Editor's Note: The article that follows is part of the 13th edition of The Packer 25 Profiles in Leadership. These reports offer some insight into what drives successful people in produce. Please congratulate these industry members when you see them and tell them to keep up the good work.
The suggestion that Jerry Baker’s success in the onion business is an individual accomplishment is one way to get under his skin.
It’s all about the team, said Baker, who balances the titles of managing partner, CEO and salesman for Ontario, Ore.-based onion supplier Baker & Murakami Produce Co. LLLP.
The company formed July 1, when Baker merged his Baker Packing Co. with “friendly competitor” Murakami Produce Co. LLC to form an “onion supershed” in the Treasure Valley of Idaho-eastern Oregon.
The merger was the latest step in an onion business odyssey Jerry Baker began in 1972, when he launched an onion division for Zeeland, Mich.-based DeBruyn Produce.
Baker ran the business out of a 7,200-square-foot warehouse on the same land that is now home to the new operation. Steve Baker joined his father in the business in 1984, and the company became Baker Packing in 1997.
“I’m smart enough to know I need to surround myself with good people, so I try to take care of the people that work for me,” Jerry Baker said. “I surround myself with good, hard-working, dedicated people. When you do that, it makes your life a lot simpler.”
It’s a formula he has followed throughout his career.
“I try to take care of them and they stay a long time,” he said.
The growth continues, as Baker & Murakami built a 20,000-square-foot finished product/shipping structure this year.
The addition brings the company’s packing and shipping area to a total of 68,000 square feet.
The expansion included an automated sorting and packing line and an array of other technological upgrades.
Baker said it’s simply a reflection of his approach to the business.
“You’ll have to do that to stay in business, I believe,” he said.
Steve Baker says his father’s “hands-on type of leadership style” has been central to the company’s success.
“He’s basically done everything you can do in an onion packing shed from the very bottom job to the top, so he understands what it takes to get things done in every aspect of the shed, and that gives him an understanding of what should happen and how,” Steve Baker said. “He’s been a leader in turning this into the largest shipper in the Idaho-Oregon onion deal. He has basically committed his life to this industry.”