Pitt alumnus Lee Baierl still enjoys challenges on court and off
Written by Niki Kapsambelis
They were a typical gang of weekend warriors in the mid-1970s, the crew that played pickup basketball on Sunday nights at the old Field House. Some were students, some alumni, and some just friends of a friend. A group of them still hung out with Pitt’s basketball coach at the time, Tim Grgurich (EDUC ’64, ’67G), and they were all ardent Panthers fans.
The group liked to workout together, play some ball, joke around, and hurl friendly abuse at one another. One of the crew was Bill Baierl (EDUC ’51), who played basketball for Pitt and went on to work in his family’s car dealerships. His young cousin, Lee Baierl, liked to come with him and watch the pickup games.
David Marrangoni, who was still in college, was another one of the Sunday night regulars. He liked Bill, a friendly, big-hearted man whose leadership was starting to expand the family business in greater Pittsburgh. But that didn’t mean David was willing to give Bill’s cousin any slack when he joined a game. “After all, even though he was younger, he was as tall as me even then,” says Marrangoni, with a laugh.
After graduation, Marrangoni stayed in touch with the Baierl family, stopping by the dealership when he needed cars for business. Along the way, Lee finished high school and enrolled at Pitt, where he would play strong safety on the Pitt football team from 1977 through 1980. Eventually, they all became part of a group that would travel to other Big East cities to cheer Pitt teams on the road, and Lee and David became roadtrip roommates.
It became an enduring friendship that has lasted through the growth of the Baierl dealerships, Marrangoni’s moves in and out of the advertising business, and the start of Lee’s family.
In 2007, their bond took on an even deeper dimension. That was the year Bill Baierl, by all accounts a workaholic who loved his career, died unexpectedly on the job. Suddenly, Lee—who had worked his way up through the business from apprentice mechanic to MBA in the front office—was without the man he considered a second father, and he was going to be in charge of a business that had become a family legacy.
“Once that happened,” recalls Marrangoni, “Lee said, ‘I have a vision, and I want you to be there.’” Longtime friend Marrangoni was hired to serve as Baierl Automotive’s vice president of marketing, and the two men forged ahead with plans to move the company into its next generation.
Lee Baierl might once have entertained thoughts of becoming a doctor, but it was the family business that held his attention from a very early age. His father, who founded the dealership, and his cousin Bill Baierl, who grew it, moved him through every part of the business so he would learn it from the ground up. He wrote service orders, detailed cars, and sold them.
“I knew I had the family business to fall back on, and I certainly don’t regret it,” says Lee. “They expected more from me than the average person who was working here.”
It’s the same with his own children, Lee (CBA ’09) and Lindsay (CBA ’08), who followed in his footsteps and joined the business after graduating from Pitt. (Baierl has two other children in college: Kelly, a senior at Arizona State, and Jordan, a freshman at Virginia Tech, as well as a 2-year-old son, Calvin.)
Baierl (A&S ’81, KGSB ’82) believes his Pitt education, particularly the MBA he earned, gave him the financial management skills that he still applies daily.
“The other thing it gave me, more than anything, was a year of dedication—working hard, proving I could do something,” he says. He recalls how an academic advisor was skeptical whether Baierl, who was contemplating a fifth year of undergraduate work to maintain his football eligibility, would have the academic chops to succeed in such a highly competitive business program.
Motivated to prove the advisor’s doubts unfounded, Baierl buried himself in his studies, graduating just shy of the top of his class and earning a spot in Beta Gamma Sigma, an international honor society for business students. “It gave me another year to grow up, which I needed before I entered the work force,” he says.
Under his leadership, the business has expanded its Internet presence, and despite the well-publicized hits the automobile industry has taken in the past year, the company remains robust.
Even though long hours are synonymous with working in retail, Baierl still comes home every night for a family dinner with his wife, Susan, and his youngest son. That’s when business is put aside for games of Candy Land or Bingo, unless he’s heading out to one of his beloved Pitt football or basketball games, which he still attends with Marrangoni.
“It took a long time, but now I’m in a position where I’m actually running the business and trying to create my own stamp,” he says. “I had my dad, I had Bill, and I certainly have big shoes to fill. But we’ve changed things and had
a lot of success, even in tough times.”