Career advice from George Bauer: embrace serendipity

  • April 21, 2017
  • By Melody Walker
  • 3 minute read

There’s a lot of serendipity in terms of how things happen to you. Sometimes the impressions you make on people have a serendipitous effect on how things happen to you, ultimately.

—George Bauer, in an interview for the new Bauer Leadership Center

Mr. Bauer shares three important career tips in the short video above. And here we excerpt a story he shared about the role serendipity played in his early career:

“I got a bachelors and master’s degree in engineering here at Washington University in the 1950s. In those days, IBM kept its personal records on punch cards and a number 7 was a bachelors; a 6 was a high school degree; a 7 was bachelor’s degree; an 8 was a master’s degree; and a 9 on the IBM punch card indicated an employee had a PhD. They didn’t make a distinction between a master’s degree in engineering and an MBA.

“So, IBM wanted to get some people with some product experience out of the marketing side of the business into the finance side, get some end user experience into the pricing algorithms for example. And so they were sorting cards in IBM headquarters and low and behold, my card with an 8 punch fell out with every other MBA card with an 8 punch and the listing went to a fellow I knew in Chicago who had hired me in St. Louis.  And my name was the only one he recognized on that list.  And the point I’m making is, sometimes the impressions you make on people have a serendipitous effect on how things happen to you, ultimately.

“So he called me up in Milwaukee where I was the marketing manager in Milwaukee for IBM and he said, “George, how you doing?”  I said, “I’m great.  I’m ahead of quota.  Things couldn’t be better.”  He said, “Well, your name just flipped up on a list I’m looking at.  How would you like to cross-over into finance?”  That was the last thing from my mind at that point. He said, “How’d you like to be a controller in the region?”  I said, “Frank, what does a controller do?”  And he said, “Darn”  (he’s a marketing guy).  He said, “Darned if I know, come on down, we’ll talk about it.”

“So, it’s interesting that it was the best that ever happened to me because I’d had a technical background.  I had a marketing background .  But the thing that I really didn’t have was any substantive financial background.  So I transferred over, learned the planning system, learned the pricing system, learned the accounting system, and it was a dynamite opportunity for me.”

George Bauer had a 31-year career with IBM, where he served in a variety of executive positions in marketing, finance, and business systems. Bauer was a group director for Europe, Africa,and the Middle East, and a member of the group in the U.K. that launched IBM in the consulting business. Upon retiring in 1987, Bauer taught at the University of Georgia and then founded the investment banking firm the GPB Group Ltd.

George and Carol Bauer are generous benefactors of Washington University; recent gifts supported the construction of Bauer Hall and the creation of the Bauer Leadership Center at Olin.

Career Advice from George Bauer

George Bauer, EN'53, SI'59, shares career advice from a long career that started with IBM and continues today.

About the Author

Melody Walker

Melody Walker

My nickname around the office is "Scoops" because I always have the latest news from the halls of Simon, Starbucks, or the STL startup scene. Thanks to staff and student bloggers, I'm not alone in reporting on the Olin community here on the Blog. Don't be shy, post a comment or send us your story. New bloggers always welcome!

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