Transforming Retailing Through Education: Jay H. Baker, W’56

When Dr. Jay H. Baker entered the retailing field after graduation, it wasn’t a big draw for Wharton students. But he knew it was the right place for him. He gained experience at an early age working in his parents’ millinery store in Flushing, NY. Then a career assessment test told him that retailing was one of the professions most suited to his abilities and his friendly, personable nature.

That aptitude test was right on target. More than 40 years after he began in Macy’s training program, Baker retired in 1999 as president of Kohl’s Corp., the Milwaukee-based store chain he grew to a $3.8 billion, 300-store powerhouse. Baker, his two partners Bill Kellogg and John Herma, and financial investors bought Kohl’s in a leveraged buyout from British conglomerate BATUS in 1986. They refocused the company and in 1992 took it public. Today Kohl’s continues to be one of the fastest-growing retailers in the country.

Since his retirement, Baker and his wife Patty have continued to impact the retailing industry by giving to Wharton for such initiatives as undergraduate scholarships, the Patty and Jay H. Baker Forum in Jon M. Huntsman Hall, and the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative to support retailing education and research. Throughout his career, Baker had observed a trend of diminished focus on retail at top schools, declining interest in retail careers from top students, and fewer relationships between retailers and top universities.

To reverse this trend, he joined with Wharton to create the Baker Retailing Initiative, an educational “industry center” focused on retail research and on exposing students to the field. Student interest has been so strong that a secondary undergraduate concentration in retailing has been added.

Jay and Patty Baker have extended their generosity to the Fashion Institute of Technology to create the Patty and Jay H. Baker School of Business and Technology. Academic interest in retailing has already spread to Columbia, the University of Arizona, and the University of Florida, among others. A Wharton Overseer, Baker couldn’t be happier. “Part of my dream was that there would be other schools getting interested,” he told Women’s Wear Daily.

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