Doug Baker is not 'just an old white guy'

As one of a select group of district governors worldwide chosen to chart directions for the individual Rotary clubs in their jurisdictions, Doug Baker, only the fourth Downey Rotarian to be so honored in the local club's 86-year history, sees his main role as guiding each club to become truly relevant in the community it serves.A major thrust as well during his tenure is to encourage each club to become "more visible" [to the community], if only to dispel the public's notion that "we're just a bunch of old white guys who write checks." Baker says, "This image of Rotarians is false, and we need to change it." He continues: "Many residents don't even know there's a Rotary club in their midst, much less what it does." Declining membership is an endemic problem, affecting clubs of all sizes and traditions, as members succumb to bickering, inattention and, simply, inertia. Further, all sorts of ugly consequences transpire when some use ('abuse' is the more apt term) the club as a forum to advance their political agendas. This is a no-no, says Baker, whose moral vocabulary includes doses of decency, sincerity, and politeness in his dealings with people, extending even to his tennis court opponents (he plays 3-4 times a week, an activity for 20-odd years now). This, plus a sharp sense of humor, may partly explain why, starting with one client in 1980 and an initial investment of $1.5 million when he started his investment management firm, Meridian Capital Management, Inc., the firm now has a retail client base of 225 who have given him total discretionary control over some $300 million worth of assets. These clients, who have invariably stayed with him through the years including his first one, he actively services. Return-wise, he says, "Over the last three years, we've done approximately 22 percent better than the major indices (Dow, Standard & Poor, etc.)." Notwithstanding this noteworthy accomplishment, Baker offers this rather profound comment in reference to how Meridian handles its investors' money: "Success is not always measured by the rate of return on investment but by the level of comfort we provide our clients." More telling perhaps is his ability to retain the loyalty of his associates and staff, including current Downey Rotary president Ingrid Martin, who has been with him for 17 years and who's in charge of Meridian's institutional (broker-to-broker) division, Portfolio Design Advisors, Inc., which tracks brokers' transactions on behalf of 500 business clients. . And these qualities may partly explain why he became Rotary district governor. A UCLA business graduate, Baker went on to pursue graduate business studies at USC, which awarded him his CFP designation. Baker says it's been a fulfilling life, allowing him to indulge his other passions, namely, reading (mostly mysteries and biographies), music (all kinds, including classical, big band, the blues, jazz; his two ultra-favorite songs: 'Ave Maria' and 'Danny Boy'), and wine (his favorite is 'Biale'-"the best California zinfandel around"). His wife, Connie, who once worked for Club Med and now also works for Meridian, "started me to dive, snorkel, and ski. So, whenever we travel, we go wherever there's an ocean," he says. Daughter Kelly's inherited athletic genes predispose her to cross-country running and the like. Born in Fullerton, Baker has lived in Maywood, Anaheim, Downey and, now, Huntington Beach. While in Downey, he went to Griffiths Middle School and graduated form Warren High in 1967. His dad, originally from Chicago, was a CPA and had a private practice here in Downey. His mom is from Oklahoma; thus he says he's 1/16 Iroquois. Both parents passed away two years ago. All told, he says Meridian operated out of Downey for fifteen years, and out of Seal Beach so far for another fifteen. One of the duties of a Rotary district governor is visit all the clubs in his/her domain within six months of installation. Baker is responsible for 46 Rotary clubs in all, and these stretch from Malibu to the west to the 605 Freeway to the east, and immediately bounded by Montebello to the north and Long Beach to the south. Thus he has to consult with Rotarians from the likes of Santa Monica, Manhattan Beach, Palos Verdes, Torrance, El Segundo, Hawthorne, Hollywood, Inglewood, Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, Paramount, Lawndale, Lynwood and South Gate. A glimpse at his schedule till December showed it was booked solid seven days a week, scarcely leaving time for his clients and his tennis game. "I will be devoting 30-40 hours a week on average to Rotary district 5280," Baker says, adding, "I won't see you till December." Such one-on-one consultations with each club can only be daunting, but he didn't have to say it. He didn't have to say it's all worth it, either. Having indicated the likely range of problems he's likely to grapple with as he tries to align the clubs' programs with Rotary International's objectives, he seems determined to offer possible solutions based on sound principles of leadership and lessons culled from his business success. He repeats a catchy slogan: "[We will do things] bigger, better, bolder!" There is a note of urgency in his voice as well. "We aim to redesign our basic approach, reintroduce what worked for Rotary in the past, when it began 106 years ago," he says. Pragmatic, analytical, engaging, and deeply committed to the ideal of 'service above self', Doug Baker knows that when things are not going well and corrections/improvements need to be made in anything, be it tennis or golf or a club, it's best to go back to basics. The benefits reaped when objectives are met are many, he says, because "when we perform things in the service of others, our own lives are enriched."

********** Published: August 5, 2010 - Volume 9 - Issue 16