Roger Venn – never looking back

After taking a risk and starting Embassy Air Conditioning 26 years ago, Roger Venn has worked hard to build up this contracting business to the success it is today.

Roger Venn is still the managing director of Embassy Air Conditioning, even though lately he has been taking more of a back seat and letting his senior management team run the day-to-day activities. He now gets more involved with assisting and advising the team.


Getting started
Venn started his construction career in the early 1970s, completing a four-year civil engineering diploma at Cape Technikon, followed by two additional years studying structural engineering. After working for a structural engineering consulting company in Cape Town for a while, he realised it wouldn’t keep his interest long term. So he made a career change and joined an existing HVAC company whose owner was planning to retire.

He spent many late evenings in the office of the legendary Joss Tobias of Centurator who, in conjunction with Jimmy Miller, helped Venn to make the conversion to HVAC.

But things weren’t quite working out, so Venn risked it all to open Embassy Air Conditioning in 1991 from a small workshop with an office in shared premises. With two installation teams, he set about trying to get onto any tender list he could find.

Their first job was the HVAC contract for an existing operational crematorium, which they won mainly because after the gory pre-tender site visit, nobody else wanted the job! It was a steep learning curve as the builder went bankrupt and the job lost money. Not a great start, but they haven’t looked back since, building up a great team of 50 permanent employees — some who have been there for many years.

“I would attribute our success to employing the right people and building up good relationships with our clients and never letting them down, even if it costs us financially.” This policy has paid off, as they are now one of the largest HVAC companies in Cape Town with a great client base and track record.

“The best part of the past 26 years has been working with a team of enthusiastic employees. Even though we have had some tough times and projects, we have always come through at the end.”

The toughest project was Eskom’s Atlantis Gas Turbines in 2009. This was a R30-million project, which had to be completed in nine months! Other big projects included the Cape Town Stadium, a few shopping centres, and currently the new Shoprite Distribution Centre in Brackenfell, valued at R20-million.

“Being part of a successful organisation and working with very positive people motivates me to go to work in the morning; otherwise, I might go paddling my surf-ski instead.”

Future plans
“My role in the future is to guide the company forward to meet the new challenges in a continuously changing construction environment.” The biggest being the shortage of skills at artisan level, something he plans to tackle through in-house training and apprenticeships.


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