There is no shortage of numbers Rutgers Business School professor Ted Baker has for showing the disparity of wealth in the U.S.
Baker, who fills the inaugural George F. Farris Chair in Entrepreneurship, shared some of them during an Oct. 7 lecture on entrepreneurship and the inequality of opportunity. CEO pay soared 97 percent between 1978 and 2013, wages for the typical worker increased 11 percent, he said, and approximately 1.5 million U.S. households have an income of less than $2 a day.
They are the sort of statistics and observations that fuel Professor Baker’s research on entrepreneurs who work and succeed in resource-constrained environments, work that could ultimately help individuals in the U.S. where – despite the notion of the American Dream – entrepreneurial efforts are hindered by issues of education, social network and financing.
“I have joined the greatest group of people in terms of figuring this out,” Baker said as he introduced members of the Rutgers Business School faculty – Professors Brett Gilbert and Jeffrey Robinson, among them – who he has worked with closely since he filled the George F. Farris Chair in Entrepreneurship earlier this year.
While Baker’s lecture introduced his expertise and the role the new Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development will play in the region, there were also touches of an investiture.
Executive Vice Dean Yaw Mensah opened the event by explaining the significance of endowed professorships. They help to attract new faculty and students, Mensah said, and they also impress industry leaders.
They are also a long-standing part of academia. Mensah noted that Sir Isaac Newton filled an endowed chair at the University of Cambridge in 1663. The same chair was filled for 30 years by Stephen Hawking, the well-known researcher and author.
There was also the presence of George Farris, accompanied by his wife and children, as well as administrators from the Celia Lipton Farris and Victor W. Farris Foundation, which is named after George Farris’s aunt and uncle. A $1.5 million gift from the Farris Foundation helped to create the $3 million endowed faculty position. A matching gift was pledged by an anonymous donor as part of an “18 Chair Challenge” during the Our Rutgers, Our Future Campaign.
Farris, who spent 31 years on the faculty at Rutgers Business School and was the founding director of the Technology Management Research Center, described the work of the foundation and the decision to fund a chair in entrepreneurship.
At the start of the event, Farris and Baker were both presented with chairs, a traditional part of an investiture ceremony.
During his lecture, Baker, who has studied entrepreneurs in South Africa, told the audience about a man he met named Michael who taught himself basic mechanics, taught others and then built a taxi company in Cape Town. He devised a way – a simple orange sticker – that set his company’s safe vehicles apart from Cape Town’s infamous “cockroach” taxis, Baker said.
“What can we do as researchers and teachers? We can’t bring together (the disparity) between productivity and hourly wages, but we can try to figure out what Michael knows and how entrepreneurs in resource-constrained environments can succeed,” Baker said.
Baker, who will lead the Rutgers Advanced Institute for the Study of Entrepreneurship and Development, said the institute will work closely with a number of existing research centers at Rutgers that are focused on entrepreneurship, including The Center for Urban Entrepreneurship and Economic Development, the Technology Management Research Center and the Collaborative for Technology, Entrepreneurship and Commercialization.
“I’m excited to be surrounded by people who are as excited about this as I am,” Baker said. “There’s a sense of commitment and collaboration here, and it’s not something you see anywhere else.”