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Frank Baker: Giving Back to Chicago

Frank Baker: Giving Back to Chicago

As a two-time Academic All-American, 1993 UAA Football Offensive Player of the Year, and active member of student government and the Organization of Black Students, Frank Baker made the most of his time at the University of Chicago.

Thus, it’s only natural that Baker wants to give back by helping provide similar opportunities to others. Earlier this year, Baker and his wife made a $7 million gift to the university, establishing the Frank Baker and Laura Day New Leader Odyssey Scholarships to endow undergraduate scholarships and internships for lower-income students of outstanding promise. Along with the scholarships, recipients will also receive New Leader Odyssey Internships, which include an annual stipend for summer travel, research, and/or internships.

On June 6, the university held a groundbreaking ceremony for the Frank and Laura Baker Dining Commons, whose name recognizes the gift from Baker and his wife. The building is part of a commitment to strengthen the quality of campus life and build community across campus more broadly. Baker also hopes that UChicago will work on improving the greater urban community of Chicago.

"UChicago is one of the best universities in the U.S., and like others located in tough urban areas, there is an inherent responsibility to help revitalize the surrounding community," Baker commented. "With the intellectual, financial, and human capital, universities should devote the time and money to ensuring this happens."

Before the internet, evaluating schools was difficult. Baker grew up outside of Detroit, where the expectation was to attend the University of Michigan. However, one trip to Chicago was all Baker needed to change his mind. "I visited with my dad and loved the feel of the academic environment. After meeting with Coach (Greg) Quick, it just seemed like a natural fit for me." Baker reported to training camp on August 18, 1990 and it marked the beginning of one of the most prolific careers in program history.

Although the team struggled early on, Baker was succeeding on and off the field. By his second year, he was named to the All-Association first team for the winless Maroons and got his first summer internship on Wall Street." I met with some representatives from Sponsors for Educational Opportunity (SEO) in the career office," he recalled. "With their help, I got a summer internship at Goldman Sachs in New York City the summer after my sophomore year and again, the summer after my junior year. That made it pretty easy for me to get a full-time job after graduation." Baker accepted a full-time position at Goldman Sachs in the Mergers and Acquisitions department in 1994. 

The balance between academics and athletics was something Baker was always determined to master. "I was pretty disciplined in college," he stated. "You only have a finite amount of time and you have to get a lot done. I also had a ton of financial aid and knew my parents sacrificed a lot for me to attend, so I was determined to get the best grades and play the best football I possibly could."

1992 marked the Maroons' first win in UAA play and Baker once again garnered first team All-Association accolades, capped by his first Academic All-America honor. His senior season was a breakout year for the team, which finished .500 overall in UAA play, including a victory at UAA rival Washington University. Baker rushed for a school record 1,606 yards to earn UAA Offensive Player of the Year honors and to finish as the modern day (since 1969) all-time leader at Chicago with 4,283 career yards. He repeated as an Academic All-America selection and received a prestigious NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship.

Both winning and losing brought important lessons that extended well beyond the playing field. "You are part of a team and collectively have to figure out how to work together," he reflected. "Winning as a team, losing as a team, and learning how to bounce back are experiences that are added to your mental database. That skillset is applicable to any school and a key ingredient to career success."

Baker thrived at Harvard Business School, where he received his M.B.A. The repetition and competitive nature of presenting arguments at one of the top business schools in the world was something Baker felt he was well prepared for based on his academic and athletic experience at Chicago. "It’s all about the reps," he said. "The more reps you do, the more you become comfortable, and the more comfortable you become, the more your personality and creativity shine.”

Baker is currently a Co-Founder and Managing Partner of Siris Capital. Siris Capital is a leading private equity firm focused on making control investments in data, telecommunications, technology, and technology-enabled business service companies.

Baker is also one of the two newest members of the University of Chicago Board of Trustees, beginning his five-year term in May.

Video: Baker on Growing Pains