Jeweller reflects on career

Zoe KeenanGeraldton Guardian

Leon Baker has run several jewellery businesses, sticking by the two things he believes are vital for any business — honesty and integrity.

The Baker name has been around one way or another for more than 125 years, and the business is now entering its fifth generation.

Mr Baker recently reflected on a life in business as he prepared to celebrate his 80th birthday.

Born in Northam, Mr Baker had his future mapped out before he knew it himself.

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The Baker family has a legacy as watchmakers and jewellers so in his mid teens, Mr Baker began his watchmaking apprenticeship.

At age 15, he was working under his father Douglas Hubert Baker, who later became sick.

Mr Baker found himself running the store with his mother at 18.

After some travel, Mr Baker took a job selling insurance and moved to Merredin.

“I was a total failure at the job but I met my wife Yvonne in Merredin, where we had our four girls and lived for 15 years, so it wasn’t all bad,” he said.

The couple’s daughters are Anthea Baker, Gemma Baker, Lara Bennett and Elise Baker-Forth.

Mr Baker has owned and operated businesses and jewellery stores in Busselton, Northam, Narrogin, Carnarvon, York, South Perth and Geraldton, where he retired in 2009.

During a holiday in the 1970s, the Baker family ventured through Geraldton and instantly loved the town.

The first Leon Baker store opened in Geraldton at the high-rise Town Towers in 1978.

Mr Baker remembered businessmen in the 1970s as laid back.

“One man once told me if it’s a nice day he’ll go fishing and if it wasn’t he would go to work, opening his store for the day — that was their philosophy back then,” he said.

Mr Baker’s store moved around town for a few years. At one point he operated a store on Marine Terrace and one in Northgate Shopping Centre.

“It always amazed me the difference between the customers who would come down town compared to Northgate customers,” he said.

“The customers at Northgate wanted cheap stuff and discounts rather than quality.”

He later closed his shop in Northgate and moved to York before returning to Geraldton to set up his final venture.

In 2009, Mr Baker sold Leon Baker Jewellers to his youngest daughter, Elise, and her husband Shain Forth, who own and operate the store today.

Over the years, Mr Baker watched as Geraldton slowly changed from a central business district with locally owned businesses to a city he claims is now dominated by multinational businesses.

“What that’s caused is a way of thinking among customers which is more prices-orientated than quality and I don’t think it’s good for the town,” he said.

Mr Baker offered words of advice to locally owned businesses.

“Don’t worry about the money because if you give good service and understand what the customer wants, the money will turn up anyway,” he said.

“Run your business with integrity in everything you do — if the diamond is a good one, then that’s how you describe it. It doesn’t have to be the best.

“The most important thing in business is it’s not about making money, it’s about serving the community, which is a philosophy my father passed on to me and was the best part of my career.”

The Baker legacy lives on through his daughters Elise and Gemma (who owns and runs Gemma Baker Jewellers), and Anthea Baker’s son Roy, who has completed a jeweller’s apprentice-ship.

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