An MIT Alumni Association Publication

Above: Princess Astrid of Belgium bestows a medal upon Marvin L. Baker ’51, SM ’53, ScD ’56.

Marvin L. Baker ’51, SM ’53, ScD ’56, zigzagged Western Europe as a business consultant for 34 years, making it easier for international manufacturers of engineered equipment to trade with the United States. Recently, he successfully helped a Belgian company break into the US engineering and construction market after it had failed to do so for more than a decade. Not only did the company appreciate Baker’s efforts, but so did its home country.

I just can’t describe it. It was unbelievably wonderful that people appreciated what I had done. It was beyond my expectations.

By decree of King Philippe of Belgium, Baker was granted the title of Commander of the Order of the Belgian Crown—an honor two ranks above knighthood. Last December, Princess Astrid, sister of the king, bestowed the medal on him before a large crowd at the Greater Houston Partnership, a collaborative of Houston-based chambers of commerce. The Belgian ambassador to the US presented Baker to the group.

“I just can’t describe it. It was unbelievably wonderful that people appreciated what I had done,” Baker says. “It was beyond my expectations.”

The award honored Baker for 15 years of work with the Belgian company, which designs and manufactures heat-recovery steam generators that function as the heart of many power stations in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Ghana, and the United Kingdom.

Because the company had long failed to generate US interest, Baker’s remarks centered on overcoming resistance. “The big lesson of rejection is the need for greater creativity and perseverance,” he says.

Baker earned his three MIT degrees in chemical engineering. After working for 27 years at Shell Oil, where he led three units and was responsible for 800 employees, he launched a consulting firm in 1984. That Houston-based firm, High Technology Associates, generated business strategies for more than 135 Western Europe–based companies.

Baker says he learned at MIT to deal with challenges. “I loved MIT. Students were from all over the world,” he says. “I’d go to dinner and have a fascinating conversation with whomever I sat with. I’m still friendly with many of them.” In addition to attending MIT reunions, Baker and his MIT friends have unofficial reunions; most recently they met at Kiawah Island, off the coast of South Carolina.

He lives in Houston with his wife, Virginia, who sells real estate and paints watercolors. His son Theodore graduated from MIT in 1982 with a degree in electrical engineering; he died in 1990. His other son, Peter, is an outer space engineer. Baker enjoys investing in the stock market, though he says, “It’s demanding, timeconsuming, and can drive you nuts.” 

The article originally appeared in July/August 2018 issue of MIT Technology Review magazine. 

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