Dexter Baker advised Lehigh’s MBA students to pick small companies over large when they chart their futures.
Editor’s note: Dexter Baker passed away on Nov. 1, less than two weeks after receiving the lifetime achievement award from the CBE.
In a nod to the past, present and future of Lehigh’s MBA program, the College of Business and Economics (CBE) gave Dexter Baker a lifetime achievement award at MBA Day last weekend.
“If you dream big dreams, they’re more likely to happen than if you don’t dream at all,” Baker told an audience of students and alumni after he accepted the CBE’s inaugural award.
Baker, who earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from Lehigh in 1950, advised students to eschew large corporations and to instead help small, burgeoning companies grow—like he himself did many years ago for gas and chemical supplier Air Products.
As a newly hired engineer at Air Products and part-time Lehigh MBA student in the 1950s, Baker was urged by one of his professors to write his thesis on his own company. He described an international presence for Air Products and was then given the task of expanding the company’s global operations.
Baker completed his MBA in 1957 and retired from Air Products in 1992 as CEO and chairman of the board. Today, 70 percent of the company’s $16 billion in profits comes from overseas.
His contributions to the CBE include encouraging a culture of innovation on campus by establishing the Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.
With his wife Dorothy, Baker also co-chaired the $33 million capital campaign for the Zoellner Arts Center in the 1990s and made a generous contribution to name Baker Hall.
The impact of politics on business
Also at MBA Day, a panel of executives discussed the potential impact of the 2012 presidential election on their specific industries.
Panelists included Tim Denning, senior director of civil government solutions at L-3 STRATIS; Laurence Karper, vice chair of the department of psychiatry at Lehigh Valley Health Network; Mike Purewal, vice president and senior quantitative financial analyst at Bank of America; and Susan Yee ’82, CEO of Active Data Exchange.
Students said they appreciated the opportunity to hear from business leaders on the economy, healthcare reform, foreign policy, global competitiveness and other topics.
“The dialogue was very candid, which led to an interesting exchange of ideas,” said Jeff Davis, a Nanovic Scholar in the MBA program. “Based on their diverse industries, the panelists were able to present issues from different perspectives, and the conversation truly highlighted the complexity of the decisions facing this country.”
Students also said that events like MBA Day, where they can interact with alumni and business leaders, are critical to their success.
“It connects our current efforts in the program with the impact we can have on the world after we leave Lehigh,” said Jen Giordano, who is also a Nanovic Scholar.
The CBE also presented the following inaugural awards at MBA Day:
• Lehigh MBA Young Alumni Award: Anthony Durante ’09G, economic development specialist at AEDC
• Lehigh MBA Entrepreneurship Award: Wayne Barz ’87, ’03G, manager of entrepreneurial programs at Ben Franklin Technology PArtners
• Lehigh MBA Global Impact Award: Peter Ruggiero ’03G, executive vice president of global operations at Crayola
In accepting his award, Ruggiero advised students to find companies aligned with their values.
“Choose a company that reflects who you are and who you want to be,” Ruggiero said. “Choose your legacy wisely so you can look back and see how you made a global impact.”
Photos by Megan Van Voorhis