HISTORY OF BAKER PERKINS IN SOUTH EAST ASIA
The firm’s connections with Japan and the Far East date back to the days of Joseph Baker & Sons before the 1914 War, but they were reinforced after the war when Charles Baker became resident representative in Shanghai. From there, he travelled extensively throughout the Far East, and was, for a time, based in Tokyo, booking a biscuit plant order worth over £200,000 in 1919 for Morinaga of Japan.
During Charles Baker’s time in Japan, Morinaga expressed some interest in chocolate manufacture. As E.H. Gilpin had special expertise in this he was sent out to carry on the discussions. His puzzlement at the attitude of the Japanese directors is summed up by Augustus Muir–
“The Japanese directors entertained them with great courtesy and cordiality. In the intervals of a wrestling match or a Geisha dance, the managing director would fire off a question: “How much six plants?” At another time he would say; “How much Japanese rights?” Having been given the answer, he would lapse into silence.
It looked as if Gilpin’s stay would have to be greatly prolonged (with lavish entertainment continuing) if any definite business was to be concluded. Then, on the day before he must leave for England, he was suddenly asked to draw up an agreement. Matzuzaki, Morinaga’s managing director, glanced casually at the rather imposing document and asked “Where do I sign?” Gilpin pointed out that he had not yet read the contract. While the figures in it were the same as those already given in their talks, Gilpin explained, they had never discussed the conditions set forth in the contract. Gilpin was prepared to discuss these one by one, but Matzuzaki shook his head and signed the contract for nearly £100,000 worth of plant. “You are an English gentleman, “ he said quietly, “and you would not ask me to sign anything unfair”. On what he described as a unique experience, Gilpin’s comment was: “BP are never likely to have a more striking tribute to their integrity”.
Around 1920, the American Trading Co. was appointed as agents, the manager, Mr. Kye Taylor, taking a great personal interest in promoting Baker Perkins interests in Japan. The American Trading Co. continued to operate as agents and in 1954 student apprentice Tommy Nutt was sent out to join them. Later, he became general manager of their machinery division and subsequently took over the management of a joint company they formed with APV Ltd. Soon after this, Peter Newton joined American Trading and the association with Baker Perkins was severed by mutual agreement. He became managing director of Baker Perkins Far East Ltd on its formation.
The company employed 20 people in the mid-sixties working as a sales and service organisation with a territory covering Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Okinawa, the Philippine Islands, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Malaya, Singapore, Indonesia and Borneo. This area covered approximately 20 million square miles and 320 million people. In the sixties, Baker Perkins Far East Ltd represented all of the group’s interests, with the exception of Baker Perkins Inc. Saginaw, and James Halley, who had their own agents.
Baker Perkins Inc, Saginaw shipped their first automatic bread plant to the largest bakery in Japan – Yamasaki Baking Company Ltd – in 1963. The Japanese Imperial Government had encouraged the replacement of rice by wheat –flour because of the perceived nutritional benefits to the population. The new Yamazaki plant of 1963 made history.
Peter Newton, managing director of Baker Perkins Far East Ltd, remembered in 1966 –
“There are 14 different countries, with numerous languages and dialects. The language is not the only thing that makes doing business vastly different from in Europe. Every nation has its own customs and character, and business methods are quite different in each area, so an intimate knowledge is required before sales can be effected.
We travel mainly by air, car or train, although rickshaws, rafts, jeeps and helicopters have been utilised. The visits are arduous but not without interest. With the wide range of equipment produced by the group, and sold in these markets, it is not possible to be an expert in every line. But a general all-round knowledge is gained by experience, and this together with personal relationships with customers, contributes to an eventual sale”.
These were, of course, the days before e-mails and instant communication –
“Communication is, of course, our main problem and it can be difficult to make people appreciate difficulties at a long distance. We usually send one large telex to the export company every evening, which arrives there in the morning of the same day. When we return to the office next day, the answer is usually awaiting us.
More than 90% of our out-going mail is bound to foreign countries, all by airmail, to England, Germany, the USA, Australia and 10 countries in the Far East. These letters usually take five to eight days to reach their destination and we have to wait about a week for replies – so you can imagine how anxiously the most urgent and important replies are awaited”.
In the three years prior to 1966, seven Baker Perkins swiss roll plants were sold to Japan. The reason was not that the Japanese were particularly fond of swiss rolls, because of the country’s comparatively small size and density of population, sponge cakes can be easily distributed to the customer – and the Universal swiss roll plant was capable of making up to 20 varieties of sponge goods.
In order to obtain a proportion of the growing Japanese and Far East markets for printing machinery, a licence agreement was concluded in 1968 with Tokyo Kikai Seisakusho, Japan. This was for the manufacture and sale in Japan and the Far East of Baker Perkins web offset printing presses and certain Halley rotogravure presses. Exports to other Far Eastern countries of web offset presses manufactured under licence in Japan were handled by the group’s own sales organisation in Tokyo, Baker Perkins Far East AG. To further penetrate the fast growing S.E. Asian market branch offices were opened in Hong Kong in 1969 and in Singapore in 1973.
In 1969, a new recruit to the business was seconded to Hong Kong. Terry Nicolson recounts his experiences of coping with the “opportunities” created by this part of the world:
“My wife and I had been married all of two years when we arrived in Hong Kong in the summer of 1969. Earlier that year I had been in correspondence with Peter Newton, MD of BPFE Ltd., Japan, who had asked the directors of Baker Perkins Exports, London, to let me transfer to the Far East where he wished to establish a new Hong Kong office. My efforts at “negotiation” were easily defrayed by Peter. We got a telegram on March 27th from Group Director John Peake, saying he would visit our house the following Saturday, on route from Tokyo. I couldn’t top that one. So, after the neighbours had goggled at the shiny black Austin Princess arriving at our doorstep on a Saturday morning, John sat on our living room floor, eating breakfast and showing us a map of the Far East. “This is Hong Kong, right here,” he said. We certainly didn’t know where it was.
I had started work at Baker Perkins Exports Ltd., in London, in February 1967, under the expert tutelage of Alan Cramb, Director of the Chocolate and Confectionery Department. Of course, in those days he was “Mr. Cramb” and we minions were mostly just surnames with no honorific. He told me I was the first engineer employed by the Export Company as a correspondent. They usually looked for linguistic abilities first, and aimed to transfer the technology by some mystical form of osmosis. Don’t ask why an aeronautical engineer found himself selling sweetie machines. Just know that the British Government had decided to no longer fund all the aircraft manufacturers; I needed a job and my future father-in-law expected me to keep his daughter in the manner to which she could become accustomed; I had never heard of Baker Perkins; I had no idea that when I eventually retired it would be from that same company, albeit under different ownership. Baker Perkins, I discovered, was an extended family, and became a way of life.
“Training” to go to Hong Kong meant visiting every Baker Perkins company in the UK to “learn” their product range, and spending the week at the 1969 Interpack Exhibition in Germany to meet with Theegarten, Otto Kremling, and Sollich, all of whom were represented by BPFE. I even had time to buy a so-called Tropical Suit in London, put our house in the hands of rental agents, and pack two suitcases. The contract was for three years ~ thirty-three months followed by three months home leave. Family and friends would be a long way away for three years.
The guidebook had said that Hong Kong in the summer would be hot and humid. But in the days before everyone travelled the world as they do today, the word “humid” didn’t really mean anything. Peter Newton had found us a flat on The Peak, for 6 weeks, while we sought our own place to live. The Peak in Hong Kong is often in the clouds, as it was when we awakened on our first morning. We were on the 7th floor. Then the building did its own version of the twist for half a minute, and that was our introduction to earth tremors. In my London bought tropical suit I set out for the Peak Tram down to HK Central District where our new empty office awaited. By the time I arrived, some 15 minutes later, every item of my clothing was wet through. That’s humidity.
Along with Peter Newton, I visited banks, our previous agents, office furniture stores, and employment agencies to find local staff. We set up the office in Sutherland House, behind The Hong Kong Club, and started business. A peripatetic tailor came to the office and in 24 hours delivered a bespoke tropical suit. I learned my way round Hong Kong and Kowloon. I learned Hong Kong words like “Chop” and “Shroff”, and Cantonese polite phrases like “please” and “thank you” (almost everything else in Cantonese is a swear word) and how to mispronounce English words so that taxi drivers would take you were you wanted to go. Hong Kong was just starting another boom time. Apartment rentals were escalating rapidly well beyond our “allowance”. The weather was oppressive and the noise and activity of Hong Kong were endless. But this was home, and it remains a second home in our hearts. Our daughter was born in Matilda Hospital on The Peak in 1971. When she was in her twenties, she did a round the world back packing tour, and got her picture taken outside the hospital. Even though it’s no longer a hospital, they let her in and showed her round. She’s often threatened to get a little “Made in Hong Kong” tattoo on her backside.
It soon became time to get on the road. My territory was Southeast Asia. From Taiwan to the north, down through Indo China where a small war was getting going in Viet Nam, to Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and through to Burma. China itself was still locked tight, apart from specific visits to the Canton Fair. I also had East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, and later we added The Philippines. [The latter was at the time covered by Peter Alexander, General Manager of BPFE Japan, who became a lifelong friend, and is sadly missed.] Measure it. It’s six million square miles, including lots of water, and my task was to visit every real and potential customer every two months. We went through passports rapidly. Each country, including Hong Kong, would chop your passport on the way in and on the way out, and visas for Thailand and Burma would be a full-page. Dress code in HK was suit and tie. Everywhere else it was slacks and short-sleeved shirt, tie optional. When I set out on a trip it was always for six weeks. My wife learned very quickly to be self- sufficient.
I learned my trade out there in the east. Prospecting, selling, negotiating and contracting. I made many friends. I learned to distinguish the different races from each other, and greet them in their own language, immediately dropping back to English…I’m not that good a linguist! I sold, mainly, Jaxons laundry machinery to hotels and hospitals, Rose Forgrove candy and biscuit wrappers to all the major industry players, and Baker Perkins biscuit plant. My biggest single contract was a biscuit plant for Thye Hong, Singapore, in 1971, at a net value of £150,000 and that included the first production version of the then brand new Vertical Laminator. I did sell an American made cartoner under American Aid in Viet Nam, but that’s another story. And I did manage to get out of Vientiane Laos one time, without an order, when the British High Commission was busy shredding paper and the communist Pathet Lao were 12 hours from taking over the city, and that’s another ‘another’ story. I was among the first hundred foreigners to visit Burma, now called Myanmar, after it had been closed for 8 years. In exchange for cheating Burma out of a zillion tons of rice at well below market value, the Russians built a 1000 room hotel outside Rangoon. I was the sole occupant.
Business everywhere was almost entirely in the hands of what were called “Overseas Chinese”, true entrepreneurs, who loved to negotiate for the fun of it, but who loved to make fortunes even more. The names of Baker Perkins and Rose Forgrove were known and respected, and I had to earn my customers’ respect before any business would be forthcoming. I found that being an engineer could sometimes be useful ~ getting a 5IST Twist Wrapper running at midnight a couple of hours outside Bangkok, after eating a duck in liquorice sauce dinner in a Bangkok restaurant with the Meng Seng factory’s owner paid off many times over in the years following.
In those days only Group Company directors or sales directors would travel from England to the Far East, so I was privileged at an early age to meet them and escort them to our most important customers during their infrequent visits. I do remember running out of petrol one day in Kowloon when Sir Franklin Braithwaite and his cousin Phil Harley were sitting in air-conditioned splendour in the back of Peter Newton’s Rover. I was on the way to Garden Company, Hong Kong with them. It took me half an hour to get a gallon can of petrol and restart the car, and the air-conditioning. The two gentlemen made no comment, but their sweat stained features and limp collars told its own story ~ it really is hot and humid in Hong Kong in summer, especially in a closed car in smelly Kowloon. Phil Harley’s expensive cigar hadn’t helped matters inside that car either.
Communication with our suppliers, the Baker Perkins manufacturing factories, was by letter for visit reports, and by telex for daily chase up and matters of urgency. In Peter Newton’s world everything was urgent. We were 8 hours time change from GMT, so we would send our telexes at the end of our day and fully expect a reply the following morning our time. It became a skill to be able to concoct a one minute telex that said everything I needed, and have a side bet with the dispatcher at the Kuala Lumpur post office that it would be exactly one minute and no more. Every second over the minute cost another minute’s charge. The telephone was a forbidden practice. The only time I used the telephone to call England during those three years was to our family at Christmas, at my own expense.
Apart from the cost of flights, our daily travel allowance was $25.00 per day to include hotel and all meals and refreshments, as well as the cost of telexes sent from hotels or Post Offices. I will not forget the reprimand from Peter Newton when I submitted an expense claim that included buying two gin tonics for a member of one of Her Majesty’s High Commissions. “Those people are there to help you. They are NOT customers!” You live and learn. And Peter was a true robber baron, with all the charm and ruthlessness that goes with that title.
In 1972 I brought my wife and one-year-old daughter back to the UK and accepted a new post with Rose Forgrove, Leeds. In 1977 I took over the role of International Sales Manager from Doug Gregg, and once more began journeying to, apart from the rest of the world outside Europe, the Far East, this time including China and Japan. It was all still like a second home.
In 1987, after a period of three years based in Chicago as manager of Rose Forgrove Inc., once again working with and this time for Doug Gregg, I joined Baker Perkins Ltd., Peterborough as an International Sales Manager in the Baked Products Division. Baker Perkins had just “merged” with APV. Amongst my territories was the Far East, and China was opening up (See Baker Perkins in Asia) In 1989 we signed new contracts in South Korea with Tong Yang, and in Japan with Meiji. By this time in my life I was “an old friend” to many of Baker Perkins’ Far East customers. This is an honour not easily given, and never to be forgotten.
In the nineties I was busy opening up new business in India, and then living in New Jersey, looking after Nabisco USA. In 2000 I returned to the UK and took early retirement in 2001. But a part of me will always be in the Far East”.
At the same time as Terry Nicholson was settling into his new job in Hong Kong, Baker Perkins Pty Ltd, Australia, was supplying a complete automatic bakery plant to The Garden Company in Hong Kong. As will be seen from Baker Perkins in the Bakery Business, the international bread market was not as homogenous as, say the biscuit or chocolate and confectionery markets and the group supplied different designs of bakery equipment - each based on a slightly different process technology to suit the local tastes - to three key markets – the UK, the USA and Australasia – with equipment being supplied from manufacturing units in these areas. Bread producers outside these three areas were able to choose the technology that they preferred. This particular plant was purchased to produce, interestingly enough, 3,000 one-pound loaves per hour of American-style bread. The building to house the plant was of unique design, built in the form of five octagonal shaped structures, rather like a honeycomb and was a showpiece in Hong Kong.
Baker Perkins Far East had taken orders for 5 complete biscuit plants in the previous 18 months against strong competition from the USA, Japan and Britain – all biscuit plants sold into the Philippines in the previous three years had been supplied by Baker Perkins – and each of these plants had been installed by Baker Perkins Far East’s Japanese service engineers – "versatile craftsmen who install and commission biscuit, bread, chocolate and confectionery plant, and wrapping machines. They also tackle layouts and site surveys – and occasionally a little selling”.
The company made very good profits in 1971 and further consolidation in the market took place with an agreement with Sumitomo Shoji Kaisha Ltd. of Tokyo for the manufacture and sale in Japan under licence of certain designs of bakery ovens and machinery.
The first Baker Perkins biscuit plant to be installed in Indonesia was sold to P.T. Robinson in 1974. In the six years from 1970 to 1976, Baker Perkins Far East Ltd sold eight more biscuit plants into Japan.
Baker Perkins Group Sales by Region
In 1982, the last year in which figures were split at this level, the sales by geographical area were as follows:
Baker Perkins BCS Ltd formed Baker Perkins KK Japan in 1985 to meet the growing opportunities in the region.
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