He didn’t like school, felt like a failure. In fact, Rich Baker actually had the idea he wasn’t very smart. He couldn’t wait to get out of high school and was happy to work in a bar for five years.
But in 2017 he started his own company and today owns a firm with more than 250 staff. To say he woke up to realize he was going nowhere in life is the short answer to his kick start, but it took a lot of desire, discipline, education and hard work to get him where he is today, a successful and proud businessman.
Some of the regulars in the bar were electrical and plumbing tradesmen, and he sought advice on how to get a job like theirs. Boldly, he applied for a job with an electrical company on a Friday, and on the following Monday was able to tell his dad, “I’m an electrician.”
Baker says he was “blown away” by being able to wire switches, then went to SAIT to take the electrical apprenticeship program and in his fourth year won the dean’s award. With a “I’m smarter than I thought” attitude, he went to work for a larger firm and within a year was promoted to service manager. He says he had a fear of talking to groups of people, so took a Dale Carnegie course in which he earned the award of excellent achievement, and within a month he was making presentations to 50 people.
“The beginning of the rest of my life,” is how he describes the feeling.
Work went well for a time, but frustrated with his boss he decided to try to work for himself. But he had no idea how to run a business.
He says he read every how-to book he could get his hands on and, feeling confident, started his own company in his basement. At the end of its first year with 25 employees, Static Energy brought in $2.3 million. The next year he fired 16 for turning up to job sites with hangovers and lost $10,000.
Undaunted, Baker hired switch gear designer Trevor Vaughan and launched a high voltage services division. Profits went up but the company wasn’t winning the big projects. He was told he needed his own manufacturing space, a platform to build off, and an ISO 9001 certification.
The easiest way to get these was to buy an established company, and in 2021 Baker merged with Sabre Instrument Services, at a time the owners were contemplating retirement. Last year, the company — renamed simply Sabre — did $47-million worth of business and earlier this year acquired Summit Electric, with offices in Kamloops and Quesnel in B.C., that added 90 people to its staff count.
Today, Sabre is a leading integrator of industrial control systems and process analyzer systems in Western Canada, with a team of highly skilled professionals providing electrical, instrumentation and control panel integration, and high voltage, electrical and instrumentation services.
In Calgary the Sabre office moved into 30,000 square feet of industrial space in the southeast, but continued growth means CEO Baker will be looking for upwards of 60,000 square feet in the near future.
It has been a rapid and exciting climb for Baker since he made the decision to smarten up and take control of his life.
In the wake of the devastating Charleston Residence fire that destroyed the staff accommodation at Lake Louise Ski Resorts in July, two local family businesses have come together to help solve the crisis. Deer Lodge will make up a portion of the staff accommodation for the ski resort for the next two years while the resort diligently and seamlessly transitions staff back to resort residences. “Lake Louise’s strong sense of community has deep roots,” says Larkin O’Connor, president of Canadian Rocky Mountain Resorts. “Kim Locke, co-vice president of Lake Louise Ski Resort, and I were both raised in this community with shared memories of skiing here as youngsters, and continue our efforts in tandem to champion and bolster this wonderful town.” Following this period, Deer Lodge will embark on its eagerly awaited redevelopment plans.
David Parker appears regularly in the Herald. Read his columns online at calgaryherald.com/business. He can be reached at 403-830-4622 or by email at [email protected]