Maxine Baker ('99)
Can you give us some background or insight into your personal leadership path – including your sources of inspiration and most important lessons learned?
When I look back on my career, I had some wonderful opportunities, even some that I would have never envisioned as I started out as an entry level professional. I rose to the rank of VP in 5 years and I attribute it to the fact that I was always raising my hand to take on new responsibilities. Once asked if I knew anything about space planning, as the company was about to relocate its regional offices, I said that I didn’t, but I was willing to learn. I knew who to ask, I asked them to help me learn and within 3 years, having completed eight separate building projects, I was responsible – from start to finish – of the largest construction project, at that time, in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Again, looking back – which gives one a different perspective that while you are in the midst of your career, I realized that I was creative – an out of the box thinker. I also realize that I haven’t been paralyzed by fear of failure. Yes, there have been some mistakes, bumps in the road and failures but I learned from each one of them. The wins certainly outweigh the mistakes.
As the most senior African-American executive for many years, I introduced supplier diversity, inclusion in the workplace and made sure that there were opportunities for other minorities in the company and from the community. For example, one of the buildings was designed by an African American architectural firm – the first commission to a minority firm for a headquarters project since the 1930s.
My commitment to the betterment of community, people and self came from my family who taught me “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I was fortunate to have resources available and people who supported me to me to think big, impact many, help make change in the community. Whether it was expanding a single site Wednesday’s Child program to 6 different cities, the build houses on the Mall after Katrina, or creating a program for disadvantaged seniors to learn how to use technology, I have always tried to harness those resources for the betterment for others. When I heard Dr. Maya Angelou say “you’ve been paid for” it immediate resonated to me in my soul. I am most proud that I was able to establish a scholarship program, in my mother’s name, for Youth Leadership Greater Washington – I’ve been paid for and I want to help acknowledge young people, young leaders, that their community cares about them.
How did you first become involved with Leadership Greater Washington and the Signature Program?
I was introduced to the organization by Terri Lee Freeman and Catherine Sharpe Leggett both of whom had attended the program. They spoke very highly of the program and encouraged me to apply. I had no idea what the experience would be – but it was and has been very impactful in my life.
How would you describe LGW - the alumni, leadership, staff, and overall mission of the organization?
Driven, focused, inquisitive, fearless, creative, and flexible are words that come to mind. As the premier organization of regional leaders, I think these characteristics are what is needed to keep the organization fresh and relevant.
Can you describe an extraordinary LGW Moment from your experience - a connection you made, something you pursued because of LGW, or a distinctive memory?
I have so many memories and relationships because of LGW. I remember after each class, I would return to the office and share with my team that I had discovered the key to unlock the potential on the youth of our area. First, it was the Arts that would do it – we needed to look at more programs with an art focus. Then it was juvenile justice that was deserving of our investments. Each class opened my eyes to see the work, our work differently. I often share the story of my class going to visit the old Wilson Bridge on Transportation day. I wasn’t excited about this trip because it had “nothing to do with my work.” I was told “trust the process,” so off I went. When we got to the shore of the Potomac, we had to go upstairs to an open grate walkway across the river I froze. Here I was standing under the bridge, with big holes in the concrete and seeing the underside of trucks and cars. This made no sense to me – “why was I here, what was I going to learn from this, I have to get out of this situation.” A classmate saw that I was stuck and came back and extended his hand. He assured me that he would help me get across – and I, we, did. My lesson learned has stayed with me to this day – examine what I am afraid of, why am I afraid, why is an unfamiliar experience unsettling? Once inside the bridge, I was able to an incredible view of the Potomac and the topography of Maryland and Virginia which I would have never seen without this trip.
How do you envision the future of the region? What about LGW’s role in that future?
I have lived in the region all of my life and have seen the multiple transitions of this region. I remember laughing all the way home from the opening of Dulles Airport thinking why someone would build an airport in a cow pasture. This area will continue to thrive and grow. As we see new companies moving to the area and engaging in the community in different ways, I think LGW is poised to influence leaders in the three sectors by creating community for those leaders to creative, collaborate and contribute.
What is your favorite LGW event?
I love the Annual Dinner – it’s like a family reunion.
In what ways has LGW been able to shape the region since you joined?
This is very hard to measure. Progress is made when there is trust, opportunity, relationships, and shared common goals. LGW clearly creates a venue for people from different perspectives, experiences, talents, etc. to come together and make change in the larger community. I know that I have met members who have challenged my thinking, have suggested other ways to solve a problem, who have introduced me to others, but these are hard to see but you know that they present.
What are some keys to staying innovative in your field or some tips for success?
Raise your hand, try something different, ask for help, don’t be afraid and be a life-long learner.
What do you love most about your LGW Class?
Although, after almost 20 years, when we get together or see each other individually it is as if no time has passed. We had a shared experience that has connected us to one another.
Please tell us something most people might not know about you.
I was born on Leap Year Day – February 29th – so I have a birthday every 4 years.