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Remembering Karl Baehr


Karl Baehr

The Faculty Assembly at Emerson College shared fond remembrances on November 26 of Karl Baehr, senior executive-in-residence of the Marketing Communication Department, who died unexpectedly on November 13, at age 54.

In his nine years at Emerson, Baehr was credited with developing the College’s Business Studies and Entrepreneurial Studies minors. He also oversaw the highly successful Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3) program, which leads students in developing business ventures.

Donald Hurwitz, interim chair and associate professor of Marketing Communication, and Baehr’s good friend, Doug Quintal, senior executive-in-residence of Marketing Communication, shared the following remarks with the Faculty Assembly.


Quintal’s remarks

“Saying goodbye to someone, before you believe it is time, is perhaps the hardest thing to do in life. Unfortunately, I find myself having to do this to the person who has been my closest friend for the past 10 years. Although, I can only imagine Karl is more than amused right now, seeing that a portion of Faculty Assembly is being devoted exclusively to him.

“Karl was an iconic, larger-than-life individual. He had an unparalleled sense of humor and possessed both a tremendous capacity for love as well as an uncanny knack for making people’s dreams come true.

“His formula was simple: believe in the person and the dream whole-heartedly. Provide endless encouragement and demonstrate the right amount of devil’s advocacy to ensure the vision was tactile.

“Karl led by example. He dreamed big and he always accomplished his goals—at least that’s what he used to tell me. He launched the Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3) program in 2005. To date, the program has resulted in more than 120 student-created business ventures. His mantra of “profit is good” has become the program’s battle cry. He created the Business Studies minor at Emerson College, which became the most popular minor in the school in its first year. And in 2008, Fortune magazine recognized him as one of the Top 10 Professors of Entrepreneurship.

“But no matter how much Karl achieved, he always found time to indulge his sense of humor. During the 2008 presidential election, pictures of Sarah Palin adorned in a stars and stripes bikini and brandishing an AK-47 starting appearing in my office. I was admonished by upper administration for allowing my ‘partisan bias’ filter into the workplace…The appearance of the pictures ceased after a number of Karl’s friends commented to him that they didn’t quite know how to take his new Facebook page.

“Karl spent a lot of time at my house—particularly around Thanksgiving. I sought out his guidance and expertise when it came to parenting and family as I was just entering that phase of my life. My wife Karen and my kids Jackson and Leah immediately embraced Karl and accepted him as one of the family. One Thanksgiving, Uncle Karl decided he would teach my then-3-year-old son a song on the guitar. He sat Jackson next to him, picked up the guitar and proceeded to strum it while sliding a beer bottle up and down its neck. Jackson stared in amazement as he learned to play his new favorite song, “Jailbreak.”

“My favorite memory of Karl was my second honeymoon—at least that’s what my wife referred to my trip to Vancouver with Karl as….We…well, I…had submitted a proposal for a presentation at the Academy of Marketing Sciences annual conference. Karl agreed to co-author, as this was my first attempt at an academic conference presentation. About a week after we found out our proposal had been accepted, Rush announced a tour date in Vancouver, which just happened to coincide with our trip. As I feverishly prepared the paper and the presentation, Karl got himself acquainted with the new Rush CD. The concert took place the night before we were to present—we found ourselves four rows from the stage—shouting distance away from the Holy Triumvirate. We spent the next three hours in musical nirvana, seamlessly shifting personas between Jason Segel and Paul Rudd’s characters from I Love You Man and a 40-something version of Beavis and Butthead.

“The conference presentation morning had arrived and I had no idea what role Karl would play. Clearly he had not prepared—and we were supposed to be addressing the need of an integrated approach to marketing in front of a roomful of bottom-line-driven business professors. My part of the presentation went smoothly and was genuinely well received. Karl, however, stole my thunder as he crafted a lesson with examples—straight from the concert—about the necessity of integration, cross-channel alignment, and synergy, and how he’d witnessed the future of marketing.

“I believe the greatest tribute we can pay to Karl is to pass his values on to our students and our children. Dream big—for someday they might name a business school after you—but always maintain your humanity, compassion, and humor.

“As our favorite poet, Neil Peart, wrote, ‘The measure of a life is a measure of love and respect.’ By those standards, Karl, you led a rich, complete, and fulfilled life. You touched the lives, hearts, and minds of those too numerous to count and your influence will be felt for generations to come.”


Hurwitz’s remarks

“When [faculty members] Tom [Cooper] and Cher [Krause Knight] and Roy [Kamada] suggested this time at Assembly be set aside to remember Karl Baehr, I was touched. But as my thoughts turned from their gesture to Karl’s image in my mind’s eye, I have to admit the image I conjured was of Jeff Goldblum’s character in The Big Chill, when he comments (and I paraphrase): ‘Isn’t it just like this crowd to throw a party for me at a time when I can’t be there?’—only it was Karl speaking.

“Karl was an original in the fullest sense of the word. He was an original in that he was often the first to blaze a trail. And he was an original in that, when he couldn’t be first, he’d opt to do his trailblazing in the latest manner. The first and the latest. A seeming contradiction? Maybe, but more a prod, a goad, encouragement—especially for his colleagues and his students—to find their own way. And he especially liked to encourage them to find their own way to build things.

“Some examples:

—Karl was a student of Ev Rogers, one of the giants of early mass comm research, responsible for developing the Diffusion of Innovations research stream. Every other student of Rogers works on Diffusion Theory. Karl chose to focus on Innovation.

—At a time when most up-and-coming commercial communications types were chasing dreams in new video forms and rights syndication, Karl was building radio stations and networks under new FCC guidelines.

—When the investment community rediscovered radio, Karl sold and turned to the Internet.

—Six years ago, Karl tried to introduce Emerson to an online education platform via a company he had helped to build. He was a few years early for us on that one.

—Most recently, about six weeks ago, Karl was thrilled that his investment group received a patent on an audio device matched to the high-def standards TV has staked out. He was to meet with Comcast about it in January.

“So Karl had his bona fides as an innovator and entrepreneur. But his passion was the multiplier effect of building programs for students. Business programs. And as his chair these past three years, I can testify that he pursued this passion relentlessly and well.

“The programs Karl built have been busting at the seams since I arrived at Emerson. They’ve generated dozens of businesses, great press, a loyal following, national recognition for Karl, for Emerson, and for his students and their businesses: Food innovations, fashion, distribution, the web, comedy, and on and on.

“Karl was smart; he was strategic and he was passionately real about opening students’ eyes to both the realities and the possibilities of business, where many of them will likely end up. A key lesson he taught, underneath his mantra, ‘Profit is good,’ is the importance of ‘accepting the cards you’re dealt. Acceptance, and acceptance with a vision of possibilities, is the only way to move reality forward, to progress.’

“Last week they were to get $5—and the rules: ‘nothing illegal’ and ‘nothing that risks physical harm to you or to others’—and a few weeks to see what they could make of it. In the past, some had a small pizza party. One group returned with $900 last year. Those are the Business Studies kids that go on to the Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship (E3).

“When Karl passed, nearly two weeks ago now, within 12 hours, some 300 former students, program mentors, the network Karl built quietly but solidly, were on a Facebook page remembering him. More than a dozen have been in touch directly to discuss how his legacy can be built upon. It is something we might all aspire to, this constructive, even enviable, outpouring of energy and goodwill and commitment to continue the work.

“I’ve gotten to tell Karl’s fans that this was about to be his, and their, time. That Emerson is finally ready. Karl was on one committee charged to advance entrepreneurship at Emerson, involved with the Davis grant to figure out how best to wire that to our educational programs, and to be involved with another committee charged to explore the opportunities for his subject matter in the expanding Emerson domain—here and in LA.

“It’s been a long time coming, and it’s a helluva way to secure it, but between the College’s recent trajectory, and the outpouring of genuine affection and commitment by his former students that what Karl built be continued, we can do Karl no greater honor than to advance his legacy. It will be harder without Karl himself. It may be a little less fun without him chiding us along, but then again, in accord with the beliefs of some of our brethren, now we’ve got a cheerleader in high places.

“Karl, it was a privilege to know you. You gave us some great years, some wise counsel, some great fun, and in the course of it you hatched ideas and programs that have served hundreds of students well, and whose time to grow has now come. You made a difference!

“Thank you, Emerson faculty, for taking these moments to remember Karl Baehr. We look forward to having you join us at a public ceremony in Karl’s honor in mid-January. Reminders and details will be circulated after the holidays.”

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