NEW YORK — Jay Baker, who retired as Kohl’s president in 2000 after building it into a powerhouse, sees a lack of talent and glamour in retailing, and he’s doing something about it.
Baker is donating $10 million to the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania to create a retail studies program, called the Jay H. Baker Retailing Initiative.
“Retailing has the reputation of not being a sexy kind of business. It really doesn’t get the top students coming out of college. But a lot of it has been our fault,” said Baker, a 1956 graduate of Wharton. “We have not done a good job of selling it.” Quite an indictment for a retailer. “People can earn a very good living in retailing, but you have to pay your dues.”
Baker, who remains a member of the Kohl’s board, said the timing is right for a retail initiative because other fields that business students have opted for over retail, such as investment banking, consulting, accounting, and technology, have cut back dramatically and lost some appeal, so students could be more open to other opportunities.
While many schools offer courses in retailing, Baker said, only two business schools, at the University of Florida and the University of California at Santa Clara, offer retailing degree programs, and at Wharton, there is currently just one retailing undergraduate course.
With Baker’s help, next fall Wharton will have an MBA course in retailing, taught by Prof. Stephen Hoch, chairman of the marketing department. “We hope one day to have a retail and marketing school,” Baker said, where undergraduates and graduates can major or minor in retailing.
He’s begun to form an advisory board, seeking guest lecturers, wants to create scholarships, and will encourage companies to offer internships with an eye to hiring these students.