Although I joined the Instrument and Control Society of SA (ICSSA) in 1957, I did not have an industrial instrumentation or control background as such, but rather RF telecommunications, and air and sea navigational aid systems. An associate of mine, Claud Klemp was a founder of ICSSA, and he encouraged me to join the society back in 1957. Today’s generation of technologists and engineers networks very much within the process control and computer-based industry. But as an old-school 93 year old, I must admit that I fall short of a lot of that.
After being released in 1952 from the Navy when my four year conscripted Active Citizen Force duties were completed, I set forth on a post-apprenticeship practical and theoretical engineering training programme at the Marconi Wireless and Telegraph Company (MWT) in Chelmsford, Essex. There I carried on with my studies for the HNC/D at the tech college, and at the British Institute of Engineering Technology and the Marconi College.
After three years in England I came home and joined Marconi SA in the capacity of field installation engineer. During my several very happy years with Marconi I travelled extensively throughout South Africa and neighbouring countries, installing and commissioning navigation aid and radar systems at airports and airfields. A highlight during this period was to be appointed engineer in charge of a large radio communication network throughout Bechuanaland (now Botswana) for the Bechuanaland Police. Later, I returned to Chelmsford for specialised product training at Marconi College.
In 1957 I decided it was time to earn a bit more money in preparation for my marriage to Shirley. So I left Marconi SA and joined Dowson and Dobson, where I was not only assigned to design and develop a modular transceiver for long haul vehicles, but also became involved with the experimental Decca Navigator project for surveying the South African coast from a ship at sea. A few years later I exited engineering per se in order to try my luck at technical sales. I joined a company called AC Gowlett in Braamfontein – importers of a range of electronic and electrical equipment. I made a success of my tenure at Gowlett. It was during these days that I (or my company) was banned by the ICSSA committee from participating at any future exhibitions organised by the society. This was because I used a unique entrepreneurial approach to attract customers to our exhibition table. The committee did not appreciate my ‘rather clever’ approach!
No doubt, I had made the right decision to move on in my career. A few years after joining Gowlett and having achieved a substantial increase in sales, I purchased the company.
The operating name changed to K Baker Associates (KBA). It became a well-known and respected company within the electronics industry. With a staff complement of around 100 fine dedicated people, KBA went places. Several specialised wholly-owned KBA subsidiaries sprang up to cater for the fast-growing electronics industry.
KBA was involved in marketing and engineering electronics test equipment, radio communications, computer systems and peripherals, broadcast studio lighting systems, studio equipment, industrial process control and automation, calibration, security systems, components and education tools. The company was also heavily involved in many classified and sensitive projects.
On 31 May 1961, the Republic of South Africa was proclaimed. An interesting company that was formed at that time was Scientific, Electronic and Engineering Exhibitions (SEE Exhibitions). This sort of put paid to ICSSA’s earlier conservative thinking in terms of exhibitions. After several successful technical shows, SEEE had an attractive offer for purchase from a local company with overseas affiliations.
Eventually, in 1978 I sold my shares in KBA in order to pursue other interests. Over a few years I served as managing director of Protea PNI and Fluke South Africa. My first independent calling was Electronics Personnel and Management Consultants. The 14 years I spent networking with potential engineers and technologists, and with company executives, proved extremely satisfying. Chatting with high-quality technical personnel was a pleasure. They would come to me in droves to talk about their careers and seek the job of their dreams. Likewise, locating technical staff for electronics-focused companies was very satisfying.
The management aspect led me to be invited onto the board of directors of several listed and unlisted companies. At the top of the list was Spescom Electronics. Among several Spescom activities, I became totally immersed in the international marketing of Spescom’s patented keypad prepayment electricity metering innovation dubbed Cashpower 2000.
In 1979 I was recruited back into the SA Navy as reserve officer attached to the SAS Rand. I was assigned as base technical officer responsible for various specialised projects.
It was during my time with K Baker Associates that Glen Harvey from AECI (and a senior SAIMC council member) invited me to join the council. I was taken aback, but agreed. From then on I became actively involved in council matters, and on two separate occasions was elected president. In the earlier years, the Johannesburg branch staged an annual dinner dance for all to enjoy. But for reasons unbeknown to me the event ceased. So during my first tenure as president I revitalised the annual formal dinner (not a family affair or dancing) at the Inanda Club, with guest speaker Dr Ian McRae imparting his words of wisdom. Thereafter the annual occasion proved extremely popular, always requiring a tick in one’s diary.
A new SAIMC council position, general secretary, was introduced and I became the first honorary general secretary for 13 years. Engineering institutes became an important feature in my life, especially those of the calibre of the SA Institute of Measurement and Control, the SA Institute of Electrical Engineers, the SA Council for Automation and Computation, and the Witwatersrand University committee for Continued Engineering Education (CEE).
When I moved to the Cape, the SAIMC council presented me with an attractive wooden frame with a barometer mounted on it, and a bronze plaque saying: ‘Ken Baker, SAIMC, Lifetime Achievement’. I eventually retired from business in 2008 at age 77, but to this day I remain in touch with the industry and the Naval Officers Association. Other times I relax in my house in Somerset West.
Take care, and good luck SAIMC.
Ken W Baker
4 September 2023
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