Catherine Murray, retail sales engineer for Dean & Wood, answers our questions as part of the ACR Journal's Women in ACR series.
What was your first job?
My first job in the industry was a weekend role where I was a service helpdesk operator at Denman Group back in the early 2000s. It was a steep learning curve into the industry; back then there were a lot of manual processes. Some supermarkets we looked after logged calls verbally so we had to fact find, assign the appropriate Service Level Agreement and despatch engineers.
After Denmans, I moved from service into contracting at A1 Refrigeration Installations as it was known as then. Having worked within both service and contracting departments, it has put me in good stead for my role now.
What does your current role involve?
I am a retail sales engineer for Dean & Wood. Our retail division is a specialist procurement team who supply and offer a bespoke service to customers whose end users are supermarkets. During my time at both Denmans and A1, I worked in different roles and departments which enables me to understand my customers; I know why the part is needed urgently for a frozen food cabinet breakdown, I can empathise the impact delayed material deliveries has on an installation job and I can understand the frustration the accounts department have over a purchase order and invoice values not matching.
What attracted you to the industry?
Money is my honest answer. I was at Newcastle University so I needed a weekend job which could fit around university, support my student lifestyle and designer handbag addiction! (I still have that addiction, now also along with holidays and homewares!)
My Dad is in the industry and it’s often assumed I’m in the industry because of him, however, that’s not the case at all. I know my Dad is one of my biggest supporters and has my happiness and wellbeing at heart but he’s also a realist. Before I accepted the job at Denmans, he made sure I knew what I was getting into. The reality is, we are a specialist industry which brings a double-edged sword. On one hand we’re unique, we’re a necessity, but there aren’t enough of us. We don’t have the calibre of engineers required in the field. We don’t have enough project managers who understand refrigeration and therefore the potential issues which may arise on sites; it causes a ripple effect throughout the entire chain. Our jobs aren’t easy and there can be moments of high stress.
What excites/interests you about the industry?
I am extremely passionate about our industry. The majority of the general public most likely don’t even consider how much they need us for their day-to-day lives. From food production to supermarkets to air conditioned offices to hospitals and morgues. I really believe that everyone who works within our industry plays a vital role, from the engineers to the administration teams, from the manufacturer to the end user. We are all links in a chain and without one, we wouldn’t have the other.
I also get excited about the company I work for. I may not have been here long but it’s an inspiring place to work. We have years’ worth of industry knowledge amongst us and at the helm of Dean & Wood are John Billson and Nick Kilner who have a wealth of experience, not just relating to sales but also engineering. We are the largest specialist refrigeration supplier in the UK and I’m proud to be part of the legacy we have.
How would you like to see your career developing?
If I had answered this question 12 years ago I’d have said ‘service director’. When I worked at Denmans I was extremely fortunate to be surrounded by people who were at the top of their field, I was new to the working world and was also naïve enough to be a sponge and ultimately learned a lot from them. However, since being on the supplier side I can only see myself staying within the supplier role. I feel like it’s the right fit for me; I’ve always enjoyed having customers but now those customers are contractors, similar to those I’ve worked for and having started my career that way, I am able to quickly get to know them and their requirements.
I approach my career fairly organically; I am not a person who has a specific job title in mind as an end goal. Of course, I want to progress but I’m happy knowing that I’m doing my bit to help within the industry.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
Don’t ever ask anyone to do anything you’re not prepared to do yourself.
What do you see as the challenges facing the industry?
In my opinion we have three main challenges; refrigerants, industry knowledge and Brexit. The majority of my customers have adopted the natural refrigerant selection of CO2, in fact, many of them have led the way but there are contractors out there who don’t know enough about it as an alternative option to HFCs. When it comes to knowledge within our industry, we have experienced people leaving, whether that be through retirement or moving into other sectors. Not enough people are replacing those we are losing and it will leave a knowledge gap. We need more apprentices, we need to be an industry which people know about and want to be a part of.
I think ahead of us there is uncertainty regarding what Brexit will bring our economy here within the UK, not just our industry.
What are the best things about being in your role?
Job satisfaction, helping customers do what they need to do quickly and effectively. I don’t feel like I’m doing a job most of the time, I do my best to help identify their needs and resolve problems, taking the time to get to know them.
What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry?
I was recently at an event where I was asked if I was intimidated as there were so many males in comparison to females. My immediate answer was ‘no’ as to be honest, I never walk into a room and see gender. The dictionary explanation of intimidation is ‘to make timid; fill with fear’ so why would I feel like that? I care about our industry, as do most of us. We all want to play our part and support each other.
It’s true that we don’t have the most diverse group of people in our industry but that’s not just related to gender. I don’t believe we aren’t inclusive, I think it’s more to do with the fact that historically engineering has been male dominated. When I left school I didn’t think that being a fridge engineer was accessible to me, whereas if I was leaving school now, I think it is. I knew I wouldn’t be able to carry gas bottles over my shoulder or lift compressors but now, due to health and safety, jobs which were done solo now require a pair. We’re more conscious of lifting and where ladders were once acceptable, scaffolding is required which are the aids which could help me keep up with my male counterparts.
I’d say to anyone, not just women, that our industry is great to be a part of. I believe that most people will have a set of transferable skills that they can apply to various roles. If you have opportunity to join us, then do it, ask questions, learn what you can and find the right role for you. When you do, I’m sure you’ll get great job satisfaction from it, there is a real sense of camaraderie amongst us all.