Medium For-Profit CEO of the Year – Chris Baker, George & Lynch President & CEO
In many ways, Chris Baker is a classic Delaware success story. Raised in Greenwood and surrounded by farmers in the family, he briefly thought he’d follow his father’s footsteps and work at the DuPont nylon plant for a summer.
“My dad’s advice was, ‘You have to find your own path,’” Baker recalled.
After a guidance counselor pushed him to study engineering, opportunity literally came knocking on the last day of his freshman year at University of Delaware in 1989. Then-Delaware House Speaker Brad Barnes, who served as George & Lynch’s business development manager, saw him unpacking while driving by. Barnes stopped the car and offered Baker an internship.
And that eventually set Baker on the path of becoming the head of the Dover-based construction company that has 175 employees across the Delmarva peninsula. In the past year, revenue has grown 12% while George & Lynch is celebrating its 100th anniversary.
With countless milestones under the firm’s belt, Baker highlights that George & Lynch first helped bring utilities to small coastal towns in Delaware and started converting what is now the Dover Air Force Base. George & Lynch even built the World War II observation towers in Lewes. On the other side, the firm has also weathered the 2008 Great Recession with partners that faced financial difficulties – and sometimes seeing projects through the finish line.
“I’m very proud of the legacy, but it’s a great responsibility,” Baker said. “I didn’t get into this industry to become a CEO someday. I just took advantage of the opportunities that have been offered to me.”
As he has been leading George & Lynch for the past six years, Baker has also been a driving force behind the formation of its employee stock ownership program, or ESOP. As all nine owners were nearing retirement age, he realized that to keep the firm successful a change was needed to reward long-standing employees – and to create a recruitment tool for new employees.
Tracing the arc of his 34-year-long career, Baker acknowledges there is more regulation and competition in Delaware. But change, while the greatest challenge, is inevitable.
“I think the next challenge is transitioning to the new guard. Others in my generation are retiring, and so we need to think of a succession plan,” he said. “I’d say we’re in the early stages.”