As a part-time student in Lehigh’s MBA program in 1957, Dexter F. Baker ‘50, ‘57 G, was challenged by one of his professors to think outside the box when crafting his thesis. Baker used the opportunity to create a plan for his employer, the gas and chemical supplier Air Products, to enter the overseas market. A few months and a degree later, Baker and his family were aboard the Queen Mary en route to London, where he would establish the company’s first international division.
Now, Baker, the former chairman of the board and chief executive officer of Air Products, is empowering future Lehigh students in all disciplines to spark their creativity and challenge the status quo through the establishment of the new Dexter F. Baker Institute for Entrepreneurship, Creativity and Innovation.
Baker, a devoted Lehigh supporter and prominent businessman, believes that entrepreneurship is a driving force of today’s economy. The new Institute, generously supported by the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Foundation, will actively foster and champion the entrepreneurial spirit at Lehigh to advance creativity and innovation for economic, cultural and social development.
The Institute will serve as a hub for entrepreneurial activity at Lehigh by supporting the university’s existing nationally recognized cross-disciplinary programs such as Integrated Product Development, Computer Science and Business, and Integrated Business and Engineering, while creating resources and infrastructure to support the related activities of academic departments and programs across Lehigh’s four colleges.
“The ability of Lehigh to offer programs that span each of its four colleges creates an unusually diverse learning environment—one that serves as the foundation for all of Lehigh’s entrepreneurial activities,” says Patrick Farrell, provost and vice president of academic affairs, who will oversee the new Institute. “Thanks to the generosity and vision of Dexter Baker we have the unique opportunity to move forward on an initiative that speaks directly to our ambitious strategic objectives.”
The Institute will provide opportunities for any Lehigh undergraduate or graduate student—from fields such as engineering, finance or music—to graduate with the skills and experience needed to move creative ideas and new solutions for social problems into sustainable practice.
“We want Lehigh University graduates to feel empowered and educated to go out and challenge the status quo—to make life better for themselves, their families and their communities,” says Baker. “We need to create many new entrepreneurs to generate economic well-being in every discipline including government, education, medicine and even non-profit organizations.”
Todd Watkins, the Arthur F. Searing Professor of Economics, has been named the Institute’s first director. He recently co-chaired Lehigh’s entrepreneurship implementation team and already serves as the program director for Lehigh’s entrepreneurship minor. Watkins and Lisa Getzler-Linn, administrative director, will work closely with an internal Entrepreneurial Leadership Council drawn from departments and programs across campus.
Baker earned his undergraduate degree in mechanical engineering in 1950 and his MBA in 1957. In 1981 Lehigh awarded him an Honorary Doctor of engineering degree. Baker joined Air Products in 1952 and retired from the Allentown-based company in 1992 as chairman of the board and chief executive.
Baker is a Trustee Emeritus of the Lehigh Board of Trustees and has served as chairman of visiting committees for mechanical engineering, chemical engineering and music. Along with his wife Dorothy, he established the Dexter F. and Dorothy H. Baker Gifted Arts Scholarship Program for students in the performing arts. The Bakers also served as co-chairs of the $33-million capital campaign for the Zoellner Arts Center and made a generous contribution to name Baker Hall.
“Asa Packer was an entrepreneur who conceived a new transportation service and moved products from the Lehigh Valley all over the world,” Baker said of Lehigh’s founder. “I want Lehigh graduates to be vaccinated with the spirit of Asa Packer and chart their own course so they don’t have to doggedly follow in the footsteps of others, but can be the lead dog themselves. I believe in it. I am a product of it.”