Sisters Rachel Wales and Lisa Whitmore were working together in the industry when the first issue of ACR Today was published 30 years ago.
Rachel is now Regional Sales Manager at distributor AMP Air Conditioning, a Panasonic company, while Lisa is Service Manager at Owen Refrigeration in Wellingborough.
Rachel Wales: I started my first job at Barnet Refrigeration in North London in July 1982. I was employed as an office junior. Barnet Refrigeration was an air conditioning installer and service company started in the late 50’s. My role there increased when BRD, the distribution arm, began selling products including Marstair, Qualitair, Myson, Prestair and Calder. Both companies ran alongside each other and worked perfectly together. I was there for over six years and it was the start of my career in the industry.
Lisa Whitmore: I joined BRD Air Conditioning (Barnet Refrigeration) as a tea lady and post girl (person!) My sister Rachel was already at the company on reception. It was the days of telex machines, but we did have a state-of-the-art switchboard. BRD and sister company BRL were not only a well-known distributor of air conditioning products but also a contractor. I moved across from BRD to BRL where I worked in the typing office, preparing the quotations and answering the phones. On some days we would log over 100 or so service calls, which was quite incredible.
What does your current role involve?
RW: Managing a sales team that covers the Home Counties as well as servicing my own key accounts, these being air conditioning contractors and consultants. My role involves either visiting contractors at their offices, on site or arranging to meet them at our AMP showroom/training facility. We offer the full range of Panasonic equipment which covers residential, commercial, VRF, A2W, chillers and much more. AMP have been trading for 30 years and since our acquisition by Panasonic we have gone from strength to strength selling and marketing this product.
LW: My current role involves the day to day running of the service department within Owen Refrigeration in Wellingborough. We have a strong client base offering service contracts for HVAC, full mechanical, and building services. Part of our business is offering a full M&E package. Our installations are backed up with a service contract, so I make sure all our customers are looked after to keep their systems operational all year round with minimum fuss. I can be in the office or out on site, meeting with customers old and new.
What attracted you to the industry?
RW: This is all I know; I have never lost my enthusiasm and passion for this Industry and the people I have met along the way. Having worked for other distributors along with other manufacturers, my 28 years at AMP has been something of which I am extremely proud. I am still learning constantly and now meeting the next generation of contractors I have literally been dealing with since 1982.
LW: Because my sister Rachel was already at BRD/BRL, my introduction came through her. When an admin opportunity arose, I jumped at the chance and never really looked back. I have worked for distributors but have been in contracting now for 25 years. Running the service department is very challenging.
What excites/interests you about the industry?
RW: It is always changing, and we have certainly gone through some changes over the last two years at AMP. I have embraced this and worked extremely hard to continue my relationships with a new brand. What a challenge it has been and I have some very loyal customers who have supported me. Every day is an opportunity to win a new customer over, and then to receive that order, there is nothing better. I am fortunate to have the enthusiasm in me after 37 years in this industry, I do think you either have it or you don’t! Our Industry is always interesting, changes in technologies, equipment, and regulations that we of course must keep up to date with. There are always people moving around from this company to that, and at the end of the day, this industry is small...
LW: Every day is different. I get to meet lots of different people in my role, from existing customers to developing relationships with new clients. The industry has developed significantly in the last 35 years. With many manufacturers to choose from, the changes with refrigerants and the technology. Some of our projects can be extremely varied and it is nice to have that project that challenges you and the engineers that install it.
How would you like to see your career developing?
RW: I would like to continue to learn, meet new people and continue to grow with AMP/Panasonic.
LW: Working for Owen Refrigeration is very varied and my role is quite diverse. Health & Safety is something that I consider to be the most important part of my role when planning projects and am looking to develop this further as I hope to be involved with our larger M&E projects in the future.
What is the best piece of advice you were ever given?
RW: Always give 100% in everything you do, write everything down you need to learn and smile!
LW: Whatever you do, give it 100%.
What do you see as the challenges facing the industry?
RW: The industry is lacking in training the future generations and this means attracting new blood through apprenticeships. Every day, someone will ask me if I know any engineers who are available. The people with the ‘old school’ knowledge are retiring and taking what they know with them. The industry also faces many changes into the next generation of refrigerants, and of course regulations, and keeping up is sometimes a minefield.
LW: Our business challenges are very specific. For me personally, one of the challenges is finding skilled engineers and there is a definite skill shortage. The challenge for me would be to reach out to schools and colleges so we can explore hiring apprentices, offering the training to bring on our next generation of quality engineers before the 80’s breed all retire!
What would you say to other women who are considering coming into the ACR industry?
RW: I would tell them to literally go for it. When I started back in the 80’s the Industry was clearly male-orientated. It is a breath of fresh to see all the successful women in the ACR Industry.
LW: Being a part of the ACR industry is rewarding and challenging at the same time. I would say be open-minded and look at all the opportunities that a career in this industry can offer, from working in the UK to overseas, part of a big corporate manufacturer to a family-run contractor, not forgetting the engineering teams, installation, service and maintenance. The list is endless.
Is there a little-known fact about yourself that would surprise other people?
RW: I could say ‘ask my sister Lisa!’ I don’t have any secret hobbies or skills that stand out, I just put my heart and soul into what I do… and what I enjoy doing.
LW: Ask my sister Rachel!