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Zoë Baird joined the Markle Foundation as its president in 1998, after a diverse career as a prominent lawyer and business executive. At the start of her tenure, as the internet was poised to become mainstream, she and the Markle Board of Directors redirected Markle’s mission to focus on the potential of information technology (IT) to address some of the most challenging issues in the areas of economic security, national security and health care.
Ms. Baird is currently leading the Markle Foundation’s Skillful Initiative in collaboration with Microsoft, LinkedIn, the state of Colorado, and many other partners. Skillful is working to create a skills-based labor market that enables everyone, regardless of degrees, to participate in good digital economy careers. Skillful integrates the diverse stakeholders, data, and technology across the workforce ecosystem to enable businesses to identify those with the skills they seek, and enables workers to know the skills they need to get.
Skillful’s unique approach to the digital economy workforce challenges grew out of the insights and findings of Rework America, a Markle Foundation initiative of diverse national leaders, which Ms. Baird convened in 2013. In her preface to their collectively authored book, America’s Moment: Creating Opportunity in the Connected Age, Ms. Baird outlines an action agenda to leverage technology and globalization as powerful tools to navigate the digital economy. In September of 2017, she launched the Rework America Task Force, bringing together leaders of business, technology, labor, and academia to build upon the work of the 2013 initiative to pursue policies and business initiatives to transform America’s outdated labor market and unlock economic opportunity for American businesses and workers.
Previously, Ms. Baird led Markle’s collaborative efforts to reform the intelligence community after 9/11 to meet current threats. Markle’s recommendations have been embodied in law to create a trusted information sharing environment for national security while protecting traditional civil liberties. She established Markle’s Connecting for Health initiative to catalyze improvements in the quality and cost-effectiveness of health care, work which framed the deployment of IT for the HiTech Act and the transformation of access to personal health information.
Early in her career, Ms. Baird clerked for U.S. District Judge Albert C. Wollenberg (1977–1978) and worked as Attorney-Advisor, at the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (1979–1980), where she prepared legal opinions for the Attorney General and the head of that office on the constitutionality of government actions or on conflicts between agencies. There she came to the attention of the Counsel to the President, Lloyd Cutler, who brought her to the White House as Associate Counsel to President Jimmy Carter (1980–1981). In this role, Ms. Baird advised the President on national security matters such as U.S. exports of enriched uranium to India and the release of hostages from Iran, as well as on certain domestic policy issues. Following the White House, in 1981, she joined O’Melveny & Myers in Washington, D.C., where she worked on a diverse portfolio of Supreme Court cases and international trade matters. She left her partnership at O’Melveny in 1986 when hired by Jack Welch to join the GE legal department, where she was Counselor and Staff Executive and in that capacity handled critical legal matters and management of the department (1986–1990), as well as participating in groundbreaking recruitment of in-house counsel from private law firms.
Ms. Baird served as Senior Vice President & General Counsel at Aetna Life & Casualty Company (1990–1996). She left her executive management role at GE for the task of leading a large legal department at Aetna and being part of the Chairman and CEO’s management team during a challenging time in the insurance industry. During this time, Ms. Baird was President Clinton’s initial nominee for United States Attorney General (1993). Following her tenure at Aetna Life & Casualty Company, she served as Senior Research Associate & Senior Visiting Scholar at Yale Law School (1997).
Throughout her career, Ms. Baird was an active volunteer with non-profit organizations and worked on a number of congressional, senatorial and presidential campaigns. While at Aetna she founded Lawyers for Children America, which recruits and trains lawyers in private practice and corporate legal departments to represent abused and neglected children. It continues to be run by the Aetna legal department.
Ms. Baird’s government experience also has included membership on the President’s Foreign Intelligence Advisory Board (1994–2000), the Congressional Commission on Roles and Capabilities of the U.S. Intelligence Community (1995), the Department of Defense, Defense Science Board, Summer Study on Terrorism and Weapons of Mass Destruction (1997), the President’s Commission on White House Fellowships (1997), the International Competition Policy Advisory Committee to the Attorney General (2000), U.S. Representative to the G-8 Digital Opportunity Task Force (2000-2002), the Department of Defense Technology and Privacy Advisory Committee (2003-2004), the National Security Cyber Awareness and Response Panel (2010–2011). She served as co-chair of the Department of Commerce Digital Economy Board of Advisors (2016–2017).
Ms. Baird is currently a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, the board of the New York City Ballet, an Honorary Trustee of the Brookings Institution, and a member of the Aspen Strategy Group.
She served on the board of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund (1998–2003) and she also chaired the National Board of Advisors of the American Jewish Congress (1994–1998). Ms. Baird also served as Director, Institute of Judicial Administration, New York University School of Law (1992–1999); member of the New York Stock Exchange Legal Advisory Committee (1992-2005); Director, James Baker Institute for Public Policy (1997–2005); and Director, Save the Children (1997–2006). She also served as a member of the American Bar Association’s Standing Committee on National Security (2004-2006); and a member of the American Law Institute (1992–2010).
Businessweek named her one of the 50 Top Women in Business (1992), she was a World Economic Forum Global Leader of Tomorrow (1993), recipient of the American Jewish Congress’ Louis D. Brandeis Award (1993), and was included in the Silicon Alley Reporter 100 (2000).
Ms. Baird was the inspiration for the Wendy Wasserstein Broadway play, An American Daughter.
Born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1952, Ms. Baird grew up as a daughter of a labor union official and office administrator. Ms. Baird graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, Berkeley, with an A.B. with highest honors in Political Science, and Communications and Public Policy (1974). She went on to earn a J.D. from the Boalt Hall School of Law at the University of California Berkeley (1977).