01 Jun 2002
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Up to the Challenge: Ken Baumgartner - Sticking with It

Re: Gordon Kluzak (MBA 1998)
by Amy Burton

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As a boy growing up in Flin Flon, a small mining town four hundred miles north of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Ken Baumgartner did what many Canadian boys do to pass the long winters: He played hockey. But unlike many of his friends who dreamed of someday playing on a Stanley Cup team, Baumgartner saw his ice time as a springboard to higher education. “I wanted to avoid spending a lifetime working in the mine,” says the fit, 36-year-old, who has been a welcome addition to the B-School Blades hockey team. “I just viewed hockey as a way to earn a college scholarship.”

But it soon became very clear that Baumgartner had an undeniable talent for the game. After developing his skills in a Canadian junior league and in Europe, he put his full-time college plans on hold when he began playing with the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. “I figured I'd play for a couple years, take some classes, and finish my degree when I got out of the NHL,” explains Baumgartner, who found, instead, that one season in the NHL led to another — twelve in all — with the LA Kings, the New York Islanders, the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, and the Boston Bruins.

Despite the glamour and mystique surrounding professional sports, he acknowledges that hockey was often a difficult way to make a living: Competition for spots on team rosters was fierce, and the play was physical, at times bordering on violent. Baumgartner's aggressive play earned him over two thousand minutes in penalties, and he was acutely aware of the clash between his job and his role at home as a loving husband and devoted father. Changing teams also meant repeatedly uprooting his wife, Erin, and their two daughters. “My family made a lot of sacrifices for my career,” he says, noting that he is as proud of his thriving marriage — and his “well-adjusted girls” — as he is of his NHL career.

During his playing days, Baumgartner honed the skills he would need to make a successful transition to life after hockey. Stealing study time each summer and on long road trips during the season, he earned a bachelor's degree in business administration, summa cum laude, from Hofstra University in 1998. “It took fourteen years,” he says with a smile, “but I stuck with it.” During the early 1990s, as vice president of the NHL Players' Association, Baumgartner played a pivotal role in the negotiations between his hockey peers and the league's owners during a grueling, 104-day lockout. In 1999, he moved seamlessly from player to assistant coach with the Bruins and began to look for ways to transfer the leadership abilities he had acquired in team sports to his future.

He came to HBS at the suggestion of former Boston Bruin Gordon Kluzak (MBA '98), who had made a similar transition several years earlier. Baumgartner shifted from the NHL rink to the HBS classroom with relative ease. While many focus on the competitive culture at the School, after his life in hockey, Baumgartner found a sense of security at HBS. “You know what your next day is going to be like,” he says. “It's well mapped out for you over a two-year period.” His studies have paved the way for his next challenge: an investment management position with Goldman Sachs in Los Angeles, where Baumgartner hopes to find the excitement and camaraderie he enjoyed in the NHL, while at last giving his family a chance to put down some roots.

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Class of MBA 2002, Section E

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