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Baker, George Pierce

Baker, George Pierce

(b. 1 November 1903 in Cambridge, Massachusetts; d. 25 January 1995 in Phoenix, Arizona), transportation economist who, as the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration, played a pivotal role in its development.

Baker was the son of George Pierce Baker and Christina Hopkinson. He grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where his father was a distinguished professor of dramatic literature at Harvard and his mother was a homemaker. After finishing high school at the preparatory school Brown and Nichols (now called Buckingham, Brown, and Nichols) in Cambridge, Baker worked for one year for the Boston & Maine Railroad, confirming his fascination with railroads and transportation. In 1921 he began attending Harvard College, graduating in 1925 with an A.B. degree. On 4 September 1924 he married Ruth P. Bremer; they had four children.

After a year working as an investment counselor at Scudder, Stevens, and Clark, based in Boston, Baker returned to Harvard for graduate work in economics. In 1928, while working on his master’s degree, Baker began teaching economics in Harvard’s division of history, government, and economics. Completing his master’s in 1930 and his doctorate in 1934, he continued to teach at Harvard until 1936. He published The Formation of the New England Railroad Systems the following year. In 1957 he coauthored with Gayton E. Germane Case Problems in Transportation Management.

In 1936 the Harvard Graduate School of Business Administration recognized the need to incorporate instruction on transportation economics and management into its curriculum, and the school invited Baker to join the faculty as an assistant professor of transportation. Baker then introduced the school’s first course on the burgeoning business of airline transportation. The school promoted Baker to associate professor in 1939.

Baker’s work on transportation and his research and teaching on airline management won him an invitation to join the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) in 1940. He accepted the position, taking a leave of absence from Harvard. In 1942 he became the vice chairman of the CAB, but the demands of World War II led him to resign within months to assume the position of director of requirements in the office of the U.S. Army’s quartermaster general. The next year Baker joined the General Staff with the rank of colonel. In 1945 he was awarded the Legion of Merit for his military service.

Following the war Baker directed the U.S. State Department’s Office of Transport and Communications Policy. In 1946 he headed the U.S. delegation to the Bermuda Civil Aviation Conference, where he negotiated with the United Kingdom the first bilateral agreement on international air rights. This agreement established the framework that governed most international air traffic into the twenty-first century. In 1947 President Harry S. Truman appointed Baker vice chairman of the Findletter Air Policy Commission, whose purpose was to consider the nation’s air defense strategy. The commission played a central role in articulating the concept of mutual deterrence that dominated much strategic thinking during the cold war and gave a central strategic role to the air force. From 1946 to 1956 Baker served on the United Nations Transport and Communications Commission.

In 1946 Baker resumed his teaching position, initially in a joint appointment at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and at the Harvard Business School as the James J. Hill Professor of Transportation. From 1948 to 1963 he taught exclusively at Harvard. Baker served from 1953 to 1958 as the director of the school’s doctoral program. He led a substantial reorganization and expansion of the program, looking to provide appropriately trained faculty for the rapidly expanding schools of business in the country. He also participated in two major evaluations and revisions of the M.B.A. curriculum.

When Stanley F. Teele retired as the dean of the school in 1962, Baker served as the acting dean from March to October. In 1963 Baker accepted appointment as the dean of the school and moved to the George Fisher Baker Professorship of Administration. (Baker was not related to the namesake of this chair.) He believed that his seven-year tenure, lasting to December 1969, was marked by three major accomplishments. First, he restructured the organization of the faculty. With the school’s growth, the faculty had reached 130 but had remained nominally “generalists.” Baker recognized that the faculty was both too numerous to operate effectively as a single unit and needed to have some moderate specialization around which to organize its activities. He required the entire faculty to affiliate with one of six areas. This facilitated the second major achievement, a major reorganization of the curriculum, which had begun in 1959 under his predecessor. Contrary to some expectations, the curricular reform confirmed Harvard’s commitment to relying on the “case method” of instruction, which emphasized problem solving, in contrast to the increasingly popular discipline-based approach to training. The third major accomplishment in Baker’s view was the completion of the “Andrew Report” that laid out a ten-year strategic plan for using the school’s resources.

Baker was also remarkably effective at raising money for the school. During his tenure he created twenty-two endowed chairs, more than had been created in the previous fifty years, and for the first time since 1953 the school began building new facilities. He dramatically expanded the school’s executive training programs, and Harvard named its first facility dedicated to this activity after Baker. He significantly expanded the international activities of the school, and in 1963 he ended the male-only admissions policy and expanded opportunities for minority students. In recognition of his broad contributions to its growth and improvement, the Harvard Graduate School of Business presented Baker with its highest award, the Distinguished Service Award. Two portraits of Baker—tall, of medium build, with light brown hair—hang in the school’s Baker Library. He retired from the school in 1970.

Baker had remained professionally active throughout these years. From 1954 to 1962 he was president of the Transportation Association of America, and he then served as its chairman from 1962 to 1968. He was also the president of the Transportation Research Foundation. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. In 1964, at the request of President John F. Kennedy, he brought together a group of Harvard faculty members to advise Central American countries on economic integration. In 1969 President Richard Nixon asked Baker to serve on an advisory panel seeking to make the executive branch “a more effective instrument of public policy.” Baker was one of “ten distinguished Americans” appointed to the President’s Commission on Postal Organization. After he retired from the Harvard deanship, he served as one of four court-appointed trustees for the bankrupt Pennsylvania New York Central Railroad.

Baker served on numerous corporate boards, including those of United Parcel Service (UPS), Mobil Oil, Lockheed, Jewel Companies, and First National Bank of Boston. He did extensive consulting with both corporate clients and government agencies. Numerous institutions awarded him honorary degrees, including Clarkson College of Technology, Suffolk University, Allegheny College, Bowling Green State University, Pace College, and the University of Western Ontario.

Baker moved to Phoenix in 1978. His first wife died in March that same year, and on 1 November 1978 he married Mary Elizabeth Osher. He died in Phoenix from complications following a stroke. He is buried in Rindge, New Hampshire, near the vacation home that he built in the 1960s.

In addition to his influential role in shaping air transportation policy, Baker played a pivotal role in sustaining, even revitalizing, Harvard’s Graduate School of Business. He reoriented its curriculum and programs to the changing needs of the American and international business community, including the opening of its program to women and minorities.

Baker’s papers, 1938–1970, in the Harvard Business School Archives in the Baker Library include office files and papers on outside activities, including his United Nations work, 1946–1947. For further information see “Tailoring the B-School to New Business World,” Business Week (19 Jan. 1963): 72-74, and “Dean Baker Views Recent Accomplishments,” Harvard Business School Bulletin (9 Apr. 1968). Obituaries are in the Phoenix Gazette (27 Jan. 1995) and the New York Times (28 Jan. 1995).

Fred Carstensen

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