Maria Baum tried to retire to a Hamptons beach after success on Wall Street. It didn’t take. So instead, she founded a portfolio of companies and became CEO of Tracy Anderson.
By Matthew Brodsky || Photos by Susan Farley
It was opening day of mussel season in Sag Harbor, and the fishermen’s boats dotted the bay—almost as many of them as the seagulls that got some shuteye on the docks or floated on the slate-blue water. Only the rocks and the seashells on the beach numbered more. They came in as many colors as a box of crayons, but all in subdued shades after a summer in the surf and sun. It’s October, so everything in the Hamptons seems at rest, at peace. Not the Hollywood and Wall Street hobnobbing, Weekend at Bernie’s party scene one might expect from a Long Island resort town.
Walk on the beach behind Maria Baum’s house in October, and you can understand why she bucks the seasonal migration and lives full time in the Hamptons, in a house of glass and driftwood-gray that reflects the docks, the sand, the sky and the water.
How Baum got there is a story in itself. She graduated WG94 and started at Banker’s Trust, the place to be for Wharton MBAs after graduation. Everyone then wanted to get into derivatives.
It was a crazy time when she and her colleagues were shaping finance with the fervor you find in the tech industry today.
Then Baum got into hedge funds—at one point becoming chief investment officer of Black Tower Capital. By the middle of the first decade of the new millennium, she was at Lehman Brothers at her “nirvana” job: as a global macro proprietary trader.
By then, she and her husband Larry had three children and were juggling their lives, but something gave them pause. Maybe it was a sense of the chaos about to befall Wall Street in a few years, and Lehman in particular. Maybe like she says, she and Larry simply were tired and had the same conversation that many successful couples have—let’s just quit it all and live.
“Usually one of you talks the other one off the cliff,” she says.
But that didn’t happen. They actually agreed and acted on it. It was the beginning of 2004. Her Wharton friends told her to her face how much they admired her move to the Hamptons, but behind her back, she imagines they might have been twirling their fingers around the ears in horror. Has she gone cuckoo?
Retirement lasted all of two weeks. “I was definitely not a have-lunch-play-tennis person,” she says.
Instead, she is a person for whom opportunities are like the countless, pastel-hued rocks and shells on the Sag Harbor beach—more beautiful specimens than you could collect on a thousand and one days. Just like a first-time visitor to Sag Harbor—who fills his pockets with the beach’s mementos because they all twinkle in his eye—Baum dove into several businesses nearly at once soon after her move from Manhattan to Long Island. Residential and commercial real estate. Private investing with Bay Partners. Capital markets recruiting at Bay Street Advisors. A boutique hotel. The restaurant brand Tutto il Giorno. What she came to realize was that she struggled with the quantity of opportunities—knowing which ones to grab and which ones to pass over—but she learned to apply to each the coolness and analytical rigor that she had gained on the trading floor. She has come to know how to pick and choose the best formed and most alluring.
Meaning: She is constantly searching for value, then analyzes the risk-reward profile of interesting finds, and acts quickly when something promising and worthy of her bandwidth presents itself.
Yet when she does act, she already has her exit in mind and is always, always, always capable and ready to cut her losses and move on if necessary.
“I am a very emotional person, but on the trading floor, I am not,” she explains.
Then again, she is attracted to certain opportunities because they spark her creativity and passion, and because they give her butterflies in her stomach.
Her latest two endeavors—yes, two … there is never just one it seems—is to serve as CEO of the expanding fitness empire of Tracy Anderson and as co-founder, financier and co-creator of a new series of low-calorie, natural drink mixers.
But before we get to those, we must share another side of Baum, best revealed by the whole other story of when she fought and beat breast cancer.
On Board Against Cancer
Baum is a mother of four—she and Larry had their fourth after moving to the Hamptons, in case you’re counting—and like a mother lion, she fought off cancer to remain with her children and continue to protect and care for them in life. (Editor’s note: during the photo shoot for this article, the author casually proclaimed the shoot a success because the photographer had captured Baum with her beach, with her dogs and at one of her businesses—“everything important in her life,” your author stated. Mistake. Baum would have torn off his head if she weren’t such a gracious host. Instead, she reminded him that he and the photographer had just missed her children on their way to school. They are her most important things in life, and her most important role is that of their mother.)
After she was diagnosed with cancer and entered treatment, Baum found solace learning how to paddleboard in the bay. A neighbor in Sag Harbor (no, not Billy Joel or Jimmy Buffett—Richard Perry W77) introduced her to the sport. She went out on the water, standing on the board, every morning.
When she was done being a patient, her mind quickly turned to conquest. “I want to cure cancer,” she says to this day.
An entrepreneur with a portfolio of companies, Baum first considered starting her own charity, a pure play for research, but she learned that starting a nonprofit is akin to starting a hedge fund—it requires much money to establish and then run one. And she learned that other Wharton alumni already oversaw a breast cancer charity that did what she aimed to do. Leonard Lauder W54, with sons William W83 and Gary C84 W84, support the Breast Cancer Research Foundation (BCRF) in honor of its founder (and their wife and mother) Evelyn Lauder.
Baum joined the BCRF board, but her genius has been in blending her business sense; her love of paddleboarding; her Wharton connections; the sea and the local community; and the celebrities, Wall Street tycoons and fashion glitterati that she mingles with and feeds at her Tutto Il Giorno. The result is an annual event that amplifies her support for BCRF. She launched the event, Paddle & Party for Pink, in 2012.
This event lives up to what you would expect a Hamptons party to be. Gracing the reception (at Baum’s beachside residence) are the likes of extreme surfer and paddleboard designer Laird Hamilton and wife (and volleyball star and model) Gabrielle Reece, Martha Stewart, Lena Dunham, Matt Lauer and Tory Burch C99. Speaking of Penn alums, Wharton graduates have a solid presence at the event and with the charity, including Perry, the Lauders (with designer Aerin Lauder C92), Josh Neren WG94 and Stacy Bash-Polley WG94. The evening “Sunset Party” is bookended with a morning paddleboard race, an officially sanctioned professional race with upward of 160 amateur and pro boarders.
Most importantly, the race delivers to the BCRF. Between registrations, party tickets and its auction, Paddle & Party for Pink has raised nearly $5 million in four years.
Her ability to achieve such results by embracing all of her worlds appears innate.
“There’s a life force within Maria that drives her toward success,” says Leonard Lauder, who lauds the positive energy and new ideas she brings to the foundation (and essentially any pursuit).
One Full-Time Job?
Take all that we know about Baum and consider that 2015 was an “incredible year” by her standards. She partnered with Gwyneth Paltrow and Tracy Anderson to help build Tracy Anderson Method, the business side to “Tracy’s life work,” as Baum explains. Baum had been Anderson’s friend, a fan of her approach to fitness, and always “intrigued by the fact that so many people felt so passionately about this product and this brand where there were only a few physical locations.” The concept fits within Baum’s bigger focus on health and wellness, no doubt magnified by her cancer battle.
When Anderson first approached Baum with stories of her business-side challenges, Baum at first thought that she could merely advise Anderson or find her the right person to run
Anderson’s expanding fitness empire.
“But then we realized together that I was the right person and that this would be a tremendous opportunity for me,” Baum recalls.
It would be a different experience for her, Baum knew. She was used to building something from scratch, hiring every single person, deciding everything from the get-go.Starting as Tracy Anderson’s CEO in December 2014, Baum realized she could flex her entrepreneurial muscles within the company, which she did immediately to promote growth—literally within a week. One of the first things she did was to realize a powerful way to provide the Tracy Anderson Method—summed up as dynamic physical movements to fire the body’s small muscles, which then better support and grow core muscle groups and burn the heck out of calories—to the vast majority of people who aren’t like J. Lo and Paltrow and cannot attend Anderson’s classes in person in the Hamptons, L.A. or Tribeca.
“I wanted people at home to be able to experience the way Tracy sets a new program once a week and everybody follows that. So I literally took a Camcorder and stuck it up in her class,” Baum says.
Baum quickly streamed content online, completing business exercise number one: monetization.
The digital strategy took off faster than Baum could have imagined. Thousands subscribe to the streaming service at $90 per month. Women around the world share their Tracy Anderson experiences on the ever-growing social platform Instagram with the hashtag “#Tamily.”
“It’s mind-boggling to me, the cascade effect of sticking that one little Camcorder up that day and now, how many people are passionate. Last weekend, a bunch of them actually flew to New York City from wherever they lived, different countries, different states, to meet Tracy and to take a class together,” she says.The streamed offering complements the DVDs and books about the Method that enthusiasts buy in stores around the world.
The next business exercise was growing a brand. Baum oversaw the opening of a new studio in East Hampton, with the mind to perfect the in-person Tracy Anderson experience. Building off Anderson’s reputation as a fitness fashionista, Baum opened up studio lobbies for retail and placed clothing and accessories that the star had curated herself. She conceived of a class schedule and a subscription model that would allow consumers to buy packages of classes (versus the previous annual membership model) and attend others besides the master classes. She launched “Vitality Weeks,” sending Anderson on tour around the country to narrow down the best markets in which to open up as many as 10 new studios. Baum has also analyzed the special moon-bouncy floor that Anderson built for her studios (to burn triple the calories than a regular floor and reduce the risk of repetitive stress injuries) in order to replicate it in future studios and sell it to individuals who want to install it in their homes. And Baum worked to devise the high standards by which they could hire trainers who would represent the Tracy Anderson brand.
Then came the dealing. Baum still deals like a prop trader, and she seemingly always has deals about to close—and about which she can share just the tantalizing potential. One of the latest includes Target carrying Tracy Anderson protein bars and shakes. Another involves Anderson launching her own fashion line with a major department store.
“I don’t really know how anybody could do a job like this who wasn’t comfortable being an entrepreneur before—because really, that’s just all I do all day long,” Baum says.
Anderson—who can exercise at nearly 100mph on her moon-bouncy floor, hold a conversation and not gasp for breath—describes her CEO Baum like a surgeon, being able to open up a business and identify opportunities and turn them into reality. She credits her partner with the ability to handle the business while leaving Anderson to be the creative talent.
And Baum says of Anderson: “She’s innovating all the time, it’s really amazing. I have a lot to work with. As a businesswoman, this is a dream to me, because she’s so damn good in her lane that all I have to do is follow—follow her around in monetizing.”
If there is one big challenge Baum faces, it is having to stand next to Paltrow and Anderson and have her picture taken.
“Yeah, I can’t let them down and look like a shlump,” she says.
(Editor’s note: to that, we say, “Hardly.”)
All the Love, Not Enough Bandwidth
All the while she is pumping up growth at Tracy Anderson Method, Baum has another enterprise called Splash Mixers about to blow up (begun before the Tracy Anderson opportunity presented itself).
“I’m just shocked that no one’s really taken this category,” she says of low-calorie, all-natural cocktail mixers.
She is the senior shareholder in the company and has spent a better part of two years “nailing it.” Splash Mixxers is now offered in Gansevoort Hotels and Delta Sky lounges, and Baum hints at “MANY” more venues this spring (all caps hers).
“So that’s really exciting.” She pauses after saying this, takes a breath, for being a serial entrepreneur and a CEO is a heady mix in itself. “Being CEO of Tracy Anderson, it’s 24/7.”
So for her other enterprises, she must take the 10,000-foot approach, or even higher, advising and steering their hired leaders, serving on boards. She understands the key to running her portfolio is hiring the right people, then to get out of their way.
(Editor’s note: Easier said than done. On the Sag Harbor beach, with neighbors eyeing the photographer and your writer to make sure they weren’t trespassers, Baum took a call from the new general manager of her Tutto il Giorno restaurant in New York City and got out of his way after that.)
“So it was really hard for me to leave all of those babies and kind of find the right people to run them all … it’s almost like people adopting your children, you know?” she confesses. “It’s like, you have to make sure that they’re in good hands and you’re so afraid to—but you can’t do everything, right?”
You, me, most people can’t do everything. Baum on the other hand … she’s gotten pretty close, all while getting to live at the beach.