Behind the W: Get to know Liv Watson

behind the w: liv watson blog
June 30, 2016

Today, we welcome my friend and colleague, Liv Watson, to the Behind the W blog series. Liv has been a part of the Workiva leadership team since early 2012 and has tackled many different issues in the finance and tech worlds throughout her career. Read on to get to know one of the original developers for XBRL and founders of the XBRL International Consortium a little bit better.

Liv, you were recently recognized by the Institute of Management Accountants (IMA) with the Distinguished Member Award. This award celebrates an individual who brings multiple successes, dedication, and honor to the group—and to the finance profession as a whole. Congratulations! Tell us, what's one achievement that stands out for you personally throughout your work with the IMA?

I am overwhelmed and honored to be recognized by IMA with the 2016 Distinguished Member Award. IMA has more than 90,000 members in 140 countries with 300 professional and student chapters. To be recognized in the same league with past recipients of this awards is truly an honor.

(Author's note: Past recipients include Dennis Beresford and Leslie Seidman, two former Chairs of FASB, and Gary Cokins, who worked alongside Dr. David Norton on the initial research that led to the development of the balanced scorecard.)

I have been a member of IMA for over 20 years, so it's difficult to identify just one achievement that stands out. The organization has allowed me to mature professionally and has given me opportunities to expand and contribute to the body of knowledge of the management accountant profession globally. However, if I had to pick one, it would be IMA's vision to support the early development of XBRL.

Before XBRL existed, I wrote an educational book for IMA called Accounting System Technology for the 21st Century about using XML for business reporting. I was aware that the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) was trying to develop a committee to build out the prototype for what XML could do, so I submitted a proposal to the IMA board encouraging the organization to take an active role. In response, they selected me to represent them in this initiative. This opportunity alone allowed me to visit over 100 countries.

XBRL has had an everlasting effect on this profession. I could not have done all of this without the support from the IMA or its members. Many have become like family over the years.

Growing up in Norway and making your way to the United States as a European skateboard champion is quite an origin story for one of the creators of XBRL. What in the world attracted you to the finance industry?

I always had a skateboard around when I was young, but I thought more about getting from point A to point B than of winning the EU championship for women. Let me remind everyone that this is back in 1978, and skateboarding was not an acrobatic sport, like it is today. Plus, hardly any girls were skateboarding.

I can brag a little that I did get to skateboard with Tony Alva and Stacy Peralta. However, skateboarding didn't pay the bills, so I eventually had to figure out another way to make some money. Since I had a strong foundation in math, accounting and finance seemed the most logical next step.

What sources do you frequent to stay knowledgeable in your expertise?

My main focus at Workiva is to assess new and emerging regulations, so I spend a lot of time identifying the regulators and the influencing bodies that set regulations and best practices. I spend time reading regulations, meeting minutes, press releases, and LinkedIn discussion forums from key organizations such as IOSCO, ESMA, PRA, Company House, HMRC, SEC, and others. I am constantly reading about and interacting with these organizations. I also read The Economist cover-to-cover, each week.

Other than XBRL, how many languages do you speak? And what are they?

I was born in Norway, so my first language is Norwegian. Although Norway is a small country of less than 5 million people, there are two main languages: Norwegian Bokmål and Norwegian Nynorsk. I speak Bokmål, Swedish, and English for professional discussions. I can also get by with a little French.

How many places have you lived? Any particular cities you'd like to give some love?

In the past 25 years, I have flown over 3 million airline miles—some say that I am the XBRL member with the most miles! I have kept a place in NYC and our family home in San Francisco since 1979—however, I have spent extended periods of time abroad in India, China, Macedonia, London, Amsterdam, Hong Kong, and Brazil.

In addition, I have visited over 100 countries for either speaking engagements or to provide consulting services. Because of this, I feel like I am a citizen of the world. However, if I had to pick only one city, it would have to be San Francisco.

What other organizations and causes do you support?

I crave knowledge and intellectual discussions, so I am very active in multiple professional organizations and institutions. I sit on committees and boards of IMA, XBRL International, GRI, ICAEW, and IFRS. I also sit on the advisory board at the University at Albany—SUNY in New York.

Being able to have discussions with people setting policy standards and influencers of market behavior on a global level has been the most amazing experience. Meeting people from different cultures and opinions expands your own mind of thinking and teaches you tolerance.

There are rumors in the office that you've worked with legendary musicians like The Cars, Tom Petty, and Heart. Is this true? And if so, what can you tell us about that experience?

Yes! There is truth behind this story. After hanging up my skateboard, I met Jeff Stein and Kathleen Daugherty in New York City. Before MTV became a huge success, no one really believed that anyone would watch TV to listen to music, but Jeff thought otherwise.

In 1979, Jeff convinced the band The Who to let him do a "rockumentary," which became a successful film called "The Kids Are Alright." By the time MTV came on the scene, Jeff and his then-girlfriend, Kathy, had already been bitten by the directing bug. They needed an assistant to help with their music videos and that ended up being me!

I worked on several videos for The Cars, Heart, and Tom Petty that won MTV awards. I also worked on videos with Billy Idol and Hall and Oates, just to name a few. Things were so exciting, specifically with The Cars video because we were pushing technology to its limits.

The lesson I learned from this experience was how much work goes into a production—this experience has forever changed the way I view and experience films. It also gave me the foundation to know what it takes to deliver a project in a short time frame and on budget.

I have many amazing memories from this time in my life, and I am very grateful to Kathy and Jeff for such an incredible opportunity. We are still great friends today. And....I even got to meet The Rolling Stones a few times—the greatest rock and roll band of all time, if you want my opinion!

Is there anything else we should know about you or that you would like to share?

I try to always strive for things I can be passionate about because that empowers me to live a richer life. I find joy from my encounters with new learning experiences, people, and cultures, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon.

I am so amazingly lucky to work in a place like Workiva where those personal joys are present daily. However, playing Monopoly with my twin daughters is my number one passion in life!

Mitz Banarjee

About the author

Mitz Banarjee is the Head of Global Client Services at Workiva. Over the past 10 years, he has been heavily involved with technology companies of all sizes at an operational level driving customer satisfaction and customer loyalty.