|In this Q&A, Bruce Baker, assistant professor of business ethics, explains his journey from studying astrophysics to pastoring a church to teaching in Seattle Pacific's School of Business and Economics. Read why he says, "I'm not worried about humanity at all."|
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From John Galt to a Conspiracy of the Holy Spirit
John Terrill: To start, could you give us a little bit of your personal and business backgrounds? We'd like to explore your business background.
Bruce Baker: Sure. I arrived at Seattle Pacific University through an interesting route. I began my educational career at Caltech studying astrophysics in the hope of becoming a physicist. While I was at Caltech, I discovered that I was able to solve problems which dealt with organizing and leading people. I actually enjoyed these problems. I graduated with the goal of going to business school, so that I could get my foot in the door doing some sort of entrepreneurial work in business. Thus, I went from Caltech to Stanford Business School.
Donovan Richards: Did you work before or during your studies at Stanford?
BB: I only worked for one year in between undergraduate and graduate work. I had a job doing scientific programming for radar systems. I invented mathematical algorithms using fast Fourier transforms to analyze ballistic missiles. These programs did target feature identification, and I invented some algorithms that were used for years. While at Stanford, I started working at Intel as a product manager for memory systems, and after business school, I went into product management because it was a place that suited my personality. I am a hybrid person; I seem to always have one foot in two camps, and this was a place where I could be doing technology and marketing at the same time.
JT: What happened next?
BB: After a few more stops in the product management world, I co-founded a company called Four Pi Systems. It was there that I earned several patents, raised startup venture capital, and supervised the product development. That company ended up being bought out after six and a half years by Hewlett-Packard. During that time, I moved to Microsoft as a general manager to do a startup, which in my view is a dream job, and the best of both worlds. It's just a dream job to be able to do a startup inside Microsoft where you're not on the street looking for money from venture capitalists every day, trying to get it off the ground. I spent three and a half years at Microsoft.
DR: What did you do at Microsoft?
BB: I came in to be the first general manager of their business unit developing the handheld computer. Today you might think of it as a smart phone, only back then it wasn't so much a phone, as a pocket computer. It was essentially a competitor to the Apple Newton, and if you go back in history and look up a footnote somewhere you can discover what an Apple Newton was.
The "handheld computers" we prototyped with our partners still weren't small enough. We could tell that the hardware wasn't ready for primetime, and so we ended up scrapping our work, and starting over.
JT: I know you have theological training. You're one of these fascinating people with deeds done on the business side, but also on the academic side. Tell us about some of your academic training.
BB: Right. Well, John, I can't even begin to tell that story without telling a faith journey story. I grew up a complete nonbeliever. I believed in the powers of reason, rationalism, and science. My philosophical strength and the competence to produce things equated to the highest good. I patterned myself after John Galt, and I was living out those philosophies. I was an entrepreneur and an industrialist, creating good stuff for the world, and doing it with complete disregard of any faith. When my mindset changed, it was like God took my head off and screwed it back on again, facing a different direction.
It was a conspiracy of the Holy Spirit.
My conversion involved many facets and many people. It drove me into an intellectual journey of investigating the faith, studying apologetics, and making the big mistake of reading the Bible. I read it because I felt like I had to be intellectually honest if I were to refute the faith. The more I studied Christianity, the harder it became for me to refute it. Studying led me to the conclusion that the most rational explanation that I could find was that this stuff actually happened. I reached a point where, intellectually, I did not have a leg left to stand on. Reading the Bible was the last straw, because the evidence it provides was convicting, and it led me to the edge of the cliff in terms of my worldview.
DR: Where did that lead you?
BB: During the moment I said yes to Jesus, it was as if the thought of seminary occurred in my head. It was a weird reaction: "Does that mean I have to go to seminary?" was the question in my mind, which was a laughable and preposterous idea, I thought. Going to seminary was the stupidest, craziest, most implausible, and impractical thing that I ever could have dreamed of.
When I moved to Microsoft, I was already struggling with the whole idea of seminary. I worked at Microsoft for three and a half years and got to the point where God had removed all my excuses for not going to seminary, and I just gave up. I quit Microsoft one day, and started seminary the next month in Seattle at the Fuller Extension Program. I earned an M.Div. and began another five-year struggle.
This metaphorical wrestling match surrounded the notion of being called to be a pastor. I could not understand this calling. I had never thought I'd be a pastor. Nevertheless, I realized eventually that this was a step of obedience, and I served at University Presbyterian for a short time as an interim associate pastor, and then I went and served at First Presbyterian Bellevue for three and a half years as executive pastor.
JT: It was in a full-time capacity?
BB: Yes. While I was serving as a pastor, Jeff Van Duzer asked me to teach a course here at SPU, in the business school - the course that I consider to be the sweet spot of my research: the theology of business. During this time the idea of a Ph.D. became more serious, as I had been receiving encouragement to continue my studies and do more teaching. Upon completing my Ph.D. studies, I eventually became a full-time professor at SPU.
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