Season 1, Session 6: SM&P to Baker-Peterson, Steve Baker Still Makin’ His Mark!

From his days at SM&P to today at Baker-Peterson, Steve Baker is still “making his mark” on the damage prevention industry!

BakerPetersonIn this session of “In The Dig”, DigBy and Joe interview Steve Baker. Steve is a living legend in the damage prevention industry.

Steve is the original “S” in SM&P Locate Contractors. He started the company in 1973 with his two brothers Mike & Pat.

Steve brings the unique perspective of having been both an excavator early on in his career and a locator. SM&P was originally a contract excavator that buried telephone lines for the telephone company. They eventually found their niche when they began contracting to locate telephone for the utility. Steve has made significant contributions to the industry throughout his career.

Steve expanded the business when SM&P began offering its services to multiple facility owners (power and gas) and created value by marketing the layered ticket/customer model.

SM&P created alliances with excavators when he began making agreements with them to reduce damage. In exchange for improved locating service, excavators agreed not to intentionally, damage utility lines because they knew where the line was in the ground.

Steve’s secret to growing SM&P to over 500 employees, before selling the company in 1993, was “we hired well and we trained well.” SM&P is still in existence today (albeit they operate under a different name). The company has since expanded to over 10 times its original size, to more than 5000 employees.

Steve points out the incredible values of a long training period for locate technicians and the role that training plays in reducing and managing risk to underground plant (infrastructure).

  • Put In place a good Hiring Plan (Steve explains)
  • A long term training plan increases technician confidence in their equipment and their technique
  • The Dedicated Resources in Dedicated Territories

Steve says, locating really hasn’t changed that much in 41 years. The technology has gotten a little better but the science has really not changed at all. Joe points out the importance of following a process and parallels  a good golf swing with good locate technique. Steve agreed that damage prevention is as much about the relationship between the excavator and the locate technician as it is about the locate itself.

When asked what he meant by “having a good hiring plan”, Steve explained, “Locating utility lines really, isn’t a job for everyone. It takes a special person to be a locator.” Not  everyone enjoys working outside, in the elements, through all kinds of adverse weather conditions. More importantly, not just anyone can work daily with people (excavators and operators) to provide a service, only to be assured that when things “go south” the person you’ve spent all that time building a relationship with, may very likely try and blame you for the mistake. It takes someone with a lot of emotional intelligence to operate professionally in that situation, on a daily basis. The locate technician is a thankless job.

Here are some guidelines to remember:

  1. First, It’s all about the relationship –  A good relationship helps the locator know what he otherwise doesn’t know (i.e. where to be and when to be there) and with a good relationship, comes good communication.
  2. Documentation is barely worth the paper its written on and no documentation isn’t even worth that –   A good locate technician will document…
    1. who he spoke with (first & last name)
    2. the companies involved
    3. the time he spoke to them
    4. the method he used to communicate (in person, cell phone number) and follow up any conversations with an email to the excavator outlining the conversation. This gets you a date and time stamp in writing.
    5. the scope of any agreement and if possible some companies may use field sheets (to document meetings and obtain signatures)
    6. a picture/sketch of what was marked and what was not marked with time and date stamps(include facility types and materials).
  3. Follow-up is the soap that cleans the dirt from your hands – It’s so easy to wash your hands and walk away from a situation once you have an agreement. However, that’s like washing your hands without soap; the dirt’s off but your hands still aren’t clean. The best technicians perform step one and two and continue to follow-up through out an ongoing project until the excavation is complete and the plant is out of conflict.

Number One Problem Facing The Damage Prevention Industry:

Steve outlines the price squeeze on locate service providers (as a line item in the operator’s budget), as a the number one problem facing the industry. This focus on cost alone and not overall risk, causes companies to shift their gaze from quality to cost in a variety of ways that distracts employees at all levels.

 Favorite Motivational Quote:

“Practice Makes Perfect”- Steve agrees that the more you work on your craft the better you’ll be at it and this could not be more true for anyone than a locate technician.

“Everybody Wants To Win But Not Everybody Wants To Prepare To Win”, Steve has an immense amount of respect for the people  in this industry. Most of the men and women doing the locate in the field truly do desire to win and they are winning because they have prepared for it. They are performing their craft and learning from all the collective knowledge of their colleagues, their companies and our industry.

Actionable Items:

Steve’s advice is simple for the locate technician. Steve says, “Stay focused and do what you know is the right thing to do,

treat each, individual locate by itself, it’s the only locate that matters.”

If your the operator, Steve says you need to understand more about actual risk,  “The real things that can happen out there” and understanding the true impact that locates have on the public and peoples lives.

More Steve Baker:

Baker-Peterson does utility consulting in central Indiana and they work with companies to improve damage prevention techniques and hone their claims process. If your company needs any help in these areas, contact Steve at the website below.

For more information about Baker-Peterson, private utility locating, public utility locating or any of their underground utility locating services, please contact Steve below:

sbaker@baker-peterson.com