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By DONNA-LOUISE BISHOP
Wednesday, April 4, 2012
He is the managing director of a 240-year-old family business in north Norfolk but with dreams of becoming a farmer from a young age, Holt’s Michael Baker had put a career in retail at the bottom of his aspirations.
His journey in the business world started in the autumn of 1972 when he met with his cousins at a Gresham’s School old boys weekend.
He learnt that their fathers were proposing to sell the family business CT Baker, but agreed since it had been left to them by a previous generation it was not theirs to sell, but should be passed on.
Mr Baker, who at the time was working as a senior engineer, had already decided he needed a change of career and in September 1973 joined the company as an assistant to the then managing director, Mr Scott. On March 1, 1974 he took over that role.
“The success of the business has happened because I made it happen,” he said. “In the year ending February 28 in 1973, we had 17 staff and a turnover of £175,000. Now we have 250 staff and our annual turnover is in excess of £20m.”
The property at Market Place, in the Georgian town’s centre, was built in 1631, and served the area as a shop since around 1730 with the involvement of the Baker family beginning in the 1760s. In 1900 the firm was incorporated as CT Baker Ltd.
“There’s been many changes,” Mr Baker said. “Back in 1974 we only had electric three days a week so we ran the business the other three days with the use of lamps.”
Expansion was the order of the day and it began during the recession of the latter part of the 20th century, when inflation went up to 26pc with interest rates at 15pc.
The start of rebuilding took place in 1976 and in 1977 the Larners store was bought. In 2004 the acquisition of Betty’s of Holt took place and in 2007 Budgens supermarket was added to the group.
Today the business incorporates three divisions of department store retailing, a builders merchants and a foodstore.
And despite the long list of awards and accolades the company boasts, Mr Baker believes the best bit about the job is helping the local economy.
“It’s quite nice when you see people who have come and joined the company from school and are now either managers within the business or who have been poached by outside from major people like Barclays,” he explained. “We have created quite a lot of good things for local people.”
It is almost hard to imagine that his roots began on a farm in West Beckham where his love of agriculture first started.
Born at Cromer Hospital on July 25, 1946, the son of Charles and Barbara Baker, Mr Baker aspired to become a farmer. But his father, affectionately known as Jacko, said there was “no future” in their 375 acres of land.
“He had much more common sense than me at the time and said no to me forming a farming career,” Mr Baker said.
“Instead I became science-orientated at school.”
A former Gresham’s School student he went on to secure a place at Surrey University to study chemical engineering in 1965 but after graduating four years later with an honours degree he turned down the chance to do a PHD, instead beginning work at Norwich-based company May and Baker as an industrial chemist.
He then progressed with CJB Developments based in Leatherhead and when the company relocated to Portsmouth he was eventually propelled to the status of a senior engineer. He worked in Germany but became “disillusioned” with the company and that is when the door to CT Baker opened.
Not one to hide his passion of Holt, he is also a trustee of Holt Youth Project, a member of Holt Round Table, and a former president of the North Norfolk rotary club. He has also been involved in Holt Town Council, North Norfolk District Council, and served as chairman and treasurer of the Holt and District Chamber of Trade and Commerce.
He joined the UK Independence Party in 2007, and in September 2011 he was confirmed as the prospective parliamentary candidate for North Norfolk, the first confirmed candidate in the country.
He has also been elected to the Holt Town Council several times and in 1981, to the North Norfolk District Council as member for the town.
His signature bow-tie has also become somewhat iconic but he insists that he only owns “half a dozen” because he finds it difficult to find nice ones.
“I’m not really sure how I got into them but one of the useful things is that you get remembered,” he said. “I’ve been to lots of strange places and people instantly recognise me – I just don’t want to be a sheep.”
But bring up the subject of charity work and he becomes rather humble and shy when he admits he does not know how much he has donated over the years.
At 65-years-old he is still full of energy and it’s difficult to imagine that in 2003 he suffered a heart-attack, especially when soon after he completed a five day intensive race course at Silverstone to obtain his national competition licence from the Motor Sports Association. He also became a member of Mensa – the high IQ society.
“That was just another challenge,” he said. “It was there, so I did it. I just wanted to prove I could.”
And it is not just his love of adventure and nurturing of orchids that gives him his passion for living but his family also play an important part in his life.
He was left devastated after the death of his father in 1984, but in 1990 his daughter Felicity, was born and he adopted Duncan, 32, as his son.
His daughter now lives with him and the cat at their home in West Beckham, and his son is the financial director of the company.
He also married his third wife – long term friend, Caroline Anne Graham- Wood, on November 3, last year.
Finally, when asked if he had plans to retire soon, that mischievous grin he rarely lets people see appears, and he answers: “They’ll have to take me out in a wooden box.”
A father and son who joined forces to set up their own business are hoping to push the boundaries as their company goes from strength to strength.