The Right Stuff

When John Baisley was appointed president of Panasonic Broadcast, the company was at a key point: Should it leap-frog tape- and disk-based acquisition and move to solid-state technology? It was the type of take-no-prisoners decision that can make or break an executive's career. When it came time to announce his team's recommendation to his Japanese counterparts, Baisley didn't flinch: P2 should be a solid-state–based camera.

"P2 will improve the workflow for newsgathering, and make it faster," says Baisley. "The entire cost of ownership also improves."

What's telling about Baisley's P2 appointment is that he's not an engineer. His schooling doesn't jive with his current assignment. As a teenager, he bought a junk radio at a flea market, thinking he could fix it. It's the classic engineer-to-be story, with a catch: Two months later, Baisley had yet to crack the radio open. "I decided to sell it to one of my brother's friends," he says, adding, proudly, "and I made a profit."

That may explain why Baisley was drawn to economics rather than engineering, attending Hobart and William Smith Colleges. After graduation in 1978, he and a friend decided to drive out to Colorado and ski for the winter before heading off to California. His father signed off on the idea, despite concern that his son would flounder aimlessly for too long. Once in Colorado, however, his education at Hobart came in handy—but not because of his academic credentials.

"When we got there, we were knocking on doors looking for work. We found a place that had employee housing for needed dishwashers," he says. "The cook was from Germany, and, when he saw we went to Hobart College, he thought that meant we could repair equipment [from the commercial-kitchen-appliance manufacturer Hobart]. We said we could. Fortunately, nothing broke."

The California plans were scrapped when Baisley's father had a heart attack and he had to return home. Coming from a long line of lawyers and judges, Baisley applied to graduate school and pursued dual degrees: a law degree from Brooklyn Law School and an MBA from Baruch College. After graduating in 1982, he signed on with the Suffolk County Court Law Department in Riverhead, N.Y. He found himself assisting judges and drafting opinions, but it didn't take long before he felt constrained. The county department was based on a seniority system; people progressed professionally because of longevity, not ability.

Then a tip from a friend changed his life. While discussing his career with a fellow attorney, he learned that Panafax, a Matsushita Electric subsidiary, was looking for a new general counsel and corporate secretary. Baisley took the job, and his corporate career took off. After five years at Panafax, he became general manager of planning at Panasonic Communications and Systems Co. and rose through the ranks until April 2002, when he became president of Panasonic Broadcast and Television Systems Co.

These days, Baisley's focus is twofold: He's concerned about employees and customers alike.

"Unfortunately, the last several years have seen people stretched thinner than I'd like. They are putting in more hours than I'd like," he says. "So we need to find ways that people can find an appropriate balance."

His reasoning is as much personal as professional. With six children ranging in age from 7 to 14, Baisley works hard to meet the demands of work and family.

"It's a lot of fun, never dull, and rarely quiet in our house," he says. "And one of the things that keeps me up at night, and why we have to sell a lot of P2, is putting six kids through college."