Former Rochester Business Journal owner and publisher Susan Holliday is the 2022 recipient of the Herbert W. Vanden Brul Entrepreneurial Award.
Presented annually by the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Saunders College of Business, the Vanden Brul award is meant to honor individuals who have developed businesses that improved the Rochester area’s economy or through skill managed a significant turnaround of an area business.
Herself a 1985 graduate of the RIT’s MBA program, Holliday acquired the RBJ in 1988 as a struggling weekly. It was briefly owned by American City Business Journals, a media chain that publishes business-oriented weeklies in some 40 U.S. markets, including Buffalo, Syracuse and Albany.
When Holliday took it over, the RBJ was not profitable. While it continued to finish in the red for the next four years, Holliday relentlessly strove to improve the publication’s editorial content and shore up its bottom line.
The formula she applied to put the weekly into the black included additions to editorial staff, aggressive pursuit of advertising dollars and institution of an awards and events program that continues under new ownership.
Never a giant in paid circulation, the RBJ under Holliday increasingly came to enjoy a reputation among a demographic that included the top tier of area business, government and civic leaders.
Holliday credits RBJ staff for much of the publication’s success.
“I was proud to work with a wonderful group of professionals,” she says. “Whether they were in the editorial, production, circulation, or advertising department, they worked together to produce a news product that earned a reputation for high-integrity journalism.”
Despite a relatively small reportorial and editorial staff that hardly numbered more than a dozen, the RBJ regularly competed on at least an even ground and sometimes outcompeted larger and better financed news organizations like the Democrat and Chronicle and local television stations’ newsrooms.
The RBJ often offered in-depth analysis and deep-dive reporting on area industries including a budding health care and growing education sector as it continued to chronicle developments among Rochester’s onetime Big Three—Eastman Kodak Co., Xerox Corp. and Bausch & Lomb Inc.
The RBJ also identified and followed the rise of up-and-coming businesses like Paychex Inc., telecom company Paetec Communications Inc. and a host of others whose prominence grew while the Big Three’s role in the area economy diminished.
As RBJ publisher, Holliday developed and cultivated relationships with numerous prominent local figures and helped shape the region’s future as a member of the University of Rochester Medical Center Board during a time when UR with URMC as its single largest component displaced Kodak as the region’s top employer.
After nearly three decades at the RBJ’s helm, Holliday bowed out of the publication, selling the once struggling but now successful weekly to GateHouse Media Inc. GateHouse later merged with the D&C’s owner, Gannett Co. Inc., assuming the Gannett name for the merged organization. That organization continues to run the D&C, the RBJ and the Daily Record, a weekly that largely focuses on the area’s legal community.
Holliday, meanwhile, continues her role as a civic leader.
Last year she was named chair of the board of directors of Financial Institutions Inc. the parent of Five Star Bank. A onetime chair of the URMC board, Holliday continues as a member of the medical center’s governing body. Holliday is also a board member of Complemar Partners, Inc.and board chair of Healthcare Trustees of New York State.
She is a trustee of the Riedman Foundation, a family foundation that has made significant contributions to area institutions including Rochester Regional Health and the Fish Hatchery at Powder Mills Park. She is a former member of the American Hospital Association’s Committee on governance.
Holliday is slated to receive the Vanden Brul prize Friday at a Genesee Valley Club luncheon on Sept. 16. Also to be honored are three RIT students as Vanden Brul Student Entrepreneurial Award finalists.
■ Harrison Canning, a neurotechnology major in RIT’s School of Individualized Study from West Granby, Conn.;
■ Peter Hogya, a computer science major in the Golisano College of Computing and Information Sciences from Bayville, N.Y.; and
■ Pritam Poddar, an engineering Ph.D. student in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering from Kolkata, India.
Holliday has helped further the careers of RIT postgraduate students through the Susan Riedman Holliday Graduate Endowed Fellowship, which she established in 2013. The fellowship provides scholarship support to Saunders College graduates who are staying at RIT to pursue a graduate degree at the College of Business.
Will Astor is Rochester Beacon senior writer. Some of the Beacon’s co-founders worked at RBJ. The Beacon welcomes comments from readers who adhere to our comment policy including use of their full, real name.