Attendees of the 33rd Annual Cornell Real Estate Conference had the privilege on Friday afternoon of hearing from keynote speaker Richard Baker, Governor and Executive Chairman of Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC). For students of the Baker Program in Real Estate, it was an opportunity to hear from the man whose name their program bears. Baker shared stories in a candid manner, reflecting on his time at Cornell in a way students could easily relate to.
“I was very unremarkable” Baker said, humbly referring to his time as a student in the School of Hotel Administration. Some of his fondest memories from his college days involved hearing from the interesting, high-quality speakers that would visit the campus. One such interaction occurred with visiting speaker Chuck Feeney (Cornell SHA, ’56) co-founder of Duty Free Shoppers Group and well known philanthropist. Baker said his interaction with Feeney changed his life, and he now strives to do the same for current students.
As Governor of Hudson’s Bay Company, Baker has expanded his retail portfolio to include other successful retail chains such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord and Taylor, and most recently the German department store Galeria Kaufhof. Calling himself an “accidental retailer”, Baker told listeners that he runs his stores from the perspective of a real estate developer, constantly thinking in terms of risk and reward.
In one of the most memorable moments from the luncheon, Baker shared a story of a trip that he took with his son to visit HBC’s original York Factory, on the southern shore of Hudson’s Bay in Manitoba, Canada. As the 39th Governor of a company established in 1670, he was the first Governor to visit the original York Factory. While there he observed a small graveyard of men and women who had died centuries ago while working for HBC, and he was filled with a profound sense of responsibility to honor their memory by carrying on the legacy and success of the company.
Baker’s passion and excitement for his work were evident to all who attended the meeting. His insights into the real estate business made a valuable contribution to the conference, and were especially meaningful for attending Baker Program students.