A discussion with our President, Quentin Baker.
The inception of Wilfred Baker Engineering starts with my father, Wilfred Baker. He planned his retirement from Southwest Research Institute at the end of 1983 and was going to do consulting out of his house with my mother assisting him with administrative support. They took one end of the house and turned it into an office suite. On January 1, 1984 Wilfred Baker Engineering (WBE) was officially open for business.
On that first day he was already on a plane for a client. He quickly realized that he underestimated the demand for his time for accident investigations. Here’s my father… 40‑ year career, world expert in explosions, the guy who wrote books on blast effects working harder than ever in what was supposed to be slower paced retirement consulting.
"Now we have so much strength in terms of diversification, technology, intellectual property and depth of staff. BakerRisk is in a very good position for the future."
He already had an incredible international pedigree and mostly wanted to work on research. Not surprising, he was successful winning research contracts. The U.S. government's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program was our company’s first major contract. The SBIR program is what initially drove WEB’s growth.
The company’s growth, although welcome, was unexpectedly fast. My father won a contract for the Marine Corps in 1986 to develop a system to defeat land mines — a really challenging program — and quickly needed additional manpower. That’s when he asked me to join him. I was 30 years old and newly married, working on internal combustion engine research with no background in explosions or accident investigations. Nonetheless, my father brought me on. We were quickly very busy and found ourselves multi-tasking on numerous projects. He taught me well.
But we can’t forget the role of my mother. As our entire administrative department, she was integral in this whole process. My mom kept the books – hand ledgers – and did all the banking and invoicing. She had to learn it all. My mom kept the company solid, running everything on a cash management system, which worked well for us.
Accident investigation and SBIR research project success drove us to hire more employees. My parents were working harder than they had ever worked in their lives. This was definitely not the “part time” retirement consulting that my parents had planned. To alleviate the work load, we developed a 5-year plan for the company that would allow my father to scale back and work on the things that he wanted without the stress of running a full-time business. We put the plan in place in ’88, and as part of the plan, I bought the company from my parents in ’89. My father remained the President.
The sudden loss of my father in 1991 at the age of 67 was devastating for our family and the company. Fortunately, my father created a solid foundation and trained us well. Our clients stayed with us. We scrambled and hired additional staff. Besides accident investigations and research projects, our work in blast resistant structural design grew.
In the 90s, we knew we had to get bigger to compete and targeted our next stage of growth to 100 employees. For many years, everyone would work overtime to build up sufficient workload to allow us to hire another employee. Our employees were very loyal to BakerRisk and believed very strongly in what we were doing. To this day, this remains the core of the BakerRisk culture.
Around 2000, WBE began partnering with another small engineering company - Energy & Chemical Risk Consultants, Inc. (ECRC), which was founded by John Panariello, Joe Zanoni, and John Ryan. WBE was renowned for blast effects analysis, structural design of blast-resistant buildings, and accident investigations. Clients would say ‘you are good at telling us how badly our buildings will be damaged, and you are really good at designing buildings to be blast resistant, but you don't tell us how likely these events are to take place, or how to address the risk exposure associated with these events.’ We knew that learning the process safety industry was an area of expansion that we wanted to build upon.
"On January 1, 2000, WBE and ECRC combined to form Baker Engineering and Risk Consultants, Inc."
ECRC had the expertise to allow us to expand in that direction. On January 1, 2000, WBE and ECRC combined to form Baker Engineering and Risk Consultants, Inc. (BakerRisk®). The synergy of the two companies led to rapid developments in risk-based analyses and loss prevention engineering.
In 2003 we opened the BakerRisk stock plan to bring employees into stock ownership. This was a stock purchase plan that had a limit of 100 shareholders by law. Employee ownership was transitioned to an ESOP in 2013, which brought all eligible employees into ownership. ESOPs tend to be favored in companies that are talent-driven because ESOPs encourage staff retention and investment within the company and create an ownership culture; for the long term. The ESOP is an ownership model that can sustain the company for generations to come.
It has been an amazing accomplishment to be where we are today with 175+ employees and six offices in three countries; I am humbled by the success of BakerRisk, and my mother often says she and my father never imagined this level of success. Personally, my goal is to complete a succession plan that allows the employees to carry the company forward and allow our incredibly talented staff to continue to shine. With that in place, I can focus on the roots that I love, like my dad before me - the research and accident investigation projects.
It is still the same heartbeat but with a bigger heart. We were so small at the beginning that we were dependent on too few clients. In addition, we were shallow with respect to capabilities, which made us vulnerable. Now we have so much strength in terms of diversification, technology, intellectual property, and depth of staff. BakerRisk is in a very good position for the future.
To its core, we still enjoy the same strengths and values as BakerRisk’s origins “we are small, but we are smarter” and – “we are a technology leader.” In addition, we use our first-hand knowledge gained through accident investigations, joint industry research programs, testing capabilities and test facilities to be an industry leader. BakerRisk of today is much stronger with respect to hazard identification, prevention, quantification, and mitigation, which allows us to also focus on helping clients prevent accidents and provide a full range of capabilities to help clients identify, evaluate, and solve their risk management issues.