Economics at the University of East Anglia.
What was your first job?
Major loss insurance claims handler for AXA Insurance.
What attracted you to the industry?
In a way I was forced to enter the industry in order to support my husband when he was made redundant. The company he worked for as a senior refrigeration engineer went into liquidation when our son was just two weeks old and I was on maternity leave. We had both always liked the idea of running our own business and so we bit the bullet and set up Acorn on our own within 24 hours.
Needless to say my maternity leave was cut very short as we needed to survive off my salary for a time while we built the business. I would not wish to relive those first few years as it was extremely hard to build a business from nothing with a small family and my own career at the time too. I remember when my son needed an operation and my husband could not be by my side at the hospital as he was working on a refrigeration emergency.
There were countless occasions where refrigeration came first simply because it had to. When customers need you, you just cannot let them down in this industry. As we grew, we were able to take on more engineers and the pressure of the 24 hour breakdown service eased off my husband. It also became apparent that I had to choose between my career in insurance and refrigeration, as we were growing and I could no longer stretch across both industries. I remember crying as I handed in my notice at AXA Insurance, as although I loved having a refrigeration business, I also loved my career and my colleagues. I knew I would miss them all terribly and I was a little scared of working in an industry within which I had little technical knowledge, but I listened to my husband and fed off his experience and rather enjoyed the learning curve. I would go out with him in the van so I could appreciate an engineer’s day and learn about refrigeration. In the summer, hopping in his van and going to breakdowns was the only way I would get to see him! My father tells me not to look backwards, only forwards and that is what I do, but I do not forget those early days or where we came from.
What excites you about the industry?
Oddly enough, what excites me now is the very thing I resented to start with – the pressure of getting to customers who need you quickly! I love that Acorn can send an engineer to an emergency knowing that he will do his utmost to help them and that feeling you get when they solve the problem and you’ve actually saved someone money in lost stock and thus helped their business. In the insurance industry, in essence you are offering peace of mind and that is similar to what we are doing in the refrigeration service industry. We offer peace of mind to those customers that really rely on their refrigeration, yes it is pressure but it is also rewarding. All our engineers are very skilled and have years of experience under their belts so I can really rely on them to help our customers. I believe that a refrigeration service company is nothing without its engineers and to that end I value and respect them all enormously– even if I do nag them for their paperwork!
Development and challenges in the industry
I would like Acorn to become involved in training apprentices so that we can develop as a company and pass on the experience of our current engineers. I do feel that certainly in East Anglia, there is not enough by way of college-led refrigeration training and apprenticeship schemes. With the recent changes to apprenticeship scheme assessments, refrigeration is becoming an unrecognised and forgotten trade in our area, with local colleges seemingly tagging it on to electrical courses with insufficient emphasis on refrigeration. There is nothing wrong with learning the electrical side, far from it, but there should be college-run courses tagged on for refrigeration study and likewise the assessment process should not be purely electrical focussed, as it is currently. This makes it harder for refrigeration companies to take on apprentices in East Anglia, given that we are not as geared up for the assessments, which are more relevant to the electrical industry. Sadly I understand that the local colleges have little say in the assessment processes. That for me is a challenge for the industry as we all want to see good engineers coming through and developing, yet sadly government schemes need to adapt for refrigeration to be as recognised as other trades are at the further education level.
What’s the best piece of advice you were ever given?
One of my university lecturers once told me that if you could combine a degree with a trade, you would be more likely to have a successful business with longevity – turns out he was quite right. People will always need refrigeration engineers and having a degree in economics certainly helps when it comes to running the business side.
What are the benefits of being in your role?
I love being a woman in this industry. When I turn up to a building site for a survey and I am the only woman on site, I honestly feel proud. I have never bumped into another woman from another trade on site, although I am sure they do exist. I am proud that our industry supports women in a predominantly male occupied industry. My role is very diverse, from paperwork, specifications, health & safety, through to tax and supplier and customer management. This diversity gives me the opportunity to develop very close relationships with our suppliers and customers, as I have an appreciation for all areas of the business. My role definitely does not fit into one box and I rather like that.
What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry?
Grab a job in this industry with all the gusto you would a job in any other industry, embrace the fact that it accepts women and enjoy being one of a minority – I certainly do!