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Virginia Bauer: Fresh Face for Jersey Business
by Barbara Fox
Somewhere, an agency in New Jersey government is really going to
listen to what entrepreneurs need.
Sometime, a state official is really going to help smooth the business
owners’ Yellow Brick Road to success.
And at some point, the state will put its money where its mouth is and
market Central New Jersey as an alluring center for high-tech
Trenton has promised countless times to fulfill these goals, and each
reorganization of the commerce commission brings new promises and
programs. Still, searching for the right program, the right official,
or the right grant is arduous. The fulfillment of the state’s
promises, the "dreams that we dare to dream" always seem to be just
over some other state’s rainbow.
But wait! Down the road comes Virginia Samaris Bauer, the new CEO and
secretary of the state commerce commission. She may not be a dead
ringer for Judy Garland, but she has the Dorothy character’s
confidence and charisma. And just three months after she took office,
she is trying to convince business owners that bluebirds really can
fly here in New Jersey.
A cheerleader in high school, a thespian in college (she really did
star as Dorothy in "Wizard of Oz"), a financial planner who left
Merrill Lynch to raise three children, she came to the public’s
attention when, as the widow of a Cantor Fitzgerald executive, who
died at the World Trade Center, she effectively lobbied for changes in
the tax laws for 9/11 families. The McGreevey administration tapped
her to head the state lottery, where her programs broke profit
records, and when the commerce secretary’s job suddenly opened up, in
She comes with a smile, full of confidence. "I can be annoyingly
upbeat," admits Bauer in a telephone interview. "I try to always look
at things in a positive way. But you have to arm that confidence with
knowledge and the ability to learn from others. My strength is that I
know what I don’t know and am not afraid to ask. I do listen. And
hopefully I am not just a voice, but someone who can make effective
change to the business climate, to encourage growth and jobs in the
Bauer keynotes "Empowerment & Inspiration 2004 – the Rise of the Woman
Entrepreneur," Prosperity New Jersey’s free signature event on
Thursday, November 4, from 7:30 to 3:30 p.m. at the Lafayette Yard
Marriott in Trenton (609-984-4924). She also speaks at "Opportunities
and Perspectives: Blueprint for Success," a state-sponsored conference
on Friday, November 12, at 8:30 a.m. at the East Brunswick Hilton.
Cost: $125 at the door. Call 609-777-0885.
The ability to listen and consider what someone really needs is
Bauer’s trademark. Last month nearly 80 people came to hear her at an
Einstein’s Alley breakfast meeting at NEC on Independence Way, and she
demonstrated that skill.
She made it clear that she was not ready to give answers, but that she
wanted to hear ideas and problems, and that she aimed to be an
advocate – to bring problems to the right agency or legislative body.
Change is needed in some cases, she assured her constituents, and in
other areas what was needed was good old-fashioned communications.
"That’s a good idea," she’d say. "Tell me how it would work." Or, "I
hear that wherever I go, and I’m going to work hard to fix it." Or
(and most effective), "I don’t know, I’ll find out."
"The state provides a lot of good tools and programs for the business
community, but that message wasn’t delivered," she says. "People
didn’t know about them. And when people had questions, they didn’t get
the proper followup." It is a familiar refrain. "Especially from small
businesses, but even with large businesses, when they call about
permits and regulations, nobody gets back to them."
Virtually everyone at the meeting had a vested interest in getting
Central Jersey branded as Einstein’s Alley, a nationally recognized
center for technology, and getting it funded by the state. One of the
concept’s strongest promoters, Dick Woodbridge of Synnestvedt Lechner
& Woodbridge on Nassau Street, professed amazement and delight at
Bauer’s grasp of its potential. "Now I feel like I’m talking to
someone who understands what we need to do," he says. "She is the
highest level state official that I have run across who really
understands Einstein’s Alley."
But one scientist, who declined to be quoted by name, was less sure:
"I am not convinced she is exactly on target or that she understood
that Einstein’s Alley does not mean just Princeton." (It is supposed
to encompass all of central New Jersey).
On this morning Bauer is preaching to the choir, but this choir
desperately wants to believe that she can follow through on the
support for high tech businesses that promoters have been talking
about for years but never delivered. Given that Bauer has little
experience in starting a business, and knows even less about
technology, what inspires this confidence?
A dynamic and self-assured
deamanor, perhaps, but Bauer herself credits her listening skills. She
suggests that if people believe you are listening, they think you have
the power to do something. "Others will say, ‘She does listen.’ A lot
of leaders are afraid that if they listen, they appear weak, where I
feel the opposite."
Is it a female characteristic? "I think men are
sometimes afraid to appear not knowledgeable, but some women, also,
feel they have to fake it. Eventually, they are tripped up."
Her credibility comes from the reputation she gained as an advocate
for 9/11 families and as the head of the New Jersey Lottery. "Without
those advocate and lottery successes, it would have been almost
impossible for me to do this job," she admits. "That’s why the
governor chose me." (She replaced William Watley, who resigned when
allegations were made that monies had been misspent by members of the
commissions staff.) "More importantly I was well received by the
residents of the state who knew me, and I could start out on a good
The Einstein’s Alley meeting resulted in at least one quick response
from the commission, says Wei-hsing Wang of NicheUSA. As the local
manager for the Emerging Information Technology Conference, a global
conference set for Thursday and Friday, October 28 and 29, he wanted
to distribute materials touting New Jersey as a place to open a
"After I went to the meeting and realized that the Commerce Commission
was supposed to be the first place to go for information, I phoned the
commission," says Wang. "I got immediate results – a call from Charles
Lynch, who assembled a thick envelope of materials for me, and, for
the speediest delivery, offered to bring them to my home (he lives in
the same town)."
Nevertheless, Wang thinks the commission ought to replace the many
documents with a one-page information sheet that could refer to a
website and that could more easily be distributed at conventions.
The eldest of five children, Virginia "Ginny" Bauer grew up in the
small Jersey shore town of Little Silver, where her mother taught
fourth grade, and her father had a bar and package store. "I knew at
an early age that I had good people skills," says Bauer. "It is not an
act with me. I had a lot of responsibility and took care of my
brothers and sisters."
At a coed Catholic high school she was a quick study, and if she was
not one of the most diligent students, she was one of the most
popular. "I was always very outgoing and had lots of friends, but
neither of my parents is as outgoing as I am," she says. "I learned
from others around me, those who impressed me – people like the
mothers of my friends and the families I used to babysit for. I would
emulate the mother of the household because I saw they had felt good
about themselves and had a confidence in speaking to other people."
Though accepted at bigger schools, she and several friends went to a
small woman’s college, Rosemont, on the outskirts of Philadelphia.
"Rosemont seemed pretty safe, and I ended up loving it. I was pretty
much a ‘B’ student, and I certainly didn’t study as much as I should
Going to a women’s college did teach empowerment, she admits, "but I
was never intimidated by men, either in the classroom or the
boardroom. I wish I could tell you that there was something in my life
that taught me that, but I think it was instinctual. In my family I
was always was the ‘smart one,’ the cheerleader, and I never felt
there was something I couldn’t do." (One of the things she admits she
couldn’t do, but had to do anyway, was to sing Dorothy’s "Over the
Rainbow" solo on stage.)
Though she and David Bauer, her future husband, had known each other
in grammar school, their first date was in during their senior year in
college; he was at nearby Villanova and they both graduated in 1978.
"We always had had a little ‘chemistry,’" she says. "I always thought
he was adorable, and when we dated, it was instant. We got engaged a
year after we graduated and married a year after that."
The capacity to listen and consider what people really need was
Bauer’s trademark even in her first job. She was one of the first –
and certainly the youngest – female account executives at Merrill
"I did very well," she asserts, "because I understood my job, to
introduce certain financial products, find the ones suitable, and make
those suggestions. I listened to the client to understand what their
financial needs were. Then I would go to the research department and
plug in the right products for them."
"Other account executives spent their time staring at the screen,
finding their own good buys, and not on the phone. That is part of
understanding your job and simplifying what you have to do," she says.
She worked in Westfield for seven years, until her first son was born.
"At that point my husband’s career as a corporate bond salesman for
Merrill started to accelerate. We made the decision to have more
children, but if I had kept my job, I would not have been able to keep
the same level of productivity."
"I did miss my job, but I never regretted my decision. I loved my
husband and children, and some days I’d drive the kids to practice and
think ‘There has to be more than this,’ but I knew at some point I
would have the opportunity to professionally and intellectually
stimulate myself again. We always vacillated about my working, and I
would say, ‘Then I can’t go with you when you have a trip.’ Had David
lived, I would have gone back into the workforce."
Less than a month after her husband was killed, she began working with
James Fox and Eric Shuffler in Senator Torricelli’s office on a 9/11
tax bill. "Ginny is a thoughtful, articulate, passionate advocate for
the causes she believes in," says Shuffler, who was Torricelli’s chief
of staff. "At a time when she was experiencing her own difficult
emotional situation she found it in herself to become an advocate, not
just for her, but for a lot of other people who needed her to advocate
Bauer’s own financial situation is quite secure; she has about $10
million in savings, according to public disclosure documents, and she
moved from Rumson to a $1.8 million house in Red Bank last year. She
has said that her 9/11 settlement was "about average," and the average
was about $1.25 million.
"People deal with grief in different ways," Bauer says. "Certainly my
activism was a form of constructive therapy and turned out to be a
wonderful opportunity to renew my life and renew a chapter in my
life." She believes her current work is the best tribute she could
make to her husband: "I know he is supportive."
Fox (now chief of staff in the governor’s office) and Shuffler (now
counselor to the governor) recommended Bauer for the lottery job.
Bauer had just ensconced her youngest child at boarding school and was
starting to job hunt. "I thought, ‘What the heck am I going to do? I
am 46 years old.’ That’s when I started to look for a position, and I
had a couple of offers when the lottery director’s appointment came."
In one year at the lottery she pioneered the first Internet-based game
Cyber Slingo, installed the first lottery retailer at Newark
International Airport, cut administrative fees to less than one
percent, and got the credit for a record-breaking $2.2 billion in
As commerce secretary, most days begin at 5:30 a.m. with her swimming
laps at a health club near her home. "I used to play tennis, walk,
ski, and run occasionally, and now I don’t have the opportunity to do
that. But after my husband died, I found swimming was therapeutic for
me and a good form of exercise."
"Every night this week I have had a dinner," says Bauer. "And then I
go right to bed. I am an early-to-bed girl. I do have a high energy
level, but I need eight hours sleep."
If her three teenagers lived at home, she says, she could not do this
demanding job. Each is an accomplished athlete, and she spends her
weekends driving to their games – the oldest son, a high school All
American now playing lacrosse as a sophomore at Georgetown, the middle
son, on the football team at Peddie School, and her daughter playing
three sports at Blair Academy. "There is a lot of humor in my life,"
she says, "and my children keep me very humble."
Soon after her appointment was announced on July 16 (her appointment
as commerce secretary was officially confirmed by the Senate on
October 25), Bauer cleaned house, firing the controller and five other
people and reining in travel expenses. "Change is a pill the staff was
happy to take," she says. "Any of the personnel changes I needed to
make, I made immediately. The current staff members have been working
hard a long time but were not able to do their job effectively. Morale
is high and there is a sense of relief."
Bauer has these priorities:
To clean up finances. The highest level finance job had been
controller. Bauer hired a new controller and, by executive order from
the governor, added the job of CFO (Mary Beth Davies, a 25-year
Treasury veteran) to carry out fiscal reforms. Jason Kirin is the new
chief of staff.
To emphasize marketing and PR. "We must do a better job of
what Commerce has to offer," says Bauer. "We fell short in getting the
word out. What’s needed, quite frankly, is some better packaging and
better customer service. And that’s where the State of New Jersey
needs to step up."
Acknowledging that the lottery’s marketing director, Cathy
Scangarella, was responsible for much of the lottery’s success, Bauer
hired her to a new job at Commerce, vice president of marketing.
She also replaced the director of communications with Mary Caffrey.
(At the Einstein’s Alley meeting Bauer emphasized that because Caffrey
had worked at Princeton University, Princeton’s interests would be
well represented at Commerce.) Caffrey is charged with publicizing the
20th anniversary of the Urban Enterprise Zone in order to get more
To reorganize staff. Among her first moves was to move
specialists out of their Trenton offices and into specific
geographical regions. She also reinstituted industry specialists, a
concept that was started under Governor Whitman. "I felt the account
executives needed to be out in the field, and I wanted to get
executives back out there in the industries they were most comfortable
with," says Bauer.
Among the regional representatives are Lloyd Oxford, who serves
Hunterdon, Somerset, and Mercer counties; John Cuifo, who serves
Middlesex, Monmouth, and Ocean; and Jim Waldron, who serves
Burlington, Atlantic, Gloucester and Salem counties. Industry
specialists include James Donnelly, information technology; Ed Dietz,
logistics; Charles Lynch, chemicals; Henry Kurz,
pharmaceuticals/biotechnology; Larry Doyle, finance and insurance; and
Jo Ann Ritter, the sector specialist for the hospitality industry as
well as a regional rep for Camden, Cumberland, and Cape May.
To emphasize tourism. Bauer says it was "not acceptable" that
of the commission did not include tourism. Now the name is the New
Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth, and Tourism Commission, and tourism
has been added to the mission statement. This means that Nancy Byrne,
executive director of the Office of Travel and Tourism, "has a more
important role and seat at the table than she had previously," says
Bauer harks back to her childhood days to show she knows what "a good
season" and "a bad season" can mean to a shore town. Tourism, she
points out, is the second largest industry in the state, bringing in
more than $30 billion in revenue and $2 billion in taxes, and
supporting more than 400,000 jobs that generate more than $12 billion
Until now, says Bauer, the Tourism office concentrated on marketing.
Now, if issues arise with other state agencies (water testing by the
Department of Environmental Protection, for instance, or weatherizing
hotels by the Department of Community Affairs), Bauer will advocate to
get the issues resolved.
On the marketing side, Bauer and Byrne have created cooperative
marketing sponsorships, ranging from $500 to $100,000, for the
promotion of special events. Organizations can apply to this program,
which began in October; it uses state funds to leverage private
resources. The criteria for getting this award include "the
applicant’s significant interest in the promotion of a tourist
destination, attraction, or activity, as well as the ability of the
program or event to promote the Office of Travel and Tourism to broad
audiences or targeted markets, including cultural, historic, and
To encourage the technology sector. Bauer’s cause will surely
from actions taken by another McGreevey appointee, Sherrie Preische,
who as executive director is trying to restore the stature of the New
Jersey Science and Technology Commission. One of the questions at the
Einstein’s Alley meeting concerned the NJCST, which seemingly lost
power and prestige when some of its functions were turned over to the
New Jersey Economic Development Authority. Scientists were worried
about the possibility that grantmaking would be done by lay people.
Their worries were unfounded, according to the EDA’s Caren Franzini,
who points out that the NJCST has a strong vote on the committee that
gives grant money, and that the EDA merely does the back office
Still, there was a perception problem. And just last week Preische
named two celebrity scientist/administrators to the board. The new
chairman is Don Drakeman, founder of Medarex, a successful biotech,
and previous chair of the Biotechnology Council of New Jersey. Also
new on the board is Greg Olsen, the founder of Sensors Unlimited who
is most recently famous for his attempt to be an astronaut. These
appointments are the first step toward solving the problem.
The governor’s new Innovation Zones (Newark, New Brunswick, and
Camden) are supposed to bolster technology companies. But it doesn’t
please Einstein’s Alley advocates that the largesse to be given out in
New Brunswick will not extend to Princeton. At the Einstein’s Alley
meeting, Bauer held out the hope that the zones might eventually be
Increasing responsiveness to small business from state
Bauer has asked Megan Mulcahy to establish a clearer method of
client/customer service. "If business callers have questions, they
will not be asked to call four or five different departments," says
Aren’t the Small Business Development Centers supposed to be providing
that help? "Yes. But Commerce, in many cases, is the first place
people come to. If a small business has a concern, we have to do a
good job of being sure they get to the right spot and making sure they
are getting an answer."
"It is not all that difficult," she promises. "We might have to set up
better phone lines and clean up the website. And do a better job of
marketing the programs we have. If you clarify your message and are
straight with people, you are usually much more successful. That’s
what we will do here."
Whew. All this adds up to a monumental task. And unlike Dorothy, Ginny
Bauer can’t click her heels to make things happen. Will she succeed?
Perhaps, says Wang of NicheUSA. The new commissioner, he says, "is
really serious about what she is doing and is going to work hard, but
it is too early to say whether she will be successful."
Bauer’s success may depend on being less like Dorothy and more like
the Wizard, who was able to inspire people to find their own solutions
to perceived problems.
One thing is clear, she gets to keep her job when the governor’s
office changes hands. "Senator Codey is very happy to leave people who
are doing their job in place," she says. "This is not a hostile
New Jersey Commerce, Economic Growth and Tourism Commission, 20
State Street, Box 820, Trenton 08625-0820. Virginia S. Bauer,
secretary. 609-777-0885; fax, 609-777-4097. Home page:
Empowerment & Inspiration: The Rise of the Women Entrepreneur,
sponsored by Prosperity New Jersey. Free by reservation; call
609-984-4924. Erik R. Pages, EntreWorks Consulting. "Personal
Relationship Marketing: Building Relationships of Trust," Marlene J.
Pagley Waldock, 1st Impression Communications; Virginia S. Bauer,
secretary of commerce; Kent Manahan of NJTV, panel moderator.
Lafayette Yard Marriott Conference Hotel, Trenton. Thursday, November
4, 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
New Jersey Economic Development Conference, East Brunswick
"Opportunities and Perspectives: Blueprint for Success," Virginia
Bauer, CEO of NJ Commerce, and Senator Richard J. Codey, governor
designate. Jon S. Corzine, U.S. Senator, keynote. Cost: $125. Call
609-777-0885. Friday, November 12, 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Bauer also chairs a panel, "NJ Commerce – Helping Business Access New
Jersey," featuring Bradley M. Campbell, commissioner of the DEP;
Jeanne M. Fox, commissioner of the Board of Public Utilities; John F.
Lettiere Jr., commissioner of the DOT; Susan Bass Levin, commissioner
of the Department of Community Affairs; Kevin McCabe, commissioner of
the Department of Labor; John E. McCormac, state treasurer; and Caren
Franzini, CEO of the NJEDA.
Marlene Pagley-Waldock of New Jersey 12 hosts "Financing Steps to
Success," with panelists Phil Politziner of Amper Politziner & Mattia;
William Best of PNC Bank; Brenda Gavin of Quaker BioVentures; James A.
Kocsi, office director of the New Jersey District, Small Business
Administration; and William A. Moody, director of business lending at
Steve Adubato of Channel 13/WNET moderates "Successful Models for
Reducing Operating Costs to Improve the Bottom Line" with Alex Garcia
of the El Taller Colaborativo, Carol Hazlett of PSE&G, Jim Leonard, of
the NJ Chamber of Commerce, and Bill Ragozine of the Cross County
The biography of Virginia Bauer has a certain likeness to another
highly placed woman in state government: Small town girl from big
family works hard, gets married, has a family, and holds down a
prestigious position in state government. It is very similar to the
biography of Caren Franzini, the CEO of the New Jersey Economic
Development Authority, who is the mother of three school-age children,
is popular, and respected for being a straight shooter.
Indeed, Franzini and Bauer are two of a kind and it is easy to imagine
that they like each other’s styles. "I am such a fan of Caren’s," says
Bauer. "She is knowledgeable, caring, selfless, and a wonderful
partner to me."
"We are having fun already," says Franzini. "This week alone we were
at three events together. We are very supportive of each other. We
each have our own strengths."
Franzini is too polite and way too political to comment on the
procession of other Commerce secretaries she has had to work with,
saying only, "the business community should be very happy to have
Ginny Bauer. Not only is she full of enthusiasm, she now has a team
that is ready and excited to work with the community. It’s catching.
You meet her and you feel the excitement and energy. You have to have
a good leader to charge up an organization."
It may be an uphill climb for one person to get much done in a
bureaucracy, but when two "like minds" work together, almost anything
is possible, Franzini agrees. Then she quickly emphasizes that Kevin
McCabe, who heads Labor and Workforce Development, is an integral
member of the team. "EDA does the financing, Labor does the job
training," says Franzini, "and Commerce should carry the flag. That’s
"But when we need something really big to happen," says Franzini,
taking the opportunity to bring another person into the circle, "we
turn to the state treasurer (John McCormac)." McCormac took some flack
when he tried to cut the Business Employment Incentive Program, but he
learned from that and is now an enthusiastic BEIP supporter. "It is
such a great advantage to the business community to have a team that
likes each other and works together with the goal of helping
businesses," Franzini says.
– Barbara Fox
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