Publishing to a Higher Power
Dwight Baker, president of Grand Rapids, Mich.-based Baker Publishing Group—the third-largest publisher in the Evangelical Christian publishing market—arrived in his position from a different starting point than most publishing company presidents, and he’s using that fresh perspective to put his own personal spin on religious publishing. His approach seems to be working. The company’s annual sales in 2006 surpassed $50 million, four of its publishing divisions saw double-digit growth, and it has a current New York Times Best Seller on the market with 1.4 million copies sold.
The family business was founded in 1939 by Dwight’s grandfather, Herman Baker. When Dwight was a teenager, he worked part time at the business’s retail store. He began working as a graphic designer in the art department of the company’s publishing division while pursuing a fine arts degree in college. After graduation, he remained in that position for 14 years. When his father, then president, retired, Dwight stepped in to fill this challenging role, almost 10 years ago in August 1997.
“The art department is an unusual starting point toward larger executive responsibilities, but it does carry some distinctive advantages,” Baker says. “Most significantly, it trained my mind to function comfortably on instinct. While in the art department we could not, for instance, use hard data to effectively quantify a favorable response to a book cover. If a cover works well, it does so upon a mere glance and within a fraction of a second. With any cover image, we either react favorably or not; no verbal explanation is required or welcomed,” he explains. “After so many years of acting by intuition in the art department, my mind became accustomed to that environment.”
Twila Bennett, senior director of marketing for Revell, Baker Books and Chosen Books—all divisions of Baker Publishing Group—says Baker has grown into his role as president and has become one of the most respected presidents in the industry.