Better Know a Prof: Rick Baer

By: Marissa Burkett, Staff Writer

Professor Rick Baer first heard of Thunderbird while in a leadership development program with Colgate-Palmolive. “At the time,” said Baer, “Colgate hired only Thunderbird students so when I joined the leadership development program, I was the only non T-bird. We often sat together and had lunch and all they would talk about was Thunderbird and how fantastic their experience was. When I moved to Phoenix, I reached out to see if there was some way that I could connect with the school.”

That was eight years ago and Baer has been making connections and inspiring students ever since. Originally from Long Island, New York, Professor Baer has over 35 years of experience and has worked or lived in 75 different countries. He earned his Bachelors in Foreign Management from Georgetown University and then interned at Colgate-Palmolive. “I knew even at that young age that I wanted to manage a subsidiary in a U.S. company somewhere overseas.” The internship went well, and so after a stint in the Army, Baer joined Colgate-Palmolive International, where he spent the next 17 years.

“So my marketing and pricing and Marcomm experience all came and developed through fighting global giants like Unilever and Procter & Gamble for all of those years. And I absolutely loved it.

We spent five years in Australia, three years in Thailand, and then to Guatemala where I was Marketing Director for Central America. After that, we moved to Rome, [Italy], and on a temporary assignment to Johannesburg, [South Africa]. At that time, I was probably the most experienced person at Colgate in the sales and marketing of laundry detergents. I had a lot of experience in the sales and marketing of laundry detergents so I was the most experienced person in laundry detergents. Then we were transferred to Venezuela and spent 2 1/2 years there. We got to see all of the different regions and it couldn’t be better.

One of the reasons for getting to all of these wonderful spots was that I was also very good at my job.”

Had you traveled much before making the decision to get your BA in foreign management?

I did. When I was 16, I wanted to learn Spanish so I started cutting lawns and delivering newspapers, saved up a lot of money and flew to Antigua, Guatemala, for a summer to have an intensive Spanish language experience. I had read in the newspaper that the best Spanish language school in the world was in Guatemala and so I went there.

What did you do after Colgate?

I moved into working for an entrepreneur. I spent 5 years as the VP for an entrepreneur who was trying to grow his global promotion business so I picked up some more B2B experience that I hadn’t had before. But I really wanted to experience the classroom atmosphere, I’m sort of mad passionate about giving back to students who are interested in having a career in global business like I did. For me it’s a great experience to have that opportunity so I am thankful to the school for seeing that there’s a role for people with business experience in academia.

What did you like or dislike the most about being an expat?

I disliked nothing at all. My first assignment was Sydney, [Australia]. I spent five years there and had a wonderful experience. I didn’t feel like an expat: I felt like an American living in Australia. I think that the whole idea of learning different cultures, especially in the world of marketing, not accepting that everything you know is the right way to do things is one of the secrets to marketing success. Every consumer in every country is very different and the way to their hearts and minds is always different. That’s the fun and excitement of moving around the world, you’ll always have a chance to expand your knowledge of different cultures and people.

I absolutely loved my life as an expatriate. One of the reasons I think so is because when Colgate moved you around from country to country, everything is brand new again. New languages, new government, new consumer buying habits, and shopping and  advertising needs. To me it was super refreshing to move into a new country and figure it all out again, say, ‘I have no idea how to become successful.’ And I like that challenge, I love that challenge. When I arrived in Thailand, I spoke not a word of Thai but by the time I left, I gave my farewell speech in Thai. I was the first expat to do that and be able to communicate with the consumer and sales force. I took it on as a challenge and I absolutely loved it.

I also was married; my wife loves to travel and was a flight attendant flying internationally. When we moved, she joined other airlines and had wonderful travel benefits. There’s no Pacific island that we haven’t visited yet. We took advantage of living in different places to continue to explore. I think that’s an advantage of living in different countries. Wanting to know more and explore.

How did you make the transition from an active businessman to a professor?

I head heard so many wonderful things about Thunderbird so when I moved to Phoenix, I reached out.  In the beginning, I was judging competitions and doing guest lecturing, but then I started to think more seriously about trying to get more involved. I had finished career number one and joined the Thunderbird Global Council, a group of executives that are passionate about the school. I was lucky enough to meet Prof. Ettenson who was teaching brand management at the time. I thought, I’ve spent my whole career in marketing and management and if there’s any way that I can add value to this class, I’d like to do it. So he invited me to sit in on his classes while he was teaching. I formed a good relationship with him and when he went on sabbatical, the school kindly offered me the opportunity to teach his classes while he was away. There were other teachers who were leaving so I started to gain more classes, like Mar Comm.

The teaching was going well but I saw a gap in the MBA curriculum and MS and I thought that pricing was a topic that should be taught. Now I teach Mar Comm pricing and occasionally brand management. But it all started all the way back with my fellow leadership development program members who felt so strongly and positively about their Thunderbird experience.

Which is your favorite country to visit?

I loved living in Italy because we could really get to know the city. We moved out to Lido and found ourselves a car and traveled every weekend. We were so passionate about traveling and had access to so many different places in a minimum amount of time. We had three hotels in three different cities that we were intimately involved in  and would take the opportunity at least once a month to go exploring. That was the main reason for loving Italy so much, we could get everywhere.

So, what’s the point?

I’m really passionate about giving back. I love the idea that there’s the opportunity for making an impact on a students’ life from something that I share in class, or they experience doing projects that makes them more confident about their future, helps them see a career path better. I do a lot of work on resume reviews and interview practice. I hold a lot of sessions to help students. That’s what really excites me. I find it very rewarding when an alum says, ‘I’m using your Power Points all the time in my daily life.’ When I hear stuff like that, its highly motivating and I want to do it more.

What are your five favorite words?

Helen,  global, optimistic, generous and passionate.


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