WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association has a new president: Mark Baker. Rumors of the appointment were rampant at EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh, but the official announcement wasn’t made until Aug. 20.
Baker is only the fifth person to be president of AOPA. Actually, he is the sixth. The first was T. Townsend Ludgington, a member of the board who founded AOPA but who quickly resigned the post when the first employee was hired.
A federal government official proposed starting AOPA. Prominent Philadelphia business leaders who were interested in flying went duck hunting with a high federal government official in the late 1930s. While sitting in the duck blind the conversation turned to aviation and the official mentioned how federal action was being taken on air travel with all attention centered on the scheduled airlines. If you pilots want to be heard, he warned, you’d better get busy. Heeding his advice, the hunters went back home and formed AOPA. These Philadelphia leaders became the first board of directors.
A chance meeting between a member of the board and a pilot who flew motion picture newsreels to theaters led to the employment of Joseph B. (Doc) Hartranft as president. He held the post from 1939 to 1977, keeping the fledgling organization alive while still serving in the military in Washington during World War II. Upon his retirement, the board selected John Baker, followed by Phil Boyer, Craig Fuller, and now Mark. R. Baker.
Baker, 55, was born in Minnesota and graduated from the University of Minnesota with a bachelor’s degree in geography. He has been married 32 years and has three daughters and one son. An avid pilot, he uses a plane both in business and for family travel. He does his own repair jobs, built three houses from the ground up, drives motorcycles, and likes using the airplane to take family and friends on weekend trips.
According to The San Jose Mercury-News, Baker started his career in 1975 when, while still in college, he took a job paying $2 an hour at a hardware store stocking shelves, helping customers, and unloading trucks. From 1980 to 1988 he held various management positions with Knox Hardware, moving from there to be vice president for merchandising and marketing for Scotty’s Home improvement centers, where he stayed until 1992. He then became executive vice president for merchandising at HomeBase Inc. until 1996. At The Home Depot he held several executive positions in merchandising. He flew a Cessna 172 when traveling to cities in the west while an executive with The Home Depot. Later he moved to a Cessna Caravan.
Baker has also served as a director of Scotts Miracle-Gro Company. He was chief executive officer at Gander Mountain Company, a firm specializing in hunting, fishing and camping gear.
In his business career he is known for moving into struggling companies and turning them around to be successful. Although this not the condition of AOPA, it may prove to be a valuable asset for the general aviation industry.