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Twin Cities CEO Profile: Ecolab’s Doug Baker

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(credit: CBS) Jason DeRusha
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MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Minnesota is the home of 19 Fortune 500 companies. All week, the WCCO Morning Show is taking a look at some of the people in the Twin Cities who’ve made it to the top.

Ecolab helps clean water, keep food safe, and healthcare environments clean.

With customers in 170 countries around the world, Ecolab CEO Doug Baker is a busy guy.

“This is my first day in the office in two weeks,” Baker told Jason DeRusha. “I’ve always used planes to sit down and think. … I’ll take a piece of paper out and start writing what my priorities are.”

Baker grew up here, graduating from Minneapolis West High School. He said he was a hockey player back then whose sole ambition was to continue playing hockey as his career. He had no clue he’d ultimately be looking out the 19th story office at Ecolab, leading a global company with 45,000 employees.

“I wasn’t going to be a doctor, wasn’t going to be a lawyer. What’s left? Business,” he said.

In fact, Baker is an English major leading a company that’s driven by science. He knows there’s a lot he doesn’t know.

“You just need to admit it. It’s a rare to hear from a CEO. We demonstrate it daily, we don’t always admit it,” he said.

In 1994, he was asked to lead a new Ecolab business: Kay Chemical, which was on the verge of losing its largest customer.

“That whole episode — which was almost four years working to save that business, which we ultimately did — was life-defining,” he said. “The career stops becoming about you and more about how do you do this for a greater group.”

At just 55 years old, Baker has a lot of years of leadership left in him. His advice for the next generation: Always develop your skills — your communications skills, your sales skills, your finance skills.

“How you develop those skills matter,” Baker said. “It’s not titles, it’s not this job. It’s putting yourself in positions where you can learn.”

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