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Zoë Baird

  • CEO and President

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 just beginning 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 nation’s most pressing challenges, focusing on economic security, national security and health care.

Today, as millions are unemployed and advanced technology and automation are changing the very nature of work, Markle’s priority is advancing solutions toward a labor market that will enable workers in America to move into good jobs in the digital economy.

Most recently, Markle formed the Rework America Alliance, a nationwide collaboration to enable unemployed and low wage workers to emerge from this crisis stronger. The Alliance aims to help millions of workers, regardless of formal education - in particular people of color who have been disproportionately impacted by this crisis - move into good jobs by accelerating the development of an effective system of worker training.

Under Baird’s leadership, Markle launched its Rework America initiative in 2013, to help workers have greater market power and a stronger voice in decisions that impact their lives. Initially, the Rework America Task Force Ms. Baird chaired focused on how to create more good jobs and how to prepare people for them. The task force published the Norton press book America’s Moment in 2015. This work inspired the development of Markle’s Skillful Initiative, a collaboration including Microsoft, LinkedIn, and the state of Colorado, in 2016 which is using the very forces that are disrupting the economy – technology and data – to create a labor market that helps everyone, regardless of educational background. Nationally, Baird and 20 governors founded the Skillful State Network, now a nonpartisan collaboration of 30 governors and the mayor of the district of Columbia to transform the labor market at a scale and pace not possible through individual state actions. Markle developed a second Rework America Task Force and the Rework America Business Network to expand participation in meeting its objectives.

Previously, Ms. Baird led Markle’s collaborative efforts to reform our nation’s approach to intelligence and law enforcement after 9/11 to protect the country against terrorism while protecting traditional civil liberties. Markle’s recommendations have been embodied in law to create a trusted information sharing environment. 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 the HiTech Act and the transformation of access to personal health information.

Prior Career

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 has been 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.

Board and Awards

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 to the Secretary of Commerce (2016–2017).

Ms. Baird is currently a member of 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 a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations (2013-2018); 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), included in the Silicon Alley Reporter 100 (2000) and honored with a Federal Computer Week Eagle Award (2006). She is also a recipient of the Aspen Strategy Group Leadership Award (2018).

Ms. Baird was the inspiration for the Wendy Wasserstein Broadway play, An American Daughter.

Family and Education

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).