“Profit is good,” Karl Baehr preached to his students.
The line he repeated over and over. A line one would least expect coming from a director of business and entrepreneurial studies. But at Emerson College, with a focus on art and communication, getting students to embrace the catch phrase proved difficult.
Max Goldberg was one such student. In fact, he found himself in something of a moral crisis. Goldberg participated in the second cohort of E3, Emerson’s entrepreneurial program. He started a standup comedy tour that eventually turned into the online marketing venture Shmedia.
Goldberg cared deeply about the integrity of his art and worried about making money with it. Not that he couldn’t, but instead he felt like he shouldn’t.
It was during office hours — when Baehr usually roamed barefoot — that Goldberg got past his crisis.
“There’s nothing in life more beautiful than making a living doing what you love to do,” Baehr told Goldberg. “Profit is good.”
Karl’s voice soothed him.
“That bassy, syrupy quality that was friendly and authoritative at the same time,” Goldberg later remembered.
It was just over a month ago, on Nov. 14, that Goldberg, other students, alumni from E3, and Baehr’s friends and family learned that they would never again hear his bassy song.
Karl Baehr died of cardiac arrest at 54.
Baehr’s infectious enthusiasm started at a young age. The entrepreneurial force was strong with him, recalled Lisa Kiely, his younger sister.
Growing up, the local church tasked the Baehr children with selling statuettes door to door. Karl pawned his off on Lisa, pushing her up to the stoops while he waited. But Karl worked a simultaneous side gig peddling local election campaign bumper stickers — which he had Lisa bring up with the figurines.
Horizontal integration and task delegation. Not bad for an eight year old.
That whimsical child eventually found himself among the ranks of educators at Babson College and Harvard University. Fortune Magazine named him a top professor of entrepreneurship for his work at Emerson’s E3 program.
“It was natural and I think I was his first student,” said Kiely.
Baehr’s more contemporary students remember the quirks about going to office hours: The Star Trek pizza cutter, a proudly displayed sword gifted to him by an E3 class, little Darth Vader figures, a smattering of knick knacks from his past life as a radio DJ and his time living in the southwest.
“He always looked like he had just gotten back from a New Mexico spiritual retreat,” said Goldberg, referencing Baehr’s fondness for Tommy-Bahama-like shirts and propensity of safari style vests.
But mostly students remember his availability — and ability to provide counsel in times of crisis — it seemed to everyone: His family, his students, his colleagues, and business partners.
“There’s a huge empty spot in my heart and in my mentorship with where I’m going next,” said Morgan First, E3 student and co-founder and chief executive of Second Glass. “I could always call Karl with the most random silly — or most incredibly vulnerable — questions and he was always there to shed light when it seemed most dark.”
First’s wine discovery and sharing company is enjoying their biggest year to date and poised to open a brick and mortar location in the near future. Her success story is one of many: Roxy’s Grilled Cheese, Green Street Vault, Chattel and Strutt, Evy Tea, and Goldberg’s Shmedia among the others.
Even Kiely fancied herself a successful entrepreneur with Baehr by her side, this time sans campaign bumper stickers.
Kiely had fallen in love with the south of France — Provence especially — after visiting in 1998. She needed to find a way back.
“Anybody can start an internet business,” Baehr said.
“How am I going to do this?” Kiely asked.
“Google it,” Baehr said.
Since 2001 Kiely has given tours and arranged vacation homes in the south of France through her internet business ProvenceProperties.net.
Five years after her business launched, Karl and Lisa’s mother got sick. The siblings would sit by her bedside, brainstorming ideas while their mother rested.
Baehr was always thinking of the next thing. This time it was BaptizeYourPet.com. They bought the domain.
“He was a brilliant man with a ridiculous sense of humor,” Kiely said.
Kiely’s mother passed around the holidays in 2006. As a token of remembrance — or perhaps because it’s just too hard — their father still hasn’t taken down the Christmas tree.
The Baehr’s always lived a bit nomadically but the holiday’s never failed to bring them together no matter the distance.
Growing up Karl and Lisa’s family moved almost every four years following their father who worked for Shell Oil. When they grew up the family dispersed.
Karl lived in Boston; his ex-wife and youngest son in Rio Rancho, New Mexico; his older son trained for the Marines at Camp Pendleton in California; his sister worked at Lincoln High School in Nebraska; and his father and the Christmas tree sat in Houston.
“The holidays kind of lose that magic because all the sadness comes swimming back every year,” Kiely said taking a moment to feel sad and breathe.
This year Baehr’s girlfriend, Ellen Finer, and ex-wife, Cathy, will be there.
“So I assume my job will be to run interference between them,” Kiely said, laughing to dam up the tears.
After Baehr passed Kiely came to Boston. She paced around her brother’s office, feeling overwhelmed by the subject matter of all the books. What to remove from the office escaped her until she looked at the edge of his computer screen where a sticky note read: “Look here and smile.”
“And that’s what I’m going to do,” she said. “And I think others who knew him will too.”