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Baker takes position at venture capital firm

Will concentrate on health care industry

By Glen Johnson
Globe Staff / March 3, 2011

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Republican Charles Baker, branded in last fall’s gubernatorial election as a downsizing corporate titan, announced yesterday that he will return to the private sector as a venture capitalist focused on building smaller companies.

In an e-mail to friends and supporters, the former Harvard Pilgrim Health Care president said he is joining Cambridge-based General Catalyst Partners as an “executive in residence.’’

He will concentrate on small- and mid-sized companies in the health care industry.

Baker said his decision was rooted in the many discussions he had with business owners during last year’s campaign

“These conversations got me thinking that instead of taking a leadership role at a large organization, I would rather work with entrepreneurs, small business owners, and the people who work with them, to help their companies grow,’’ he wrote.

Aides said Baker was not available for follow-up interviews, but General Catalyst cofounder David Fialkow said Baker’s expertise would be invaluable in a “challenging and complicated time in health care locally and nationally.’’

He added: “I’m a Democrat, so I won’t comment on his politics. . . . We believe there are enormous opportuni ties in health care services here in Massachusetts, and Charlie brings great vision and leadership and a solid operating background.’’

General Catalyst has provided financing and management expertise to an array of technology firms, including Cambridge-based Brightcove, which specializes in online video production and distribution, and Kayak.com, an online travel agent based in Norwalk, Conn.

During last year’s campaign, Governor Deval Patrick and his running mate, Lieutenant Governor Timothy Murray, played to their Democratic base by casting Baker as out of touch with the working class.

They noted the growth of Harvard Pilgrim’s insurance premiums during the decade Baker led the company, as well as the increase in Baker’s salary and total compensation to $1.7 million annually in 2008, the last full year he ran the company.

A subsequent Globe analysis of government filings found that Baker’s package was not out of line with those at the other not-for-profit insurers in Massachusetts.

During the campaign, Baker rebutted that criticism by highlighting his success in rescuing Harvard Pilgrim from the brink of insolvency and restoring it to profitability.

He also pointed to the consistently high customer satisfaction marks the insurer received by the end of his tenure.

Asked why Baker might have wanted the General Catalyst position, Republican political consultant Todd Domke said yesterday, “I think he might have liked the idea of being more on the entrepreneurial side, creating jobs. That would have more political appeal.’’

Domke also saw a practical consideration: “As talented as he is, he’s seeking a big salary. That limits the number of companies he can go to.’’

But Baker’s new job could create potential pitfalls if he decides to run again for public office.

Fellow Republican Mitt Romney’s background in venture capital projects turned into a liability when companies he had assisted laid off workers or outsourced jobs in a quest for profitability.

Since losing to Patrick, Baker has largely been out of the public spotlight.

He has continued to visit his former campaign headquarters in South Boston, where he has conducted not only his own job search, but aggressively helped his former staffers find new jobs.

In yesterday’s e-mail, Baker also told his followers he plans to join the boards of several small businesses in Massachusetts.

And underscoring a wild side that was evident when he played air guitar at his campaign kickoff last year, he said he will enter a “Dancing with the Stars’’ competition in his native Needham on Saturday night.

“It’s all part of the town’s 300th anniversary celebration, and it should be a lot of fun,’’ he wrote.

“I’ll try not to break anything.’’

Glen Johnson can be reached at johnson@globe.com.