Director of Norfolk group C T Baker reflects on four decades helping family firm to grow
Anthony Baker didn’t choose the director’s life – the director’s life chose him.
It was fractious relations within his family – who had been at the helm of C T Baker Ltd for almost 200 years – which led him and two cousins to step in and take control of the business.
During his 44 years on the board he helped steer the group to success – growing turnover from £185,000 to £25m and increasing its workforce from 15 to 300. The Baker name now encompasses four builders’ merchants yards in North Norfolk, two Holt department stores and two supermarkets.
The 85-year-old, along with his cousins Michael and Miles, each took one-third of C T Baker’s shares in 1973 to avoid the company being sold to a property developer in Norwich – at the time the option preferred by two of the three directors.
“After my father [Jim Baker] died his shares were acquired by outside directors, who wanted to sell up,” he said. “My eldest uncle was not keen, but my other uncle was in favour.
“I met with my cousins and told them their fathers were thinking of selling the family business, and we all agreed that we would like to try to keep it in the family. I was given the opportunity by the directors to come up with an alternative proposal.”
After persuading the directors of the merit of their vision, the Baker cousins took control of the company’s shares and the youngest, Michael, agreed to take on the day-to-day running of the business.
Mr Baker continued his career as a solicitor at Fladgate in London, where he was a senior partner for 20 years alongside his directorial role in the C T Baker enterprise.
He said: “I was the cautious one on the board. Michael had always got a project on the go, but we always got on. He is very bright and runs the business extremely well.
“I played a reasonable part in running the company but it was Michael who put it in the great position it is in today.”
Almost 50 years later, all the shares remain in family hands – although Mr Baker said he cannot discount concerns that younger family members may be less interested in taking on responsibility for the growing group once Michael, 72, retires.
“I think there is someone within the family who will want to take it one, but there are also thoughts that we should be prepared to look further afield to make sure we have the right person,” he said.
C T Baker has worked across a number of sectors over the decades, from blacksmithing to brewing to plumbing.
Today, the group consists of four builders’ merchants yards, in Holt, Aylsham, North Walsham and Stalham, the Bakers and Larners and Bettys of Holt department stores, and the Budgens supermarkets and Post Offices in Aylsham and Holt.
The company came into the Baker family’s ownership when Anthony Baker’s great-great-great-great-grandfather inherited the business from his father-in-law in the 1780s.
For the first half of the 20th century it was in the progressive position of having a female chairman, who worked with a predominantly female board during her tenure.
The company acquired Larner Brothers – and its grocers in Holt – in 1977 and two builders’ merchants in Stalham and North Walsham from R Edmonds and Son in 1989. In the past 10 years it has also acquired Holt and Aylsham’s Budgens stores.