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The art of winning

Two winners of the Student of the Year award, Daniel McLean in 2008, and David Marshall, the first in 1994, explain how education, opportunity, and application combine to make them top of their fields

To understand the passion Student of the Year Award 2008 winner Daniel McLean has for refrigeration, we have to go back to his teenage years and the influence of a work experience week in 2005.

During that week he went to Broxburn-based Capital Cooling, and developed such a taste for the engineer’s role that post-school he decided to follow a career in the refrigeration industry.

His father, who is managing direactor of Capital Cooling, and an award winner too – Kooltech’s Award for outstanding contribution to the Scottish refrigeration industry – supported his son’s decision.

Daniel applied his keenness to his three-year apprenticeship at North Glasgow College, with resulting academic achievements that far exceeded those required to pass his SVQ.

Having shown his theoretical knowledge Daniel was teamed with a senior engineer, who helped him develop his practical skills. He followed this up with a visit to a Turkish manufacturing plant to gain an understanding of the design and production of refrigeration equipment.

Soon after he was out on the road maintaining food retail and hospitality industry-related equipment.

Asked what the award means to him, Daniel does not hesitate to put it in perspective: “All the hard work and travel to Glasgow daily for college has paid off,” he says. “It was fantastic to be presented with the award. I really didn’t think I was going to win; all of the top ten guys deserved the award and acknowledgment just as much as I did.”

After receiving the award he says congratulations were meted out in spades: “I felt like I had really achieved something great as all of my colleagues and friends were very happy for me,” he says modestly. As for any special treatment, he adds: “I wouldn’t go as far to say that I was treated as a superstar….yet! I got a pay rise and a bigger van, though.”

His ease with people – something picked up by his trainers, the judges and his customers – is one measure for his success, but Daniel is clear on what else is required. He says:  “You need to be interested in what you are doing, and always want to better yourself and never get set in your comfort zone.

“Don’t be lazy and take shortcuts and always do things properly - you will get more respect for this.”

Daniel told us of his desire to travel and work abroad at the presentation ceremony. And as of July this year he will take up a one-year working holiday visa in Australia.

“I’m going for a bit of a break after completing my apprenticeship,” he says. “I have contacts for a couple of refrigeration companies out there that would be willing to take me on. After the year in Australia I think I will return home to continue working for Capital Cooling.”

Marshall’s ambition

Daniel’s start to his career is in contrast to that of David Marshall, the first winner of the Student of the Year award in 1994.

There were no parents in the trade in whose footsteps David could follow; no yearning to work abroad either - David has spent nearly two decades at the same firm.

But being “hard working, determined and very motivated” he channelled his ambition to “start at the bottom as an apprentice and work my way through to director of an established company”.

After seeing an advert in the local paper for an apprentice refrigeration engineer at family run Bradley Refrigeration in Sheffield, he telephoned the business and was invited to an interview.

“I had absolutely no idea what this would entail,” he says of the job description. “I imagined a small refrigeration type of shop and an old man working there ready for retirement.”

The interview changed this impression and upon securing the position he told his parents - only to hear his mum proclaim: “do not to take it, the pay is too low”.

“God, how glad I was that I did not listen,” he says on reflection.

Some 19 years later David is now a director at Bradley Refrigeration following periods as technical sales engineer in 1998; and technical sales manager in 2004.

During his first few days David remembers entering a “whole new world” of supermarket installation.

Under the tutelage of Andrew Turner, senior engineer, and Peter Bradley, the owner, he recalls receiving a thorough grounding in systems and realising that “engineering was just the beginning”.

In no way has he forgotten the skills learnt early on. In fact he says they are invaluable now: “I’ve brought the ability to analyse, interpret and evaluate data and develop ideas to match client’s needs to management,” he adds.

For those looking to climb the ladder he advises a mix of hands-on training together with a recognised industrial specific qualification - see more in the box below.

“Then from here it takes long hours, commitment and the ability to learn and listen regardless of age. But, anything is possible!”

He adds: “I only take calculated risks during my career, and feel it is essential to learn and understand what a customer wants. I am prepared to help anyone at any time (ask my wife what happens on our holidays!).”

There’s still plenty for David Marshall to achieve despite teaching at Basford Hall College, where he has been since 1999 - the fires of ambition still burn.

He says: “I would like to get involved in the IOR and other connected organisations. There is always more to strive for… who knows what’s next?”

Marshall’s tips for the top

Gender - gender is not important, the industry is currently under the influence of several females from managers, application engineers through to apprentices. As long as the job is completed well then gender should have no bearing.

Experience and knowledge - knowledge is very important, however it is only really effective with experience. Both go hand in hand, and with them you can portray yourself  as a confident individual.

Business sense - it is important to have a good grounding in business, especially as you progress; the challenges become more complex and demanding on which your company rely on.

Responsibility - responsibility tends to increase as you progress and your position changes. It is very important to ensure people trust your decisions and also you have the ability to accept the responsibility when things go wrong.

Sell, Sell, Sell - pure selling techniques can be seen to be very important when you talk to sales gurus, however having the experience, knowledge, business sense, and responsibility will greatly assist you in your challenge to sell. Once a client trusts you as a company/individual it makes selling much easier.

Staying at the top - very hard and demanding. The pressure is very different from being an engineer; while at the top you are always thinking about tomorrow, even when you’re not at work.

Standing out - standing out ensures you are seen by relevant people if pushing for promotion. Student of the Year certainly does that… to stand out you need to do that little bit more than everyone else… You will be seen.