Ryan Baker was four years into a job when he realized he wanted to make a change
Through hard work, dedication and a little bit of luck, he made his dreams come true in 2020, opening Studebaker Industries Ltd., a repair shop in Mannville, Alta.
“I was working up by Smokey Lake. It was very cold, with heavy snow blowing sideways,” says Baker. “I caught a glimpse of myself in the reflection in the window, and said to myself, ‘I don’t want to be here when I’m 30’.”
That moment proved to be the catalyst that set him on the path to his career in equipment repair. His father had graduated from heavy duty mechanics at Lakeland and Baker had always had an interest in anything mechanical, so he followed in his father’s footsteps. He completed the heavy duty equipment program
in 2009 and then finished the automotive program
in 2012, becoming a Red Seal endorsed journeyperson in both trades by age 30.
“Lakeland was excellent,” Baker says. “The whole faculty at Lakeland and the Trades Centre were great. Everybody had a general attitude that we were all there to succeed. I also believe the awards program at Lakeland deserves recognition. The attitude of striving for excellence and being recognized for your efforts is what keeps students pushing for the best they can do. Without support, these programs won’t continue and they were a huge help when I was going to school with a young family and a subpar employment insurance program. I’m thankful to the sponsors of the program and encourage fellow alumni to get involved.”
After graduating from Lakeland, Baker and his wife Joanna launched their service truck small business StudeBaker Industries Ltd. in 2011. Along with running his service truck, Baker joined the faculty at Lakeland in 2014 as an automotive career and technology studies
(CTS) instructor. Though he enjoyed the opportunity to teach, balancing both proved a bit of a struggle.
“It was a challenge, teaching CTS for a week at a time, for full days,” Baker explains. “I’d put my day in at the college and spend another six hours after in the service truck working on my business.”
In 2017, Baker was forced to make a choice. His business was getting busier and splitting his time between Lakeland and his service truck wasn’t sustainable anymore.
“I had to make a choice, pursue a career at Lakeland or finish what we started in 2011. I came to a fork in the road where I either had to stop answering the phone and taking on new clients or accept the way things were going and expand. Entrepreneurial spirit guided me in my choice.”
He and Joanna decided to expand and Baker left his position at Lakeland.
After the owner of Frank’s Field Service outside Vermilion passed away and his sons were closing up the business, Baker went to the shop to see if they were selling any equipment and tools.
“I ended up walking away with a lease agreement on their shop yard space and all the tools in it,” he says. “Right there, in the span of a week, I went from being on my own with a service truck and no employees to suddenly leasing some space and needing to hire some employees. We hired two that first week and have been growing ever since.”
Baker and Joanna ended up working in that space for two years, though they knew within two months that they’d need something bigger.
“We had potential to build,” Baker says. “We started plans on building a new shop. It took two years to convince the banks we had a real plan and a vision. We just needed some help to get started.”
In Dec. 2019, the financing came through and construction started in Mannville, finishing up in May 2020.
StudeBaker and their employees have settled into the new shop. It’s is already filled with repair jobs and passion projects, everything from airplanes to lawnmowers and pickup trucks, as well as restoration vehicles.
“We repair anything with an engine, anything that moves. That’s what sets us apart from other repair shops – diversity. We’re not afraid to take on anything. I’ve always had the mindset that it doesn’t matter what the scale of the machine is, they’ve all got the same basic principles. It’s just a different application.”
That willingness to take on any challenge is something Baker picked up at Lakeland and one of the main philosophies of StudeBaker.
“Lakeland really helped me learn to keep an open mind,” he explains. “It’s the mindset of a lot of the instructors I had the privilege of working with. You’re not expected to know everything, but as long as you can think your way through the principles and apply them to your situation, you can get through anything. That’s the mindset they gave me at Lakeland and that’s the mindset I continue to cultivate in our business. It’s done nothing but work well for us. We may not have done everything, but we are willing and able to learn anything.”