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Pepperdine University

Cortney Baker

Graduate School of Education and Psychology | 2015
CEO/Owner, KidsCare Home Health

What does being an honoree of this campaign mean to you?

Being recognized as an outstanding alumna at Pepperdine is truly an honor, both personally and professionally. I have dedicated my time to changing the leadership landscape for women in the workforce, and I am thrilled to be recognized by my alma mater for the work I'm doing.

Describe your success story.

I started my adult journey as a single teenage mom on Medicaid and food stamps, having my first child six months after graduating from high school. Because furthering my education was never considered optional, I put myself through college when my son was two, earning a master's degree in communication disorders and sciences from Southern Illinois University Carbondale.

After graduation and moving back home to the Dallas, Texas area, I quickly became disillusioned with being an undervalued employee. Instead, I decided that at 28, newly married, pregnant with my second child, with the economy in the toilet, and a husband working the night shift, it was a perfect time to start my own business. I had no prior business experience and was told by a business consultant not to do it—three times.

I didn't listen. In October 2003 I opened my pediatric home healthcare agency, KidsCare Therapy (now KidsCare Home Health); I was the only therapist, and I provided speech therapy for 10 children with disabilities. Today, 16 years later, that little company has grown into a multimillion dollar national enterprise, with more than 600 employees in 11 locations across three states.

In 2012 I enrolled in Pepperdine's organizational leadership doctoral program to pursue a lifelong dream of earning my doctorate. Wanting to know why the gender gap continues to exist in the 21st-century workforce, I researched the challenges and obstacles women face when climbing the corporate ladder. I was shocked to find research conducted by McKinsey & Company and Lean In, that found we are currently more than 100 years away from gender equality in America. And being the mother of two young daughters, that's just not good for me.

Although I am still the owner and CEO of KidsCare Home Health, I transitioned out of the daily operations upon enrolling in courses at Pepperdine. I speak nationally about my research and wrote a book, Unlimited: Conquering the Myth of the Glass Ceiling. I currently host the podcast Women in Business: Inspirational Stories of Women Entrepreneurs, where I interview other female founders and share their business journeys and stories of overcoming. In an effort to decrease the gender gap in leadership for future generations, I also teach female millennial entrepreneurs how to start and scale their own service-based businesses through my signature online mentorship and training program, From Side Hustle to CEO.

In 2016–2017 I was named Texas Business Woman of the Year, and in 2019 I was honored to be one of the Top 100 Healthcare Leaders by the International Forum of Advancements in Healthcare. However, my success journey would not be complete without mentioning my health journey, too. In 2005 I endured a pulmonary embolism at the age of 31. Six years later, at the age of 37, I had a stroke in two places and underwent a seven-hour brain surgery. I have fully recovered from both, but basically consider myself the cat with nine lives.

How has Pepperdine played a role in your success?

Earning my doctorate from Pepperdine University fulfilled a lifelong dream I'd had since being a single teenage mom. Now, based on my doctoral research, I am working to change the future of leadership for women in the workforce. Despite research showing we are more than 100 years away from gender equality at the C-level in the workforce, I am helping women be CEOs today through the power of entrepreneurship.

Describe a lesson you've learned from a challenging time in your career or life.

The biggest lesson I've learned in my life and career is that I don't consider my success to be optional. Over the years I've faced countless reasons to quit; I've encountered numerous reasons to stack all my adversities on the table and allow them to be excuses to keep me from moving forward. I've got one shot to leave the legacy I desire, and I want to make an impact in a positive way.

How would you describe your leadership style?

I think my leadership style is an eclectic mix, and I can't really categorize it. There are times when I lead based on the situation and other times where I'd consider myself a servant leader. My biggest goals, though, are to remain humble, approachable, and never take myself too seriously. After all, I'm goofy . . . I'm just a big kid at heart.

"Earning my doctorate from Pepperdine University fulfilled a lifelong dream I'd had since being a single teenage mom. Now, based on my doctoral research, I am working to change the future of leadership for women in the workforce."

 Cortney Baker (EdD '15)

Who has helped you achieve success in your career?

Without question, my husband has been my rock. I wouldn't be anywhere near what I am today without him and his staunch support. He and I met when we were both in college and I was a single mom; we got married in 2002, about a year before I started KidsCare. He has been by my side every step of the way on this crazy entrepreneurial roller coaster and I'm blessed to get to do life with him.

What's next for you?

I absolutely love mentoring and providing business coaching and guidance to the next generation of female entrepreneurs. My digital course, From Side Hustle to CEO, was recently released, and I'm planning on having a membership site component where I can continue to provide group consulting.

What was your first job?

Besides babysitting, I worked as a grocery store checker when I was 15.

What historical or modern-day leader do you admire and why?

Jesus. Other than the fact that he was perfect, I admire that he embraced the underdog. I've been the underdog my entire life and appreciate that he would have included me as his people.

What is your mantra or favorite quote?

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." —Ralph Waldo Emerson

What is one of your favorite hobbies?

I love to take on new challenges and easily get immersed in them. When I retire one day I want to learn to paint. But until then, I'll continue to be a lifelong learner and lover of travel.