Business Class: Do unto others as you would have them do unto others

We have all met the child who always seems to be busy: the youngster who prefers “projects” to “playtime.”

Please nurture that child wisely — with a healthy sense of self worth — as he or she may grow up to enjoy the phenomenal success of former Kohl’s president, Jay Baker.

Even today, sitting in a relaxed position with an elevated foot stemming from an injury, Jay Baker’s energy and charisma fills the room. This is a man who still looks forward to the next project.

According to Baker, “The secret is to stay busy and have a true passion for what you do.”

Raised in neighborhood of Flushing, in the borough of Queens, N.Y., with two working parents — an oddity at the time — Baker entered the retail industry at age 8 by regularly helping out in his mother’s millinery store. Since that time, he has never stopped enjoying the “work,” even during a stint at the Post Office at $1.61 per hour to fund his education at the prestigious Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The gregarious Baker confesses, “I never had a day I didn’t want to go to work.”

Today, though many of us may struggle to teach our children the importance of dedication and a positive work ethic, Baker’s was shaped during a different time, an era that may still hold the key to teaching positive work habits to future business leaders.

In his words, “We were coming off the Depression and we understood we had to work. It was an accepted way of life. Besides, what would happen to me if I didn’t work?”

As an adult, Baker has also demonstrated an enviable knack for choosing the right partners, in business and in life.

In 1986, Baker became president of Kohl’s and found inspiration working alongside business partners William Kellogg and John Herma. Over the next 14 years, the trio would take Kohl’s from 39 to over 500 stores nationwide.

Unwilling to accept sole credit for Kohl’s phenomenal growth, Baker says, “We were like brothers. We didn’t always agree but we had a common goal.” Baker suggests, “You can argue, you can discuss, but whatever you decide, you go forward.”

When management presents a unified front, the benefits abound.

As for Baker’s life partnership, Patty, his wife of 23 years, stands with Baker as living proof of the oft-quoted proverb: Beside every great man is a great woman.

After all, everyone’s success is inextricably linked to the support of those around them.

The Bakers’ positive influence is seen in the power of their commitment to each other and in their joint philanthropic endeavors, including a fervent support of the arts.

Though extraordinarily generous with their money and (more importantly) their time, the Bakers’ ultimate goal is to inspire others to get involved.

With this clever twist on the classic “Golden Rule,” Patty Baker says it best: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto others.”

Words to live by, on so many levels.

Randall Kenneth Jones is the creator of and the President of MindZoo, a marketing communications, public relations and content development firm in Naples. He can be reached at or 239-304-9611

© 2013 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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