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Commencement speaker: UW-Eau Claire education provides tools for success

RELEASED: Dec. 16, 2011

Baier
Beth Baier

EAU CLAIRE — December graduates at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire were assured Dec. 17 — by an alumna whose accomplishments are living proof — that the education they received as Blugolds has provided them with the tools they need to succeed.

Beth Baier, a 1979 UW-Eau Claire graduate who also was honored as a recipient of the UW-Eau Claire Alumni Association's Lifetime Excellence Award, delivered the commencement address during the morning and afternoon ceremonies. Baier, who received UW-Eau Claire degrees in journalism and Spanish, is senior vice president of business affairs and general counsel for Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc.

Graduates were treated to a "sizzle reel" — a short video of Warner Bros. movie clips — at the start of Baier's address.

"I am immersed in the world of Harry Potter, Batman: Arkham City, 'The Big Bang Theory' and 'The Hangover,'" Baier said. "I have been a home entertainment lawyer with Warner Bros. nearly 20 years. That's a long time — nearly unheard of these days. But I stayed because I continued to be challenged; I continued to grow; I continued to have new opportunities."

Her opportunities at Warner Bros. have been directly connected to the education she received at UW-Eau Claire, Baier said.

"The liberal education that I received here provided the knowledge and skills that I needed to succeed: an intellectual curiosity that encouraged me continually to seek new challenges; a sense of personal strength that empowered me to step outside my comfort zone; and a global awareness that enlightened me to see beyond my own personal universe," Baier said. "These qualities form the basis of a UW-Eau Claire education, and they represent the school's foundation of Excellence."

Following her UW-Eau Claire graduation, and after working for about a year at a small newspaper outside San Francisco (for an editor who also was a UW-Eau Claire grad), Baier took a position covering the police beat for the Chula Vista Star-News in San Diego County. It was that job that brought back memories of a journalism course Baier took at UW-Eau Claire.

"It was a media law class that delved into constitutional law and the protection of the Fourth Estate," Baier said. "The case law and legal analysis fascinated me. It was that class and my journalism training that propelled me into law school."

Following law school, Baier worked as a litigator at a law firm in Los Angeles, representing large media clients like CBS. However, her "real passion" was providing pro bono representation for local television and radio stations seeking to protect their First Amendment interests in allowing cameras and microphones in the courtroom.

"That was my media law class in action," Baier said.

Baier's career as a home entertainment lawyer with Warner Bros. began in 1992, when the home video business involved "selling videocassettes to video rental stores like Blockbuster or Joe's Video down the street." The business — and her corporate responsibilities — changed immensely, however, when DVDs hit the home entertainment market, Baier said.

"My company — Warner Home Video — was at the forefront of the DVD evolution, being credited with inventing the DVD format along with Toshiba," Baier said. "I soon was responsible for managing the legal issues related to use of the DVD trademark, consumer DVD advertising, the Walmart vendor agreement, increased piracy of Warner Bros.' copyrights, antitrust compliance by the sales force, and the production and clearance of special features, like behind-the-scenes footage, bloopers and director commentaries. We were thrown into negotiations with internationally based consumer electronics companies (like Toshiba, Sony and Philips) and IT companies (like Microsoft and IBM) to create a copy protection system for the DVD format and to develop a licensing program for essential patents used in the authoring and replication of DVDs."

Warner Bros. opened new affiliate distribution offices around the world, requiring Baier to travel to Japan, China, Germany, Spain, Italy, France, the United Kingdom and Russia. The Warner Home Video legal department grew to 40 people, with attorneys in Burbank, London and Tokyo, she said.

"The home video division was a worldwide operation and required a global perspective and a keen multicultural awareness," Baier said. "Negotiations in Japan are very different from negotiations in the U.S. When a Japanese negotiator nods his head, he is not agreeing with what you are saying; he is only acknowledging that you are speaking."

Baier credited her ability to succeed in international business to a global sensitivity developed through two aspects of her UW-Eau Claire education: her dual degree in Spanish and an immersion program in Mexico in the summer of 1978.

"That summer was a defining time for me," Baier said. "I gained a new level of self-confidence to navigate in a foreign environment, even in the most dire situations — which included at one point running out of money and having only a banana peel to eat — and I developed a deeper appreciation for cultural differences. That summer, above all, prepared me for my global position at Warner Bros."

As they move on in life, the graduates will find that UW-Eau Claire will serve as a "trail head," Baier told the graduates.

"This school will be a thread that goes where you go, that weaves through the fabric of your life journey," she said. "The paths you choose will be influenced by the foundation of excellence that you built at UW-Eau Claire."

-30-

JP/AH/DW

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