$15M donation establishes Jay H. Baker Retailing Center

· November 4, 2010, 2:25 am   ·  Updated November 4, 2010, 12:00 am

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One way to upgrade an initiative to a center is to donate $15 million dollars to its advancement.

Jay Baker, a 1956 Wharton graduate, and his wife, Patty, know this. Last week the Wharton School’s Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative was rechristened the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center because of the couple’s recent contribution.

Started in 2002 with a $10 million donation by the Bakers, the initiative has since thrived, according to Retail Initiative Managing Director Erin Armendinger.

“When we first started, there were about five kids on campus who went to work in the retail industry, and this last year we placed 85 undergraduates and almost 50 MBAs in a combination of full-time and internship positions within the industry,” she said.

Armendinger chalks this success up to an advisory board of 55 prominent figures within the retail industry, including chief executive officers and other corporate executives. One condition of their partnership with Wharton is that they actively recruit on campus and build a relationship with Penn students in the form of on-campus visits and conferences.

Yet as Baker himself knows, it wasn’t always this easy to find a job in retail at Wharton. Upon his retirement from a career that eventually landed him the presidential position at Kohl’s Corportion, he took notice of the dearth of competent individuals within the industry.

“One of the big things lacking was the creation of future leaders within our industry,” he said. “We needed to start more bright, energetic, passionate students into the industry, and I thought that there was no better place to look than at the Wharton School.”

Baker soon realized Wharton was lacking as well, especially in its resources for future retailers.

“I noticed as great as our programs were at the Wharton School, we really had nothing in retail,” he said. “We had one course, and two students going into the field.”

The center is now attracting prospective students from the field in which it seeks to place students.

Whitney Beckett, an master’s of business administration candidate and co-president of the Wharton Graduate Retail Club, worked as a reporter for Women’s Wear Daily before she came to Wharton for the specific reason of becoming involved with the retailing center.

“In my old job, I talked to a lot of executives, analysts and consultants in retail, and when I was looking to go back to get my MBA, their unanimous recommendation was Wharton because of the Baker initiative,” she said.

Baker hopes to further build the reputation of the center.

“This will become the major retail center in the world, I hope,” he said. “That’s my desire.”

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