College honors late professor

by Jackie Tempera / Beacon Staff • November 21, 2013

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Karl Baehr was a marketing professor and senior-executive-in-residence.
Beacon Staff
Karl Baehr was a marketing professor and senior-executive-in-residence.
Beacon Staff

On Nov. 1, Karl Baehr entered his Entrepreneurship I classroom in the Tufte Building and slammed a bag down on the front table.

After the loud crash, Baehr, a marketing professor and senior executive-in-residence, pulled two industrial-sized hammers out of the bag and awarded them to his class’s best negotiators — titles won during a previous in-class exercise, said James Johnston, a student in the course. The unusual prizes, awarded every semester, signified the ruthlessness and utility of business, according to Baehr’s former students.

Baehr’s quirky classroom presence, paternal air, and passionate attitude will be missed by his students and colleagues. Baehr, 54, died unexpectedly the night of Nov. 13.

Baehr came to Emerson in 2004 to create the entrepreneurial studies program, now a minor housed in the marketing communication department. Through this, he developed the Emerson Experience in Entrepreneurship, or E3 — a program designed to help students learn about business, marketing, and sales. 

Baehr moved from his home and family in Rio Ranchero, N.M. to Massachusetts that same year to begin this endeavor, said Cathy Baehr, his ex-wife, in an interview with the Beacon. 

“It was something we agreed to at the time,” said Cathy Baehr. “He missed a lot of birthdays and events with his kids while he was [in Boston], but it was something that truly allowed him to grow professionally and personally.” 

Evan Baehr, 21, joked that Emerson was as much of a child to his father as he and his younger brother Scott, 15.  

“Emerson was like another baby to him,” said Evan Baehr in an interview with the Beacon at his father’s memorial service. “He grew that program from the ground up. He gave it all he had and was so proud of how successful it was.” 

Ellen Finer, Baehr’s girlfriend of four years, echoed the sentiment. 

“He was just always helping his students,” she said. “This was so important to him. He wanted to see this thing explode.”

Students in Baehr’s classes said they could feel his dedication daily. Melanie Katz, a junior marketing communication major, said a class with Baehr was unique — he would often kick off his shoes and lounge back, then proceed to share life stories. These anecdotes ranged from times he said he thought he was going to be kidnapped, to parties he attended, to practical business advice. Baehr was also the managing director of InterTerraNMG, an Atlanta-based communication firm that focuses on video, publishing, film, music, and entertainment, according to the group’s website. 

Katz said her Small Business Management class was the last Baehr taught before his passing. That Wednesday’s 4 p.m. class was business as usual, she said — students spoke about finances. 

“He has such a great presence,” said Katz. “He basically radiated through the classroom. Some teachers have an interest in what they’re teaching, but Karl really had a passion.” 

Johnston, a junior marketing communication student and one of Baehr’s academic advisees, said Baehr was the kind of educator who quickly became many students’ favorite professor.

“He was just so full of energy and excitement,” said Johnston. “He made a lot of jokes in class and was very personable.”

Baehr was teaching two courses this semester — Entrepreneurship I and Small Business Management. Stanley Miller and Cathy Flanagan, both part-time professors in the marketing communication department, were appointed to work with Ashwin Jacob, Baehr’s graduate assistant, to finish the semester, said Don Hurwitz, interim chair of the marketing communication department. 

In an email to the Beacon, Hurwitz said he is looking within Baehr’s business network to find someone to teach his Entrepreneurship II course in the spring. 

“I am working with the administration on plans to build future business offerings at Emerson, which will feed the near term search for a program director to fill Karl Baehr’s very large shoes,” wrote Hurwitz in the email. 

Jacob said he was paired with Baehr in September because a graduate school employee thought they would get along. Jacob is an entrepreneur and owns Prolific, a literary and talent management company. Jacob said Baehr often sent him “thank you” text messages, even when the work he completed was part of his job description or nothing extraordinary. He said he will always remember Baehr’s kindness and desire to help his students.

“Whoever came into his life, he’d look for a way to positively benefit them,” said Jacob.

Doug Quintal, a senior executive-in-residence in the marketing communication department, said Baehr was his best friend at the college. Since Baehr was displaced from his family, Quintal said he took Baehr into his own. The pair spent holidays, vacationed, attended Bruins games, and played music together. Baehr loved music, regularly attended concerts, and played the keyboard and guitar, said Quintal. 

“He was just larger than life,” said Quintal. “He made people’s dreams come true.”

Many of Baehr’s former students agreed. They still have his cell phone number programmed in their phones, their businesses influenced by his help, and his hammers in their closets.

Goldberg now operates Shmedia, a social media marketing company he founded. He attributes the site’s success to Baehr.

“His E3 class completely changed the trajectory of my life,” said Goldberg.

He and Baehr remained close, said Goldberg, and that he came to the college to lecture at least once a semester.

“He had this incredible voice,” said Goldberg. “And he was never more than a phone call away. Except for now, which is so hard to accept.”

Evy Chen, a 2010 Emerson graduate, now owns Evy Tea, a Boston-based iced tea shop she founded. During her time at Emerson, Chen won the E3 Expo  — a contest at the end of the yearlong entrepreneurship course where students present the ventures they had been developing, and compete for a cash prize to be used toward their businesses.

Chen said she learned the value of making money from Baehr, something she said students at Emerson often forget about. 

“We tend to think like artists,” said Chen. “When we create something, we are satisfied by process of creating it. But Karl told us, ‘Hey, profit is good, making money is good.’” 

Hiroki Murakami, a 2012 Emerson graduate, said he learned a similar lesson. 

“He was the only profit-loving business guy,” said Murakami. “Karl was on this mission to make people love the idea of making a lot of money. He was very unapologetic about it, but it was awesome.”

James DiSabatino, a 2009 Emerson graduate, said Baehr helped him while he was creating his own company — Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, which was developed after his time at Emerson. 

“[He was] just someone you could always throw ideas off of,” said DiSabatino. “He always made himself available. I felt very comfortable going to him, like a peer.”

DiSabatino, like many of Baehr’s students, said he frequently spent time in Baehr’s office — talking out business plans, catching up, or simply admiring his knick-knacks. Baehr was a big Star Wars fan, said Chen, and had paraphernalia from the series displayed in the space.

On Tuesday, Nov. 19, 75 of Baehr’s colleagues, students, family members, and friends gathered in the Bill Bordy Theater after his funeral service in Malden, Mass., to honor him. While standing in the same room the E3 Expo has been held every year, the crowd talked about Baehr and shared stories.

At the event, Finer said she hopes the college will continue the entrepreneurial studies program in Baehr’s absence so his legacy will live on. In his email to the Beacon, Hurwitz said the college will look for a new leader for the program. 

The college will also host an event in Baehr’s honor on Friday, Jan 17., in the Cutler Majestic Theatre, according to an email from Andrew Tiedemann, vice president for communications and marketing. 

After President M. Lee Pelton notified the Emerson community of Baehr’s death via email on Nov. 14, there was an immediate outpouring of grief online. Max Goldberg, a 2007 Emerson graduate, created a “Remembering Karl Baehr” Facebook group where students banded together to think of a way to honor the professor. 

Jon Allen, a senior marketing communication major and the winner of last year’s E3 Expo, wrote on the page. He said he hopes to create a scholarship in Baehr’s name. 

Jeffrey Schoenherr, vice president for development and alumni relations, said he is working with Phillip Glenn, the interim dean of the school of communication, to establish a fund to support the E3 program.

“We want to make sure that we honor Karl in the correct way,” said Schoenherr. Schoenherr said he has received calls from faculty, students, staff, and alumni wanting to do something in memory of Karl.  The fund should be in place within the next week or two, he said. 

“What we thought might be nice in order to honor Karl is to establish something for the E3 program,” said Schoenherr. “That was so near and dear to him.”

 

Laura Gomez, deputy news editor, contributed to this story.