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A Glittering, Global Career Brings Intellectual Diversity to Haas
Ambassador Frank E. Baxter, BS 61, is chairman emeritus of Jefferies and Company Inc., a global investment bank focusing on small and midcap companies. After a decade with that firm in the U.S., he moved to London to start and manage Jefferies International. He later launched a new subsidiary called Investment Technology Group and served as director of the National Association of Securities Dealers and later on the board of NASDAQ Stock Exchange as a member of its executive committee. In 2006, President George W. Bush appointed Baxter U.S. Ambassador to Uruguay, where he served for two-and-a-half years. Now, he and his wife, Kathrine, have created the Baxter Family Distinguished Fellowship Fund at the Haas School to bring diverse, leading-edge academics to our campus.
Q: You were born in Baxter, California – originally a stagecoach stop between Reno and Sacramento called Baxter’s Stop after your great-grandfather. How did your path lead from Baxter to Berkeley in the late ’50s?
Frank: I’ve found that almost everything in life is random. I came from a town with one hotel, one restaurant, and a post office. Then, when World War II came along, my father worked on construction jobs along the West Coast, so we lived in a number of different places. I attended Chico State, Sacramento State, and then Cal, which was pretty docile while I was there. This was before the Free Speech Movement—we were called the Silent Generation.
Q: You graduated from Cal with a degree in economics. Can you talk about the role your Berkeley education played in your banking and executive career?
Frank: While I was in the Air Force, I learned about the stock market and fell in love with it. To do it well, you need to be conversant with the entire world, and know that what’s really important is on Main Street, not Wall Street. As I progressed through various jobs, it served me very well to have a theoretical background and to understand both micro- and macro-finance. It’s a good context for the practical world.
Q: How did serving as ambassador to Uruguay inform your outlook and ideas? How important is global experience to a business education?
Frank: My Cal experience and my economics degree helped me there, as well. Being an ambassador called upon every stage of my life. I had worked overseas before, in a regulated industry, working with bureaucrats and doing sales. Now I was selling a wonderful new product—the United States! I learned how important culture is—to presume to understand another culture is very challenging. And I learned how tremendously lucky I was to have been born in this country—again, a greater appreciation for that random act.
Q: Are you familiar with Dean Rich Lyons’ new strategic plan for the Haas School? If so, with which of the four defining principles do you most identify?
Frank: For me, it’s Question the Status Quo. Always. And question my own assumptions. I have a big toy dinosaur in my office that says, “Adapt or die.”
Q: Can you give an example of how you’re questioning the status quo?
Frank: This country’s K-12 schooling is one of our great tragedies—future generations are being deprived of a great education. My life’s obsession has been to try to bring excellent education to as many inner-city children as possible. I’ve helped to develop 20 charter middle and high schools and prepare those students for university. So far all of them have graduated from high school, virtually all are going to college, and about 90 percent are going to four-year colleges.
Q: Your recent generous gift has created the Baxter Family Distinguished Fellowship Fund to bring diverse academics to our campus and strengthen our study of free-market theory and entrepreneurial discovery. What inspired you to make this gift?
Frank: I’ve always wanted to support Haas—it’s a unique institution worthy of my support. The campus is strongly committed to diversity, and intellectual diversity is as important as any other kind. I’ve recently felt that free markets have gotten a very bad rap during the latest economic crisis, and thought it might be a good idea to have people who are conversant with free markets to come teach about them. The university should be a cauldron of fresh ideas.’
Frank and Kathrine Baxter, BS 61