Posted by Dawn Marie Bailey
Like other federal programs, the Baldrige Program is overseen by an advisory committee whose members are appointed by a cabinet member of the Presidential administration; in our case, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce. By charter, the Baldrige Board of Overseers is tasked with reviewing the work of the program and recommending improvements.
In an ongoing blog series, we are interviewing members of the Board of Overseers on their experiences, on the Baldrige Program and its products and services, and on the Baldrige approach to organizational improvement.
Following is an interview of Baldrige Overseer Reatha Clark King, PhD, who is an emeritus board member and emeritus chairman of the National Association of Corporate Directors. She has served on several boards and in various executive leadership positions.
What experiences led you to the role of Baldrige overseer?
My excitement about serving as a member of the Board of Overseers can be traced to my 53 years in challenging leadership positions in both the industrial and service sectors of our economy. I learned firsthand about the mission, principles, and concepts of the Baldrige Program and how they affect the performance of organizations. I believe the Baldrige Program is a great resource that fosters excellence and success in our national economy.
My professional careers began in 1963 as a research scientist in physical chemistry at the renowned National Bureau of Standards (later became the National Institute of Standards and Technology). From my undergraduate college (Clark College in Atlanta, GA), I immediately began graduate studies at the University of Chicago, where I obtained a PhD in physical chemistry. During my studies, the pursuit of quality and excellence became habits of mind and practice. Clark College’s motto was “Second to None,” and the University of Chicago was then and continues to be a university with world-renowned scholarship, quality, and excellence.
After my service as a research scientist, I was presented with amazing opportunities to experience how the principles of quality and excellence contribute to our economy and to society. These were my careers as university professor; public university president; vice president at General Mills and president and CEO of the General Mills Foundation; and corporate board member of manufacturing and retail companies, including Exxon Mobil, Wells Fargo, Minnesota Life Insurance, Allina Health Systems, H. B. Fuller Company, and Lenox Inc. My background experiences in these various fields—the chemistry, corporate executive, philanthropy, higher education, and corporate governance—all gave me a deeper understanding of the critical importance of quality and excellence as guiding principles in highly successful organizations.
These work experiences caused me to become even more passionate about applying the principles of INNOVATION, QUALITY, and EXCELLENCE as the best ways for our country to achieve a strong economy and a more prosperous society.
How do you apply Baldrige principles/concepts to your current work experience/employer?
The Baldrige Program’s focus on continuous improvement inspires thinking both comprehensively and specifically about quality improvement. The Baldrige framework helps me and other leaders to be big-picture thinkers as we explain the principles of quality and excellence as important aims for organizations.
Executive leaders are big-picture thinkers who are always poised to help set and keep their organizations on the right path to becoming high-performing enterprises. They are concerned about achieving goals and motivating their core teams to sustain progress. In my own experiences, I have found the core values and concepts of the Baldrige Excellence Framework (below) to be a wonderful representation of the beliefs and values of high-performing organizations:
- Systems perspective
- Visionary leadership
- Customer-focused excellence
- Valuing people
- Organizational learning and agility
- Focus on success
- Managing for innovation
- Management by fact
- Societal responsibility
- Ethics and transparency
- Delivering value and results
How do you see the Baldrige Excellence Framework as valuable to organizations in your sector/industry?
My experiences in organizational leadership and board service have taught me that the decision to improve or change an organization requires resolve and internal soul-searching by leadership, regardless of whether the organization uses an external or internal framework for improvement. The motivation and determination to move forward require resolve by leadership and participation by other levels of the organization. The Baldrige Excellence Framework can provide a source of ideas for institutionalizing the continuous improvement of the organization.
The benefits to organizations in all parts of the economy are the main reason that I think the Baldrige Excellence Framework can be so valuable to our economy and society. Leaders can use the framework to determine whether their organizations are underperforming or underachieving according to desired objectives in particular areas. Then the path to progress can be planned, using local, state, and national Baldrige resources.
The charter of the Board of Overseers says the overseers shall make suggestions for the improvement of Baldrige and act as an advisory committee for the program. As an overseer, what would you like the community/stakeholders to know about the Baldrige Program and its award and other products?
I would like for the Baldrige Program to continue to publicize and increase outside awareness of its programs and resources. From my extensive work with companies and other organizations in communities, I am quite aware of how eager these organizations are to improve and to become stronger. They are interested in coping with change and making a bigger difference in society. I find that most organizations are quite aware that they cannot stand still and expect to remain competitive in the economy. The Baldrige framework can help them.
What improvements/changes at the Baldrige Program are you most excited about?
I am particularly proud of the way the Baldrige Program continually uses input from many sources to improve its programs and services, Criteria, and processes. It refines the framework, updates its fee structure, and plans informative and inspiring events like the annual Quest for Excellence© conference and other programs and services. Two recent, forward-looking examples are the Baldrige Cybersecurity Excellence Builder and the partnership with the Communities of Excellence 2026. As a member of the Board of Overseers, I found it a pleasure to provide input on both initiatives.
What encouragement/advice would you give U.S. organizations thinking about applying for the Baldrige Award or using another one of the Baldrige Program’s products or services?
In my conversations with organizations and communities, I find that they are constantly thinking about how to improve. I would encourage them to consider using Baldrige resources to act on these concerns.
Baldrige has various resources, including conferences, that are applicable to organizations at different stages of readiness to improve, as do state and local Baldrige-based programs (called the Alliance for Performance Excellence). Start improving at your stage of readiness.
For interviews of other Baldrige Program Overseers, see the following: Rulon Stacey.