By Eamonn Ryan

As outgoing SARACCA executive director Barney Richardson’s career approaches its 60th year, he has decided that this year is finally the year to put his feet up.

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His first job was in 1964: the year Beatlemania convulsed the world, Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali and won the world heavyweight boxing title, and racial segregation was outlawed in the US. Richardson explains that it came by chance through a friend and just happened to be in HVAC&R with a company called ThermAir which was looking for trainee engineers. “I immediately took to the industry, and through those subsequent years I studied at the Port Elizabeth Technikon for an engineering diploma, and workwise was doing estimating, as well as some ventilation and air-conditioning design work. At that time it was common for people to not go to university but for their employer to send them regularly to technikon until they got the engineering diploma.

SARACCA executive director Barney Richardson

SARACCA executive director Barney Richardson. Image credit: © Eamonn Ryan/RACA

“Then in 1973, I was selected to go to a seven-week Carrier system design course in Syracuse, New York, covering all design aspects of HVAC engineering, and during which I also did a number of air-conditioning control, piping and pumping courses with other major US companies ­– which ultimately lasted four months with a European holiday added on. From there, my career accelerated. In the late 70s I was appointed as director of what became Improvair (after a series of mergers and acquisitions) in Port Elizabeth.

“For a long time through the 1970s and 80s, I was responsible for a lot of refrigeration and air-conditioning projects for chocolate manufacturer Cadbury: various cooling conveyor projects making the flake chocolates, crunchies and soft centres. After a time, Improvair became too big for Port Elizabeth, and also too top-heavy with highly qualified senior people who needed to be kept busy. Some of the directors were relocated to other areas, and in my case it was to Kempton Park in 1986 as design and estimating director.

“In those days refrigeration related to air conditioning was a significant part of the industry, mostly central plant based compared to the wall and split units of today. We were extremely busy, doing major projects for big companies such as OK Bazaars, Pick ‘n Pay, and, for instance, 55 Marshall Street, the Anglo American head office. I also worked on the Old Mutual Office Park in Menlyn, Pretoria.

“I spent nearly 33 years with Improvair until in the late 90s there was another restructuring with quite a few of the directors retrenched. I was moved into the Viking packaging air-conditioning unit on the manufacturing side for a few years and then retrenched at age 56.”

After an interim year-long job, the director position at SARACCA became available in 2002, where Richardson has been employed full time for the past 21 years.

Richardson notes that there are fewer of the big air-conditioning contracting companies today, as a result of the trend towards split room air conditioners which dominates now. “The big central systems are still around, but the contractors capable of doing that work are fewer.”

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