised.


Scroll down for some more photos by Chloe Jackman Photography

Debbie was introduced by Gerald Ford co-managing member of the Ford Financial Fund and a long time figure in financial circles. Debbie’s obvious aptitude and personable nature caused her to earn Gerald’s respect early on in her career. He has served as an invaluable mentor and friend and continues to seek Debbie’s expertise in business matters. 

She joined KPMG in 1982 in their Fort Worth office and in 1998 transferred to their San Francisco office. In 2008 she became KPMG’s first San Francisco female Managing Partner and today leads a team of over 1,100 audit, tax and advisory professionals. She progressed at KPMG because she actively pursued each next opportunity. If you watch her at work, you can clearly see that she excelled not only on a technical level but because of her amazing people skills and her tenacity. Debbie never forgot her grandmother’s clear message to the family of ‘no wimpy women’! A couple of FWSF Board members comment of what they took away from this event and Debbie’s speech:

“As usual, the message I got was the power of taking risks in life. Take a chance. Not that this was a direct quote; time and time again successful women share this as one of their greatest pieces of advice.” ~ Michele Hanson

“I was taken with the “No Wimpy Women” message because many women professionals have felt the need over the years to reign in their personalities, to be low-key and indirect in their communications; for fear of being maligned as too aggressive, nasty and a word not to be repeated in press. But Debbie’s message encourages women to show their true selves and bring all their talents to the table.” ~ Maureen Young

John Crane once again very effectively and amazingly captured the lives of the scholarship recipients in what always proves to be a tear jerking and inspirational video.

As a board member recalls: “After seeing the film about the scholarship recipients, I was filled with the thought that I have good reason to be optimistic about our future; that our world will be in good hands….” ~ Kim Scala

Darcy Illg, FWSF President, very eloquently led the luncheon event including the surprise introduction of the Lela Jahn Make a Difference Challenge Grant. Lela a long time member of FWSF and the 2000 Financial Woman of the Year passed from cancer in 2015. Lela dedicated her life to teaching and the mentorship of women in the U.S., Africa and Brazil. Very much in her spirit the Grant is awarded to one scholarship recipient in each of five years not for her own use but to further give back thereby motivating others to do the same. This year’s unsuspecting winner was Vineetha Mummadi who will use the $10,000 award to further someone’s education in her home country, India. To say she was thrilled to be chosen is the understatement of the year.

Overall this year’s Financial Woman of the Year event was a huge success for the organization and for Women in Finance. As Dancing with the Stars’ judge, Bruno Tonioli, might say ‘..it was resplendid with girl power..’ and then you might hear ‘..invigorating..’ etc..!

Read on for a Fabulous Historical Perspective

The Financial Woman of the Year event was established in 1996 by Leslie Miller and Shelly Porges. They are both senior professionals who served in various positions in FWSF including as President. Leslie was President in 1995 and Shelly served as President for 18 months from 2004 to 2005.

FWOTY Event womenLeslie Miller (top row, second from the left) and Shelly Porges (top row, third from the left).

They shared the following about the status of women in Finance around 1996, what caused them to establish the Financial Woman of the Year Event and what advice they have for continued success today:

1)  With regard to women in Finance, the issue we talk about today is that though women represent 50% of the people working in financial services, we are under-represented in the top level positions. What in your view was the issue in 1996? What else motivated you?

Great question! It became clear to us that there were three needs in the community: to elevate the profile of the women leaders in the financial community; to provide more resources to promising young women who were studying finance, economics and business and to raise the profile of FWSF.

2)  What was the issue with the status quo in FWSF that led you to establish the FWSF event?

Until 1996, FWSF had never netted more than around $1,000 per year for two $500 scholarships. We thought there was an opportunity to do much better than that and demonstrated that indeed there was. Even that first year, we netted $123,000 for scholarships and had to turn down three sponsors and numbers of people because we ran out of room at the venue three weeks before the event.

3)  You both showed extremely impressive foresight and management ability as is evidenced by the fact that your three goals have been met with the establishment of the Financial Woman of the Year event. Any thoughts with regard to adding to this process to further enhance success and especially considering current day needs of women in finance?

We're proud that our "baby" has grown and thrived for over 20 years and that each set of Chairs has brought their own special touches to it. The keys to success for events like this are twofold: continuing to demonstrate that the women who receive these scholarships are very deserving and continuing to build relationships with the financial community to ensure ongoing support. On the first one, it would be interesting to go back and see how some of our recipients have fared. For example, one of the early ones was the co-founder of Kiva.org, as you know an online platform that has generated millions of dollars for small-scale entrepreneurs in developing countries. 


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