Noteworthy grads

Noteworthy graduates: Jon Bauer, founder, investment management firm

Noteworthy graduates: Jon Bauer - 1

Jon Bauer, a co-founder, chief executive operating officer and chief investment officer of Contrarian Capital Management, which invests in troubled companies and helps them restructure their finances, was “blown away” when he first learned about economics as a boy. He told that to his economics teacher at Stuyvesant HS. That was an unusual favorite subject to have at a school that specialized in math and science, and it took a bit of convincing on Bauer’s part that he “wasn’t just apple-polishing.” He even wrote that economics teacher a note a few years after he graduated in 1973 to say he was majoring in it at college. That was just the beginning. After Harvard Business School, Bauer started managing money at Bear Stearns and Oppenheimer Funds in New York. Today, his firm in Greenwich, Conn., which is 100 percent owned by partners and employees, has 50 people managing $3.2 billion. “I really did mean that about economics,” he said.

I grew up in Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village on Manhattan’s east side and went to PS 40 just a couple of blocks away, on 20th Street between First and Second Avenues. I had a great teacher whom I have fond memories of: Mr. Sklar, who was my 5th-grade teacher. He was one of the most dedicated elementary school teachers I had ever met in terms of getting everyone excited. He really encouraged everyone to read. He was very artistic and tried to expand people’s horizons in the arts. I thought he was fabulous.

I remember playing the Pied Piper in the school play. I met the person who is now my oldest friend in 1st grade; just the other day I was going through old papers and found all our class photos… In general, it was just a very warm and inviting elementary school.

When I went on to JHS 104, in the same neighborhood, it was in the days when you could do accelerated 7th, 8th and 9th grades in two years, so it all went by so fast I barely remember it, only that I enjoyed my experience there and learned French from a very colorful teacher. I really loved learning from him. Then I took a standardized test to get into Stuyvesant HS, which was still on 15th Street between First and Second and hadn’t moved to its new location yet, but it was already one of the top three public high schools.

At Stuyvesant, in 12th grade, I remember taking my first economics class and I just loved it. I told the teacher it was phenomenal. She thought I was just apple-polishing, and I said, “No, really, I’m going to study this.” It was the kind of thing where I was probably one of not that many people who would go to Stuyvesant for math and science, then wind up falling in love with economics. Economics just blew me away.

When I found out from her that you could actually major in economics, that was eye-opening. Up until that point, I was unsure of what I was really interested in.

Now I knew.

What was best about Stuyvesant was that it was a real melting pot of students from all five boroughs. I met people who would travel an hour-and-a-half a day to get the education I was fortunate to get by just walking a few block from home. I never ceased to be amazed by the dedication of the student body and staff. I’m still friends with a bunch of people from there and am a member of the alumni group. Apart from taking a love for economics with me from those days, I also took a wooden strongbox I made in shop, and 45 years later I still have it and it still works.

What I really want to get across here is my love for public school education in New York City. You develop a lot of street smarts along with a phenomenal academic education, and both of those things, as well as being exposed to all kinds of people, are a large reason why I ended up having success in the business world. I could not have had a better education anywhere.

When I got married and moved to Westchester, we sent our son and daughter to public schools. We’re very proud of the fact that they went through the public school system and each had a fine education. When they got to college, my son at Brown University and my daughter at Washington University in St. Louis, they met students from private school and felt that their own public school education was second to none.

In fact, my daughter has committed for next year to come back to New York City for an AmeriCorps program called City Year, in which she’ll be working in the New York City public schools.

My wife also went to public schools.

We’re a public school family.

—As told to reporter Ellie Spielberg

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