Hans J. Baer, one of Switzerland’s most successful bankers and an alumnus who exerted a major influence on Lehigh’s drive to become a more international university, died on March 21. He was 83.
Baer devoted his professional life to the family-owned Julius Baer Company, serving as partner beginning in 1960, as president of the executive board from 1975 until 1993, and as chairman of the board in the three years before his retirement.
The company, engaged in domestic and international banking and global asset management, is based in Zurich with offices in Hong Kong and London.
Baer played a leading role as a member of the Volcker Commission investigating Holocaust assets, serving, in his words, “as a connecting bridge” between the World Jewish Congress and the Swiss Bankers Association.
Known to the world as a successful banker, Baer was famous at his alma mater for his passionate commitment to furthering Lehigh’s worldwide presence. An honorary trustee and generous alumnus, he was instrumental in launching Lehigh’s Global Council, he endowed scholarships for international undergraduate students to attend Lehigh, and he established a chair in international finance—all in an attempt to raise Lehigh’s profile internationally.
“A mentor to generations of students”
“In our meeting last August, Hans did what he usually did each year,” said Mohamed El-Aasser, vice president for international affairs. “He inquired about Lehigh’s progress in international efforts and he peppered me with questions.
“Hans has been a great friend to Lehigh and a mentor to generations of students. He will be truly missed, but through his legacy, future generations of students will continue to reap the benefits of this visionary and loyal son of Lehigh.”
In 1997, Baer established the Hans J. Baer International Scholarship Fund for international undergraduate students, which is awarded with a preference for students from Europe.
In 2000, he established the Hans J. Baer ‘47 Endowed Chair in International Finance, now held by Professor Nandu Nayar.
Nayar recalls his first meeting with Baer in Zurich: “Before accepting the position of Baer Chair, I met Mr. Baer in Zurich. Immediately, I could see that it would be an honor to take up the Baer Chair. He had a larger-than-life personality and was a sincere and extremely warm person.”
“Baer With Me, It’s Not All About Money”
In 2004, Baer was the lead donor for the Baer International Center, located in Coxe Hall, which offers services under one roof to students from around the world.
His support for Lehigh extended beyond his generous financial contributions.
“Hans always kept the interests of Lehigh as a high priority. He was greatly supportive of our work to create an international presence for Lehigh and to bring international students and scholars to campus,” said Lehigh President Alice P. Gast.
“He generously shared his wisdom with us and he helped us understand the ways Lehigh could contribute to the world community.”
As a student, Baer enjoyed all that Lehigh had to offer inside and outside the classroom. In his memoir, It’s Not All About Money—Memoirs of a Private Banker, Baer called his years at Lehigh “perhaps the happiest years I spent in the United States.” He was treasurer, secretary and president of his fraternity, Pi Lambda Phi; editor-in-chief of the Brown and White (where he penned a regular column titled “Baer With Me”); president of the junior leadership honor society Cyanide; president of Pi Delta Epsilon, the national journalism honor fraternity; treasurer of Lehigh’s student chapter of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers; and a member of Who’s Who among Students in American Colleges and Universities.
He also won two varsity letters on the swim team, played cello in the orchestra, and was a member of the Mustard and Cheese Society.
Baer graduated from Lehigh in 1947 with a B.S. in industrial engineering. In 1950, he received his M.A. in economics from New York University. He was a Christ Church Visiting Fellow at Oxford University and a Visiting Fellow for the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard.
A lifelong devotion to the arts
In 1997, he received an honorary doctor of laws degree from Lehigh. In 1999, he received the university’s “L-in-Life” Award. He was a Tower Society member and an Asa Packer Society member.
Baer served as an honorary member of the Dean’s Advisory Council of the College of Business and Economics until his death, and in 1990 was an Executive-in-Residence at the college. He was the founding chair of Lehigh’s Global Council.
In 2002, Baer sponsored an on-campus exhibition of the work of artist H.A. Sigg. In 2004, he brought the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra to perform at the Zoellner Arts Center.
Baer had an inherent love of art and culture—an appreciation fueled during his Lehigh days by his participation in the orchestra and by his volunteer work with the Bach Choir in Bethlehem, the oldest Bach choir in the U.S. His lifelong love of the arts resulted in his service as chairman of the Tonhalle Society from 1982-92 and as founding president of the board of trustees of the Zurich Festival in 1997.
Baer’s wife, Ilse, died several years ago. He is survived by his daughter, Monique, his son, Raymond, and his wife Gabriele, and four grandchildren.
Black and white photography by Theo Anderson