Women in ACR: Michelle Pike of Principal Climate Technologies


25 June 2024
Michelle Pike of Principal Climate Technologies

Michelle Pike is Managing Director at Hitchin-based Principal Climate Technologies, a specialist wholesale supplier of Daikin air conditioning, ventilation and heating solutions.

What was your first job?

My first job was as an administrator for an insurance broker. It was only part-time because I was also working as a trainee working pupil for the then-European eventing champion Jane Thelwall. Horses have always been my passion so I would leave my desk and hot-foot it to the event yard where I’d spend hours every day. 

Michelle eventing in the early 1990s

What does your current role involve?

I established Principal Climate Technologies in 2018, which in all honestly was nerve-wracking! I’d been working in air conditioning distribution for over 20 years and had built up great relationships with air conditioning contractors. The threat of redundancy with my last employer left me with a choice of moving to another sales role or setting up my own business.

My knowledge of Daikin products and my long relationship with the distribution team led to me being offered a deal from Daikin to be a specialist wholesaler. But I didn’t want to be just another wholesaler. I understood the needs of contractors well so I set out to provide a new type of wholesale service – one that provided specialist knowledge of Daikin solutions and a full range of value-led support services. 

Fortunately, many of the customers that I’d worked with over the years became my first Principal Climate customers, and they still are.

I now have a fantastic team and remain hands-on with our growing customer base. I make a point of speaking with all of my customers, checking every detail of their orders, and providing them with a continual flow of information. I do all that I can to make their projects a success, even if it means sometimes putting a kit in my car and taking it to a site myself to get it there quickly. 

What attracted you to the industry?

I never set out to work in the air conditioning industry but it turned out to be a perfect fit for me because I’ve always been very organised, I’m scrupulous about detail and I’m good at making things happen.

I started my full-time career as a secretary and landed a role in the distribution department at Mitsubishi Electric. Soon after I became PA for the European Air Conditioning Managing Director which then led to my first role in sales as Distribution Support Manager. During my 10 years at Mitsubishi Electric, I gained a thorough understanding of air conditioning products, distribution, and contractor needs – I even managed to find time to get married and have two children!

My technical knowledge of products then led me to become Operations Manager for a Sanyo/Daikin distributor where I stayed for just over 13 years before setting up my business.

What excites/interests you about the industry?

As someone who enjoys working in a fast-paced environment, I’m excited and inspired by the speed at which new products are entering the market and the advancement we’re seeing in both technology and refrigerants that are helping to lower C02 emissions.

We’re now introducing heat pump technology that enables commercial and domestic users to integrate heating, cooling, hot water and solar systems – a complete energy-efficient solution for buildings. 

Digital technology is constantly advancing too, helping to make the servicing of HVAC equipment so much easier for engineers. While equipment will always need to be physically maintained, digital technology can now detect faults and allow engineers to resolve them remotely – it can even tell them what part is required, order the part, and automatically log the information.  

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At the new Daikin training facility in Birmingham

How would you like to see your career developing?

I can honestly say that starting my business was the best work decision I’ve ever made. It was scary at first because I had to build the brand from the ground up in a very competitive marketplace, but I had a lot of support from family, friends, and of course, many fantastic customers who knew and trusted me. 

I was an unknown in the wholesale industry at first, but by sticking to my principles of providing service excellence above all else, we have built a solid and growing business and we have just signed our third three-year deal with Daikin so I must be doing something right!

What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?

I’m an optimist so I always try to look at the positives and possibilities. Plus, I’ve always taken the view that if you don’t try, you’ll never know.

Having said that, I never set out to have my own business but I knew that I had as much knowledge as any other HVAC wholesaler on the market. 

Unsurprisingly, my main fear was because I’m a woman and the air conditioning industry is still very male-dominated. Even though I was trusted and respected by so many contractors and industry peers, I was worried I would be laughed at. 
I can honestly say that aside from a few raised eyebrows here and there, I was worrying about nothing. When it comes down to it if you provide a great service that’s all that matters.

What do you see as the challenges facing the industry?

I would say that the one thing that the industry could do better is to educate the wider public about air conditioning. There’s still a huge misconception that air conditioning systems only cool and that they are harmful to the environment.
Manufacturers tend to focus on making products for contractors to buy and install so it's left to them to explain the benefits to end users – commercial and domestic.

If product information and advertising could better communicate the way that air conditioning works and the cleaner refrigerants that are used today, more people would invest in the technology.

What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry?

Don’t hesitate! The ACR industry is diverse and incredibly supportive of women. LinkedIn is a great place to start doing some research. There are groups focused on promoting women in ACR, and it’s easy to see the number of women who are working for manufacturers. There are also increasing numbers of female air conditioning engineers who are active on social media. 

Rugby-mad Michelle is a keen Saracens supporter

Is there a little-known fact about yourself that would surprise other people (secret skill, unusual hobby etc)?

I’ve had a passion for horses since I was a young girl, but I’m also a massive rugby fan – partly due to my son playing the sport but also because I love the game. I’m a huge Saracens supporter and you’ll find me (or hear me!) at most of their matches.