Alumni who inspire: David Baker
The Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources launched the Alumni Who Inspire! Program to recognize alumni for their dedication to their professions, our college and West Virginia University.
Q&A conversation with David Baker
Photo by Paige Nesbit, Director of Marketing
"We are very excited to be able to recognize our distinguished Alumni through this program," said Pedro Mago, Glen H. Hiner Dean of Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources. "They have the College mission at heart, demonstrate Mountaineer values, and their achievements are testaments of the outstanding education provided by our College. As active ambassadors of our college and university, they are a source of inspiration for the generations to come."
David Baker has retired as the Senior Vice President of Sunrun, Inc. the leading residential solar provider in the country and served as the previous president of QualTek USA, LLC, an industry leading one-stop infrastructure solutions provider. Prior to joining QualTek, Baker spent more than eight years as Senior Vice President of Field Services for DirectTV. In that role, he oversaw the company’s national network of in-home and commercial installation and service providers. Previously, Baker served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for On Command Corporation and as Chief Financial Officer and Chief Operating Officer for DIRECTV Japan. Baker holds a Ph.D. in Mineral Economics with a specialization in operations research from the Colorado School of Mines, as well as Master of Science and Bachelor of Science degrees in Industrial Engineering from West Virginia University.
Baker grew up in Charleston, WV and graduated from George Washington High School in 1973 when he was 16 years old. With a father as a WVU Chemical Engineering graduate with two degrees and an older brother studying Industrial Engineering undergraduate, his father posed the choice of any college or university or select WVU and keep his car and live with his brother off campus… Baker only filled out one application: WVU.
Q: Why did you choose the Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources?
A: I was very interested in behavioral psychology, so I intended to be a Psychology major and go to law school if I made it that far. But during orientation I was not comfortable finding the psychology department was more focused on abnormal psychology than behavioral.
At that point my brother intervened and said he had an easy solution: “Change your major to Industrial Engineering so that Dr. Jack Byrd will be your advisor; he’s the best advisor on campus, and he will tell what classes and professors are best. After your first year you can change your major if you want to.”
Q: What kept you going?
A: I didn’t want the humiliation of being the first one from my high school that flunked out, and I definitely didn’t want to go back to the crappy part time job in the parts department of a Dodge dealership I had as a high school senior.
I put all my energy into studying and ended the semester with a 3.6 GPA. I’m not sure who was more amazed—my parents or me! I did almost as well in my second semester (3.5) and was named the Outstanding Industrial Engineering Freshman. I still wasn’t clear what Industrial Engineering was but decided to just go with it because apparently, I was going to be good at it.
Q: What are the top 3 things you have learned from your experiences at WVU or the Statler College and applied in your career?
A: 1. If it doesn’t scare you, it probably isn’t nearly hard enough. Don’t take the easiest path; instead choose the path where you’ll learn the most in the shortest time.
2. You are important and have a big impact on those around you, so always be respectful and considerate. No one reaches their full potential alone, so make friends and keep in touch with them. Learn to both give and receive help graciously and stay in touch with people because you will see them again, perhaps several times.
3. Read policies and contracts for yourself, then read them again. Don’t rely solely on others’ interpretations or memories of what they say.
Q: What are the 3 top tips that you would give to students who want to follow in your footsteps to plan for their successes?
A: 1. Protect your boss. Of course, this starts with understanding expectations, showing up on time, working hard, and meeting or beating expectations. But this also means not letting your boss be surprised by anything that you’re working on, whether good or bad. The moment there’s a risk of missing any expectation such as a date or a budget, or even unexpected, good news, you must let your boss know immediately. In other words, it gives them the opportunity to give you air cover. The corollary is never delay informing your boss about risks or problems. This doesn’t get you off the hook or transfer the problem to your boss, it simply gives your boss the opportunity to manage expectations upward and laterally within other affected parts of the organization. The one thing all problems have in common is that they take time to solve. Don’t cheat your boss out of any solution time by trying to “manage” when you tell him or her. Bad news never gets better with age.
2. Never pass up a good chance to help someone or say something nice about someone.
This is true whether you think they can help you or not, or even if they’re competing
with you. There’s no downside to this; it’s the right long-term play no matter
what the circumstances. Remember, the time to build relationships is before you
need them. If you build the foundation early, people are more likely to be there
for you when you need them.
3. When changing jobs, no one will remember what you did but everyone will remember
how you left. If you leave messes for others to clean up or are rude
or unpleasant to anyone on your way out, that’s what people will talk about and
that’s how you’ll be remembered—even if your work was great. If you are pleasant
and gracious and helpful to everyone as you’re leaving, even those you had trouble
with, that’s how you’ll be remembered. Never forget that a.) you always need references
from prior jobs and b.) you’ll likely see some of those people again in other jobs
and other organizations. It’s a small world.
Q: In your leadership journey, WVU always had a special place in your heart. For more than 10 years now you had been heavily involved with inspiring our students, helping the College articulate its strengths and making recommendations for its development and overall progress. What inspires you to remain so engaged with WVU/ Statler community?
A: I received an outstanding, life-changing education at WVU for a very reasonable cost. The personal interest in me and the support that the professors provided transitioned me from a mediocre high school student to an almost unbelievable career trajectory, including a series of executive positions in industry in the U.S. and Japan as well as winning the highest practice award that the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers offers: Captains of Industry, which Apple’s CEO Tim Cook won a couple of years after I did. I made life-long friends at WVU, and I am extremely grateful to WVU for what it did for me and want to support it so it can continue to do for others what it did for me.
Q: What do you think is the greatest impact your work made on others?
A: I was in corporate finance for almost 20 years and did very well at that, but the greatest impact I had was in running field operations for DIRECTV and Sunrun. I was unique in that I was highly educated but also very comfortable being out in the field with my technicians having grown up as a good West Virginia boy. By being highly visible and accessible, listening to my technicians and managers, problem-solving, setting clear priorities—safety, customer experience/quality, and productivity—in that order, focusing on relevant metrics, and respecting and appreciating my technicians and field managers through rewards, recognition, and pay/incentives, I was able to create a high-performing, highly engaged, and very positive environment for the 5,000-7,000 people who worked for me. I took employee turnover from 108% per year to under 20% per year and kept it there; improved safety from the worst in the industry to one of the best; and substantially improved both employee engagement and customer experience. I improved the work lives of my technicians and their managers, and I taught the entire organization under me how to keep that going. So, my biggest impact was returning to my first love: teaching— figure it out, then tell/show others how to do it.
David, thank you for telling your story.
Nominations are essential in helping identify the individuals to be recognized. To submit a nomination please fill out the online form. This recognition is overseen by an alumni review committee who carefully selects recipients from a pool of exceptional alumni nominees. We appreciate participants who are willing to share their experiences to inspire the next generation of engineers and computer scientists.
Contact: Paige Nesbit
Statler College of Engineering and Mineral Resources
304.293.4135, Paige Nesbit
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