What Will Be Doug Baker’s Next Act?
Doug Baker, who turns 62 in December, feels good about what he and his employees have accomplished during his 16-year tenure as CEO of Ecolab.
He’ll turn the company’s leadership over to Ecolab President and COO Christophe Beck on Jan. 1. He’s an executive Baker hired 13 years ago and who has worked in numerous management roles across the company.
After building Ecolab into a company that reached $14.9 billion in sales in 2019, what does Baker do for an encore?
“I have no interest in being a public [corporation] CEO again,” Baker said Friday in an interview with Twin Cities Business.
Richard Davis, retired CEO of U.S. Bancorp, followed a nonprofit path in 2019 and became the chief executive of Make-A-Wish America. When he was 62, Richard Anderson, former CEO of Delta and Northwest airlines, became CEO of Amtrak, which had multiple financial challenges.
Based on Baker’s experience as a business and civic leader, he clearly would have many opportunities available to him in the for-profit, nonprofit and public sectors.
Baker has given some initial thought to what he might do next. “I don’t have any firm plans at this point in time,” he said.
“But I am not retiring-retiring,” he emphasized. “I’ll still be active in the community.” Baker and his wife, Julie, plan to remain residents of the Twin Cities.
“I will engage in other endeavors, because I’ve got too much energy,” Baker said. But he didn’t offer a clue as to what he might pursue.
He remains on the board of Target Corp. that he joined in 2013. Baker chairs Target’s Governance Committee.
In August, he was elected to serve on the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees. Baker’s friend Davis also sits on the Mayo board. Baker, Davis and Marilyn Carlson Nelson, retired Carlson CEO, chaired the campaign that secured the 2018 Super Bowl for Minnesota.
Letting new CEO lead
Beck’s elevation to Ecolab CEO was a result of a “natural, well-planned” process, Baker said. “Getting the timing right for succession of a company is a balance of—Is the company ready, is the successor ready, and is the leader ready?”
In this instance, he said all three conditions were met. “We’re in a very good position, and Christophe is going to be a great leader.”
As a global company, operating in more than 170 countries, Ecolab saw the effects of Covid-19 in early 2020. “Because of the pandemic, I went the full year” as CEO, Baker said. But he’s not worried about handing the leadership baton to Beck in 2021.
“We are in a very different part of the pandemic,” Baker said, describing the early months as the “shock and awe” period. “We are now in the middle phase of this, where I think there is not absolute clarity, but certainly more clarity about the steps to take and what we need to do.”
Baker stressed that the leadership transition to Beck will be a smooth one, because Ecolab long has adhered to careful succession planning.
In July 2004, Baker was named Ecolab’s president and CEO. “The first board meeting after I was appointed, there was a board meeting in August,” Baker recalled. A board member on the governance committee said to him that they needed to discuss who would be his emergency successor. “I’m 45, and I’m going, ‘Really!’ ”
Baker, who has been serving as Ecolab’s CEO and chairman, will retain his chairman role and responsibilities. But he has no desire to micromanage Beck after he becomes chief executive.
“My job on the board will be board leadership and working with Christophe in any capacity he wants me to work with him,” Baker said. “Christophe will run the company.”
Baker won’t be a constant presence in Ecolab’s St. Paul headquarters after he relinquishes the CEO title. “I will not office in the building,” he said. “I don’t believe in it.”
Citing his CEO succession experience in 2004, Baker said, “Al Schuman was out of the building the next day.”
That gave Baker room to maneuver, and he wants Beck to have the same benefit. “I believe there is one CEO and that CEO has got to operate the company and have the ability to operate it without unintentional or intentional interference.”
Baker’s Jan. 1 retirement coincides with the planned start of the next National Hockey League season. Baker, who played hockey at the College of the Holy Cross, said he’s not sure where he’ll be on Jan. 1. But he added, “I know I won’t be playing hockey.”