Lance Jimmieson on 40 years in HVAC

Lance on 40 years in HVAC
Lance on 40 years in HVAC

From the literal lows of Siberia (-30) to the highs of Maldives (30+), Lance Jimmieson has experienced a varied career in HVAC – and 2019 marks his 40-year anniversary in the industry. We got the MD of Jackson Engineering to share his highlights, lowlights and life lessons from the past four decades:

What made you want to be an engineer?
I always enjoyed understanding how things worked and early on I learnt to combine practical and academic skills to both make and fix things. I did well at school in Technical Drawing and Engineering… and pretty much hated everything else! However I’m somewhat of a misfit as an engineer with too much right brain (that creative side)!

Did you always think you’d do HVAC?
Like most in this industry, absolutely not, ha ha! To be honest, I wasn’t fussed on what type of engineering I did, provided it was challenging and interesting – and that has certainly proven to be the case with HVAC! When the opportunity arose to undertake a cadetship in HVAC, I jumped at the chance – the combination of having a real-world job for experience (and money) while studying appealed to me more than a student loan!

Tell us about your first job, 40 years ago…
I started out with a leading business in the industry, A & T Burt Ltd, in the Manawatu. I think I still hold the record for completing a 4-year cadetship in 2.5 years! I got a good grounding in both technical and commercial contract skills before I moved on to specialist controls work.

What’s been your best job/role?
The controls work was a sought-after position and gave me a huge opportunity to gain a lot of knowledge in a short space of time. But of course my best role is my current one, at the helm of Jackson Engineering, which I joined as a 50% stakeholder in 2000. I took over 100% in 2010 and have been able to develop a business with very high standards, building on my first 21 years of experience elsewhere. Now I get to be part of the career development of some of our industry’s best young talent which I find great satisfaction in.

The best bits of what you do?
Helping clients and staff appreciate the finer points of what we do and understand the long-term impacts of today’s decisions is pretty cool. When you see your earlier projects go through a full 20-year lifecycle and head into refurbishment, you know you’ve been in the game a bit too long… but it’s great to see how your ideas and designs stand the test of time. Also, at Jackson’s we cover an incredible variety of work so there’s always something new to learn and a different problem to solve. That’s pretty cool.

The worst bits?
The less-than-average standard of delivery from our industry is woeful and downright embarrassing at times. However, I’ve always seen this as by far our biggest opportunity, so I don’t complain – I think it’s up to me and the Jacksons team to get off our backside and do something about it! Behind every complaint, there is an opportunity.

Career highlights?
The ability to design and work around the world has been cool. From working in Siberia at -30oC (yes, that is cold) to the Maldives at +30oC (I really took one for the team here), I’ve had some really interesting experiences. Highlights have included achieving the world’s first and second underwater restaurants, the world’s first underwater bedroom (it costs a cool US$50,000 per night to stay here) and developing the largest fan-wall in Australasia. And I’d have to say that building a nationwide business with five offices and a great reputation is a real highlight for me.

And lowlights?
Working for corporates in my earlier career where the negative culture and multifaceted politics would undermine great outcomes for their clients. On the bright side, it gave me some brilliant leanings on how not to do it!

Any massive mistakes you can share with us?
We don’t make mistakes, but we do learn more on some jobs than others  It’s the tough jobs that make you better, I’ve always believed that.

Have you had any mentors along the way?
Absolutely – you can learn something from everyone. This is something you should never forget and always be grateful for. My advice to anyone starting out is to forget about salary – instead, simply find the smartest people in your industry and get a job working for them. Do it for free if you have to. Watch, mimic and learn from the very best and success will have a much higher chance of finding you.
Surround yourself with some very smart people and you can’t help but improve. My long-time business coach has been awarded World Business Coach of the Year twice now – I’m a big fan of continuing to learn. Don’t be afraid to admit you need to learn new skills along your journey. Your degree is a starting point, not an end in itself.

The best lessons you’ve learnt in your career?
Stop talking about it and just do it – or someone else will. Pay it forward and give away your advice, time and learnings – it will come back ten-fold. Be a leader and take responsibility. Always smile and always be positive.

What are the biggest changes you’ve seen over the industry in 40 years?
On the positive side, technology improvements are massive and increasing at an ever faster pace – controls are now so sophisticated that they can mask fundamentally poor design, although the laws of physics still apply! Agile working and flexibility in the workplace is upon us and I see that as a real benefit to staff and their families. Issues facing the industry include increasingly shorter timeframes for projects and a serious lack of good fundamental skills and industry training. As a result, quality advice is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity.

What trends do you see coming for the HVAC industry?
Energy efficiency and carbon reductions are increasingly coming under the spotlight, with energy savings being recognised as the most environmentally friendly fuel of the future – i.e. the fuel you don’t have to buy! Building Information Modelling is becoming commonplace for new-builds and as it does, it will slowly filter through to assist with the management of existing buildings. IoT is also becoming a reality and will also impact and assist the operation, maintenance and asset management of buildings in the near future. Agile and mobile working will also impact how buildings are used and we are seeing higher levels of adoption of new ways of working being led by the Auckland market – nothing to do with our traffic issues, honest!

Tell us about your work with Industry Bodies and why you do it.
This mainly relates to industry training for engineers, technicians, Facilities and Property Managers. Part of being an industry leader is to give back in the form of education and training. Watch this space as we are developing some industry training material to help improve the overall performance of our industry for the benefit of end users and building occupants.

What are your hopes for the future of the building services industry?
I think some form of regulation of our industry is long overdue. As the skillsets of engineers and technicians lag technology developments, many practitioners are falling behind global standards. More direct leadership at government level would provide a much-needed improvement in outcomes, with a back-to-basics look at what we are trying to achieve. Why did we build the building in the first place and have we really made it fit for purpose for the occupants or the processes carried out within the building? Australia is leading NZ in this respect and we have a way to go to catch up with the likes of Singapore etc.

What’s your driver?
There are a lot of buildings out there that don’t work very well. Be they commercial offices, education, healthcare, industrial, pharmaceutical – many are struggling to achieve their initial objectives. We know as we get called in to fix them! I get up every morning determined to solve problems, do a good job and elevate the building services industry.

What are your plans for the future?
There is still plenty to be done with Jacksons, but as new staff members pick up the baton and have their turn at running, I will concentrate more on the education front to help the overall industry develop. We need to develop more industry leaders.

Outside of work, people can find you…
Spending time with the family (actually catching up on too many late nights at the office if you were to ask my wife), with the real downtime spent tinkering with a growing collection of old Jaguars – but that’s another story…

Lance as Branch Manager for James Hardie Building Services in 1994. 

Quick-fire Q&A

Best concert you’ve been to?
Eric Clapton at the Mission in Napier – 2007. Still getting over it 🙂

Best ever dinner party guests?
Eric Clapton, Simon Sinek, Deepak Chopra and my dad.

Favourite ever album/band?
Neil Young – On the Beach. Bought my first copy when it was released in 1974 and it’s still a favourite!

What would you save if your house was burning down?
Well, apart from the family, my collection of old original Jaguar and Daimler brochures.

Your dream retirement?
A bit of mentoring / training to the business and our industry mixed with a bit of travel and tinkering with old Jags.

Beer or wine? Stones or Beatles?
Drambuie and the Beatles.

Last supper meals?
Cajun-blackened salmon with salad and a nice pinot noir.

Life motto?
The difference between ordinary and extraordinary is that little bit extra. Pay it forward.