Xana Antunes, a veteran business journalist whose varied career included serving as executive editor of CNBC Digital during a period of significant transformation, growth and improvement, died Monday night in New York after a struggle with pancreatic cancer. She was 55.
"Xana was the soul of our newsroom," Quartz CEO Zach Seward said in an email to the site's staff, lauding her "amazing and frankly badass career in journalism."
A native of Britain and longtime resident of New York City, Antunes held multiple top news positions, including at Crain's New York Business, where she was editor, and at Fortune Magazine and CNNMoney.com, where she was executive editor.
Survivors include her husband, Scott Schell, and their daughter, Elisabeth.
Dan Colarusso, senior vice president of business news at CNBC and Antunes' fellow New York Post alumnus, said, "Xana was a unicorn before people began throwing the term around — she could discuss celebrity gossip or Wall Street scandals with equal enthusiasm and smarts."
"That made her not only a hilarious lunch date but a true role model for those of us who love journalism and the people in it," said Colarusso.
During a talk to Quartz staff recently, Colarusso told a story, at Antunes' insistence, about her failure to hire him at the New York Post in the 1990s — and years later being hired by someone else only to find his resume in Antunes' old desk, marked up with her notes about him.
With a pixieish appearance, a perplexing first name and a piquant wit, Antunes would note that her given name begins with a "sh" sound and then "rhymes with 'banana." Her family background was Scottish and Portuguese.
Antunes had a rapid rise in journalism after graduating from Trinity & All Saints College at the University of Leeds.
Antunes several months ago described how, when she was 15, a school guidance counselor reacted to her plan to become a journalist.
"She said, 'Oh no, that's ridiculous. Why don't you think about teaching or nursing?' It was by no means the first time or the last time that I and thousands of women have been brought short by low expectations," Antunes said in a speech accepting her lifetime achievement award from the Newswomen's Club of New York in October.
"But low expectations, it turned out, also had an upside. Because the cost of failure was negligible, I could just try anything and then just be completely shocked when I succeeded. And that really has been the story of my career," she said.
Her former colleague David Yelland, a London-based public relations executive, agreed, saying: "She had great success at lots of different places."
Early in her career, Antunes had reporting stints at the English newspapers The Independent and The Evening Standard, and was a newscaster on Channel 4 in Britain.
She joined the New York Post in 1995 as deputy editor on the business desk, working under Yelland.
During her next six years there, she became editor of the business section, then deputy editor of the newspaper and finally editor in 1999, a year after Yelland left that slot to become editor of The Sun in London.
"She was so charming and so hardworking that Rupert took to her and kept promoting her," Yelland said.
At the time of her ascension there, the editorial echelons at the notoriously gritty tabloid were dominated by men. So were the upper ranks of more sober-toned print outlets.
Antunes was just one of three women in charge of a top 100 newspaper by circulation in the United States when she became the Post's editor.
"She was a tough cookie," Yelland said.
But "the staff loved her, old and new," he said. "She was brilliant at managing people."
"She was a journalist who got right to the top of the tabloid game, but never compromised herself in terms of being a kind human being."
Antunes also had "an absolute understanding and love of New York ... even though she was born in Europe," he said.
"She took New York, right to the streets, the restaurants, the movies, the theater, to everything."
During her stint at the Post, Antunes told Harper's Bazaar for a photo essay featuring her and other successful women that she "felt a lot more stress when I was a reporter than I have as an editor."
"As a reporter you have to get the story, and your competition may beat you to it. As an editor, you're taking all that talent and molding it into the best product," she said.
In that article, Antunes named "Scoop" — Evelyn Waugh's bitingly satirical novel about English journalism — as a professional touchstone.
"It puts this industry in perspective," she said of the book.
"Never take yourself too seriously."
Antunes joined CNBC in 2012, at a time when its digital news site had a bare-bones, black-and-white appearance, with few images and graphics, and routinely relied on wire service copy for a large portion of its content.
During her two-year tenure, Antunes oversaw a dramatic redesign of the outlet's website, expanding the digital news staff and areas of coverage, and in the process increasing readership sharply and scoring a number of journalism awards.
One of her early hires there was Jeff Nash, now a managing editor at CNBC.
Nash called Antunes a "dynamo," who had an "infectious" enthusiasm "for telling great stories."
"You learn a lot of things from Xana, but several of them rise above the rest. The first is how to identify a journalist's talents and skills — often ones that they might even be unaware of — and develop them," Nash wrote in an essay for Antunes' lifetime achievement award last fall.
"She wants the best stories and will hire people who are good at telling them, even when they don't fit the traditional mold of a business reporter," he wrote.
"And her reporters and editors know that she has their backs and wants them to succeed. This is how she built incredible newsrooms at Fortune, Crain's, CNBC, Quartz and others," he wrote.
"It's also why journalists gladly follow her wherever she goes — which is maybe the highest compliment of all."
In October, in what turned out to be her final Twitter post, Antunes pointed followers to a Quartz article about the recent death of a young colleague.
Her comment on the piece could easily serve as her own epitaph: "Remembering a strong, passionate, deeply caring woman who left us far too soon."