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Leaving a Legacy A profession in finance, a passion for music, and a love of hard work

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Kent Baker
Kent Baker. Credit: Will Diamond

For H. Kent Baker, Kogod professor of finance, the worlds of music and business have always been intertwined. During high school, he earned money by teaching and playing music. He played in a band and served as its business manager. He also taught at a music studio, and at age 15, had already joined the musician's union.

But a time came when he had to choose one or the other.

"When I was in high school, I had to make a decision of what I wanted to do. I looked at basically two paths: the music business, or business school," Baker says. "I [chose] to avoid the lure of the entertainment industry."

That decision led Baker to Georgetown University, where he studied management as an undergraduate student, played in a top-40 band called the Starliners, and discovered his passion for the world of finance.

Baker compares his initial attraction to the finance field to the way he enjoys music.

"Have you ever heard a piece and said, 'Gee, I just like that?' The way it sounds and the feel of that," he says. "It was a similar experience with finance."

Baker took a summer course in finance taught by the dean of the business school at Georgetown University. He was on full scholarship, but his tuition did not cover summer courses. Nevertheless, he felt it was an opportunity he couldn't miss.

From Georgetown, Baker would move on to the University of Maryland, where he received his master's in business administration (among other degrees), and American University, where he has taught since 1975 (and earned a few more degrees, including a Ph.D. in educational administration).

Throughout his career in academia, Baker has prioritized not only teaching in the classroom, but also writing, editing, and publishing.

"I want to do the things that I think will make the greatest contribution."

Baker continues to teach after more than 45 years in academia. He still writes every day. And he plays music in his spare time.

Leaving a Legacy

Baker has been teaching since 1971, and he's been publishing almost as long.

"I have a great love for not only teaching, but also being able to add something to the world through my research and scholarship," Baker says.

Where he's able to connect and help individual students in the classroom, his writing allows him to reach a much broader audience.

"After I'm gone, my publications will remain."

Baker has published 175 refereed journal articles and about 120 publications in professional outlets like the Journal of Finance and Harvard Business Review. He's published 29 books, including several textbooks, and has four others under contract.

His books have won numerous awards, like the Book Excellence Award in Personal Finance and the USA Best Book Award. They have been endorsed by finance experts and Nobel Prize winners, and many have been declared the "definitive" work in the field, including his book on behavioral finance.

But Baker is concerned less with the accolades his work receives and more focused on ensuring their usefulness to academics, practitioners and students.

Bridging the Gap Between Theory and Practice

Baker doesn't want his books to just sit on the shelf collecting dust. He wants to make sure they're practical. Even though he gets great pleasure out of writing, he seeks to write works that are useful and have impact.

"Doing the work is rewarding, but it's even better when people like it and find it useful," Baker says. "[My books have] practical value that people can use to change their lives."

When deciding on a topic for his next book, Baker always looks to see where gaps exist. He sees his competitive advantage as being able to integrate theory and practice.

While many of his books have been targeted toward scholars and academics in finance, he also publishes books for more general audiences, as well. This past fall, he signed an agreement with Emerald Publishing to co-author a six-part series on investment strategy, designed to improve financial literacy and decision-making.

"These books are going to be very practitioner-oriented," he says. "People can pick them up and use them to become more successful in managing their wealth."

When Hard Work Comes Easy

Baker has always been a diligent worker. His parents instilled a strong work ethic in him-they never had to ask him to study or to practice music. He was always internally motivated to work and to achieve.

"I've always had that inner flame of wanting to do my best," Baker says.

Even when his students struggle, he encourages them to use a failure as a motivator to ultimately achieve their goals.

"I want to help people grow and be successful." Whether that's in the classroom or through his publications, Baker's goals remain consistent-and he continues to pursue them.

Kent Baker teaches finance and served as Kogod's Chair of the Department of Finance and Real Estate for 11 years and headed the Finance Center of Excellence for 8 years. He also has extensive industry experience and has provided consulting and training services to more than 100 organizations. The Journal of Finance Literature recognized him as among the top 1% of the most prolific authors in finance during the past 50 years. His publishers include Oxford University Press, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., and Blackwell. Read more about Professor Baker here.