Excellence in Action

Austin Bauer ’09

Photo of Austin Bauer

Austin Bauer ’09 is founder and president of Simple Progress, an LA-based coaching and training company dedicated to driving the career performance and personal satisfaction of individuals and organizations in creative production and social entrepreneurship. In his previous role as the Professional Growth Catalyst at Deutsch LA, Austin coached over 120 executives, producers, account managers and creatives to make the best work of their careers – and enjoy the ride.  Prior to that, Austin spent six years at advertising agencies editing and producing commercials for clients like Lexus, Volkswagen, Target, Nintendo, DIRECTV, and Sprint. By aligning organizations’ mission and overall strategy with individuals’ personal definitions of success, Austin helps create win/win scenarios that lead to higher capacity, shared learning, and a more stable talent pool that enjoys a dynamic and engaging work environment. Bauer graduated from UCLA in 2009 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication Studies and a minor in Documentary Film.

Interviewed by Stephen Mendoza • August 18, 2017

Describe your career path from UCLA to your current role.

When I graduated UCLA in 2009, there were two paths that I was deciding between. The first was to become a documentary filmmaker and the second was to become an advertising copywriter and work my way up to become a creative director. I majored in Communication Studies with a focus in Documentary Film so those were my two areas of interest.

I ended up getting a job at an agency called Deutsch in L.A. which is now one of the biggest – and still one of the best, in my opinion – agencies on the west coast. I began as a junior editor, so I was working on videos in the edit bay which required skills that I learned while working in Melnitz Hall at UCLA during my junior and senior year. Having those skills was my way of getting the foot in the door. I worked there for about seven years and over that time I held multiple positions, rose in the ranks of the editing department, started producing, and even dipped my toes into several other departments. What’s really nice about working there is that it’s a pretty big integrated agency; they have something like 12 or 15 departments, many of which could act like their own little company within a company. This gave me a nice, wide array of experiences in advertising and marketing and mentors to learn from. I think the best thing that I did was volunteer my help wherever I could. If there was a project that seemed interesting, I would volunteer to help in whatever way I could, and by doing that over the years, I built a lot of trust with the leadership team. By my sixth year with the company, I decided to explore more within talent development rather than creative production. I really liked the creative department but realized after a couple years that going down the route towards creative director was not what I was looking for. I spent those first 6 years learning a lot about myself, what I liked and didn’t like, the environments where I thrived and the ones where I didn’t. This ultimately led me to realize that working to help creative people be more effective producers of high quality creative work was what I was most cut out for. That’s how I was able to be most creative and stay the most inspired.

In addition to working at Deutsch, I freelanced video production during those six years and one of my clients happened to be a business coach who needed a video for a workshop she was putting on. She wasn’t able to pay me the rate I was asking for and I needed some business coaching so we decided to make a trade. This was the major pivot point in my career. I realized that there was an industry of creative individuals and organizations out there who needed help with working better and enjoying their work so that they could ultimately create a better product. So three years ago, I started a company called Simple Progress. I got certified as an executive coach, I educated myself in workshop facilitation, built the business, secured clients, and then pitched an idea to Deutsch to be their in-house coach. I was interested in how creative people worked within the organization.  When I came to them with a proposal, my years of volunteering on projects meant they leadership team already trusted me to be looking out for the organization, and also trusted me to experiment and try new things. So I worked as Deutsch’s in-house coach for about a year where I worked with everyone from recent grads to some of the executives. That was the first year of this second phase of my career. Currently I’ve been working with a market research firm that has a handful of offices across the country as their Head of Talent, and I’ve been coaching and consulting with some other ad agencies as well. It’s been an exciting ride building a company and figuring out how I’m best able to serve my clients.

What inspired you to choose this career path?

I was fascinated by how this agency operated like an organism in the sense that the different departments made up the organs and the individuals within those departments made up the different cells. I always thought it was really fascinating how an organization like that runs especially when there are creative people involved who have a different level of ego. There’s just a different psychology around creative work and producing content that tells stories. I think that is really what led me to coaching and training people to be better creative producers and to enjoy their work more; I want to see my creative friends and family, who I love, succeed. That is ultimately my answer.

How did your UCLA experience help shape your success?

The people definitely shaped my success; I wouldn’t be talking to you now if it weren’t for people that I went to school with and worked with at UCLA. The classes at UCLA also shaped my success; two core classes that stood out to me were Communication Studies 10 and Life Sciences 15. In Communications Studies 10, I learned the basics of how people interact which was really insightful. The second class that I’ll never forget was Life Sciences 15 with Jay Phelan. He wrote a book called “Mean Genes” that I still have on my bookshelf. I would say that LS 15 was probably the most informative class in terms of helping me solidify my interest in solving the puzzles of what drives our behavior. A lot of the book is about behavioral psychology, our struggles for self-control, and starting to explain evolutionarily why we do the things we do and why we often don’t act in our best self-interest. I think a lot my current interests I can credit to this course that I am so glad I took it. I also spent a lot of time in Westwood but once I began taking advantage of the wider Los Angeles area, it really expanded the opportunities that I was able to create for myself. That was a huge element of how UCLA shaped who I’ve become since leaving.

In what ways have you utilized the UCLA alumni network?

The advertising and marketing team was a big part of my senior year. Those people ended up being some of my longest lasting friendships from UCLA. I’m actually going to be speaking to a couple of groups for the UCLA Alumni Association in October so I’m staying connected in that way as well. The way I ended up speaking in October is because I reconnected with someone who is one of Deutsch’s former clients. He was a major executive at a mobile phone company and unlike most people in his position, he would sit in the edit bay with us, pull all-nighters and really get into the weeds so I respected him a lot for putting in the time. We ran into each other a couple years ago at a coffee shop near my house and have stayed in contact since. Turns out he is also a UCLA alumnus so we were able to bond over that and now he’s doing some work with the Alumni Association and he brought me in to do that as well. No matter who you’re talking to, the UCLA connection always comes around full circle. It’s so interesting to see the trust that forms when you meet someone from the UCLA family but also the ways in which we are able to give back over the years. I have to give a shout out to Jane Bitar from the Communication Studies department because she is somebody that I have really enjoyed keeping in touch with over the years. She’s been a big champion of mine and I’ve always loved to support her. She brings a smile to my face.

What has been your greatest career challenge and how did you overcome it?

My biggest career challenge is probably what a lot of the current students, future students or recent grads who are reading this right now are facing. Figuring out what to do next, how long to stay somewhere, whether you’re going to enjoy it day-to-day, or whether you’re going to get something that is the grand slam right off the bat. Because of that, the biggest challenge has been patience. There were times when I considered leaving the company I worked at and every time I considered leaving, there was a reason that kept me there. Working at the same place for seven years, while holding a lot of different positions, gave me a perspective that I couldn’t have gotten had I jumped from one place to another. I would say it is really hard to approach one’s career as a marathon and not a sprint but over these past eight years since I’ve graduated, I’ve realized that the more I approached it as a marathon, the less likely I am to burnout and the more likely I am to recognize the lessons I am learning along the way. In short, the greatest career challenge has been deciding what I want to be when I grow up and having the patience to not force that and to let it unravel in its own time.

What advice would you give to UCLA students and alumni interested in marketing & advertising?

I think no matter what industry, talk to people who are already in that industry. I know people who have been interviewed for these profiles that have talked about the power of informational interviews and I would say that is number one. Talk to people who are doing it, talk to people who are six months into it, two years into it, 25 years into it, the more people you can talk to, the more you’ll start to get a clear picture of what that industry really looks like. Also understand that different people like different things. You might talk to somebody who loves a particular job and when you ask them why they like it, all the things they say they love, you would hate. So just because one person loves a job and is excited about it doesn’t mean that it is the right job for you. Doing a lot of these informational interviews, finding out what people like and don’t like about their jobs and then doing some self-reflection work to understand what type of person you are could really help you decide on job fit.

How do you support and participate in the UCLA community now?

I will be speaking in the middle of October for the Alumni Association which will include a recent grad group and a student group. Also every year, I come back and talk to the advertising and marketing teams they have at UCLA. A group of us comes to campus to chat and answer questions so it’s nice to be back a few times a year and I’m always looking for other ways to get involved.

What makes you most proud to be a Bruin?

I think the diversity of opinions and opportunities make me very proud to be a Bruin. UCLA is so big that there is something for everybody. The people, the opportunities, and the city of L.A. make me a proud Bruin because if you can’t find something for you at UCLA, then you haven’t looked hard enough.

What’s next?

I am always continuing to grow the business and striving to keep a balance with enjoying life. I try to work hard and relax hard. I just got back from a weekend of mountain biking and hiking in the mountains and now I’m working hard on new marketing campaigns, developing relationships with new clients and working on some projects with current clients. All I’m really doing is staying balanced, trying to stay healthy, staying in this mindset of lifelong learning, building my business, and of course always staying in touch with the UCLA community.

ABOUT THE INTERVIEWER

Stephen Mendoza earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from UCLA in 2018. Prior to joining the Partnership UCLA / Alumni Career Programs team as a student staff member, Stephen had successfully completed internships with Ernst & Young, J.P. Morgan, and Disney. Through the Excellence in Action alumni spotlight series, Stephen expanded his network, met successful business professionals, and shared their advice and life experiences with the greater UCLA community. Stephen is now building his career as a Financial Analyst with Wells Fargo Corporate Banking.

Interested in learning more about UCLA alumni who are creating lasting impressions and impact in their industries? Visit Excellence in Action for the full collection of interviews.