Jim Baker, Founder & President, Baker Marine Solutions
Okay, tell us about yourself – your background and education.
I’ve been around boats, on and off, most of my adult life. I decided to forego college and go straight to work as a deckhand offshore, then worked my way up the hawsepipe from there.
What attracted you to the maritime industry?
Being from the great seafaring state of Montana and growing up mostly in the desert southwest, it was a natural fit! Seriously, I grew up wanting to go to sea as my dad was a chief engineer years ago and I loved hearing the stories he’d tell when I was a kid.
What did you do before founding Baker Marine Solutions (BMS)?
I sailed for about 15 years on offshore vessels – mostly diving, ROV, geotechnical and construction vessels. I quit sailing in 2002 and took a break from the industry for a while, then came back in 2007 as the Marine Manager for a commercial diving company. In 2008, when the industry slowed down, I started doing some freelance consulting, which led to starting BMS that year.
What was the inspiration behind it?
Hunger is a hell of a motivator! I’d moved my family across country to Lafayette, Louisiana from Arizona for the Marine Manager job, then when things slowed down they had to lay off quite a few of us. I saw the handwriting on the wall so started freelancing on weekends. Honestly, though, I’ve always worked for myself off and on through the years in a number of different businesses from being a farrier to a construction and fencing business to buying and selling quarter horses and cattle.
So working for myself has always been a good fit since I’m usually too hardheaded to be a good employee!
How would you describe BMS? What are its main lines of business?
BMS has five core lines of business: Marine Assurance, Marine Warranty, Project Management, Special Projects and Engineering.
We started out as primarily a marine assurance provider. Having established ourselves as the premier provider of these services in the Gulf of Mexico region, we decided – based on our clients’ needs and requests – to expand the business into the areas of engineering and design, logistics and, soon, subsea inspection with some of the most powerful and versatile vehicles in the class.
The vision has been to establish BMS as a fully integrated service provider creating value across the entire supply chain for our clients, and I’m incredibly proud of the team we’ve put together to do this. From our COO Todd Laborde to Sean Hogue, our SVP; A.J. Davis, VP of Engineering; Gigi Patton, Corporate Affairs Manager and the amazing support team that keeps things moving.
Obviously, success hinges on our people in the field – our Client Reps, MWS team, DP professionals, OVID (Offshore Vessel Inspection Document) and CMID (Common Marine Inspection Document) surveyors and subsea inspection teams. They’re the best in the business.
How many offices and employees are there?
We try to keep our corporate operations as streamlined as possible by letting a lot of our staff work remotely, thereby keeping costs down for our clients. Our main office is in Covington, Louisiana, and we have a field office in Port Fourchon where the majority of the offshore Gulf of Mexico activity originates. Currently, we maintain a staff of around 50 office and field personnel and are actively working to expand our presence both domestically and internationally.
Who are your customers?
We have a constantly growing client base from super majors to vessel owners to renewable energy providers, both inland and offshore. We’re also focusing on marine infrastructure clients.
What is meant by marine assurance and marine warranty services?
MA and MWS share similarities but have very different goals. Assurance looks at a specific asset and makes sure it is fit for purpose, that is, suitable to perform a specific task. MWS, on the other hand, works closely with both the client and the underwriter of large projects. It still requires looking at all marine assets attached to a project but takes the further step of approving project documentation and procedures before execution. A warranty surveyor will then attend those operations to ensure all requirements are met at specific milestones before proceeding.
That sounds a lot like what classification societies do. Is BMS like a third-party class society?
Not at all. There’s a big difference between classification, certification and verification. We do the latter.
Class societies and other certifying bodies such as Flag States focus on a broad overview of vessel systems and compliance with various requirements. We, on the other hand, laser in on specifics and provide expert advice on using these assets to perform a specific project.
How do you attract new customers?
We attract new customers through a continuous program of outreach paired with word-of-mouth referrals. The marine industry is a relationship industry. We work hard to build and maintain those relationships while delivering a high quality service with integrity. It’s worked for 14 years.
Are you also moving into renewables? What’s the future look like there?
The future in renewables looks bright. With the creation of our Engineering department in 2021, led by A.J. Davis, we immediately started engaging industry for feedback while designing a proprietary hull form. Now, after two years of speculative work, we’re proud to announce the rollout of our in-house designed service operations vessel, the BMS SOV 1776.
This is an American design for the American windfarm market. It’s intended to be fully Jones Act-compliant with ease of construction at any yard with sufficient capabilities. We achieved this by eliminating complex hull-forming processes such as hot and cold steel rolling.
It’s our answer to those who say it can’t be done in America!
Do you have any foreign activities?
We have service agreements with the energy majors that has us working globally. While the U.S. Gulf of Mexico is our home, our people are overseas every week in places such as Guyana, West Africa, Brazil, Canada, the U.K., Mediterranean and more. There’s nowhere on earth we won’t go to get the job done.
What makes BMS different?
We’re uniquely positioned right in the heart of the action on the Gulf Coast. Not only are we the only company of its type to have a longtime presence in Port Fourchon, but we’re the largest totally independent company of its type in the Americas. On top of that we have more specially qualified surveyors (OVID, DP) and move more project cargo than anyone else on the Gulf Coast. Operating without private equity or external shareholders means we keep a tight rein on expenses and are known for our timely and accurate invoicing for clients.
What’s your vision for the company? Where would you like to see it in, say, five years?
In five years’ time the wind farms off the East Coast should be well under construction. We’re working now to ensure we’ll be right there on the front line when it happens.
What’s your biggest challenge right now?
The industry suffered a real loss of quality personnel in the last downturn, and it was made worse through COVID. Now, as the market picks up again, finding, training and retaining the best personnel is a challenge. Luckily, our core team has remained strong throughout and we’re in a great position to mentor new people into this side of the business.
A second challenge involves our image. People still tend to pigeon-hole BMS as “the OVID company” despite the fact that we’ve grown and expanded over the last few years and do so much more. I think sharing our growth story with you will go a long way toward correcting that.
We see that BMS is a member of OMSA, the Offshore Marine Services Association. Tell us about that and some of your other professional and industry involvements. Why are they important?
Not only OMSA but SNAME (Society of Naval Architects & Marine Engineers), MTS (Marine Technology Society) and SOMWS (Society of Offshore Marine Warranty Surveyors), among others. Participation is valuable in that it helps us keep an eye on the industry while building strong partner relationships and giving something back. Our personnel have hundreds of years of combined experience and sharing of lessons learned over the years helps to improve the industry bit by bit.
What is your passion? What makes you happy?
I’m passionate about truly making a difference in our chosen industries whether by making mariners lives safer, advancing safer DP operations or adding value wherever we can to our clients’ operations. It’s what keeps things interesting for me.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
Family is everything! I love getting the wife and kids out on the water and spending time with them every chance I get.
What else should our readers know about Jim Baker and Baker Marine Solutions?
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to lead this company and can’t wait to start the next chapters of where we’re going. Lots of exciting stuff on BMS’ horizon, so stay tuned!