HPAC Magazine

Words of Wisdom

Sharing reflections on the valuable role mentors have played in one man’s career.

December 21, 2021   By Robert Bean

(illustration: Adobe Stock)

I could (and should) write a book on my career path, it’s been a heck of ride and leaves me speechless when I think about how lucky I was to have so many special people in my life. Following are a few of the remarkable ones that molded my madness.

Entrepreneurship: Being unemployable opens the world to your own employment

The best conversation my dad had with me in my early teens went like this: “Son, I love you, and because of that I’m letting you know now that you have the personality of someone who is unemployable—not many people have that gift, but you do.”

Clearly a compassionate man.

I was raised to believe that it’s good to challenge the status quo (just not at home), blaze new territory and call out BS when it needs to be called out.

I was also coached to: “Dedicate yourself to your passion, and let your work ethic and results speak for themselves.”

As young boys my brothers and I cleaned ducks for 50-cents a bird during hunting seasons, and we also did everything we could from mowing lawns to painting fences and delivering papers. And I always had side jobs building custom decks for people that had influence.

By the time I was 41 I had five businesses under my belt and played at will in my sixth business from 2001 to my retirement.

Being unemployable is not a curse, it’s a blessing—embrace it and you’ll never work a day in your life.

My dad passed away in 2020 and with him went a library of knowledge that few possess. We spread his and my brother’s ashes this past summer in the Pacific Ocean at one of our favourite fishing spots with my dad’s fishing guide piloting the boat.

I thought a lot about that ceremony the following week as I hiked along the West Coast Trail in view of the places we fished…miss you dad.

Business: Do business with those who have as much to lose as you

I’ll never forget the advice my late wife gave me following the acquisition of De Jaegher Sales. I had just turned 30 and was making my first sales call into Red Deer, Alberta.

My very first visits were to the nationwide wholesalers who proceeded to instruct me not to sell to Gerry Halford at Triangle Supply, and that if I did they would not support our company.

Needless to say, I was shocked but kept my cool. I then went directly to Triangle Supply and discovered that Gerry and I had a lot in common. We both secured our business lines of credit with the bank by using our homes as security, which meant our spouses had to sign away their dowry rights—meaning if the bank took our homes to clear up debt then our wives had no claim against the equity.

Returning home, I shared the story with Karen and asked for her counsel. Her words: “I believe in you so much that I am willing to risk my share of the equity in our home, and Gerry’s wife believes in him so much that she did the same. You both have more to lose than the managers at the big wholesalers. Do business with Gerry and you’ll never regret it.”

True story, and Gerry and his right-hand-man Barry Cunningham and the team they built went on to become a great corporate citizen for Red Deer and gave back 10-fold to the plumbing and HVAC industry in Canada than what was returned by the individuals who threatened to not do business with us.

Hats off to you Gerry and Barry – love you and miss you. Karen, you win the best advisor award. I miss you and look forward to seeing you again someday.

Engineering: Architectural systems should reflect human systems

When we sold De Jaegher Sales to Danfoss in 2000 I had to figure out what to do with my life. Having graduated from NAIT’s Building Construction Engineering Technology program, I learned to love high performance architecture and designing radiant-based HVAC systems.

At the time I had obtained the highest level within ASET [The Association of Science and Engineering Technology Professionals of Alberta] as a registered engineering technologist in building construction (RET), but that alone would not allow me to practice independently, so I wrote the APEGA exams to obtain the Professional Licensee Engineering (P.L. Eng.) designation for mechanical engineering. Once I had my license to practice and stamp drawings I embarked on growing Indoor Climate Consultants Inc. and growing my website www.healthyheating.com.

It was during that time that I really started to listen to the professors in our ASHRAE committees who were focused on human factor design—that is the physical, physiology and psychology of people living and working within the built environment.

Dr. David Scheatzle, Professor Emeritus at Arizona State University, College of Architecture and Environmental Design, was gracious enough to lend us web-based graphics that he and his students developed on thermal comfort.

The graphics had nothing, zero, not a thing to do with HVAC systems, rather they demonstrated the thermal sensory systems of the human body.

Scheatzle and his team did the early work on residential radiant cooling, which to this day continues to influence my design philosophies. During the same period, I discovered the work of Dr. Andrew Marsh who would later sell his SQU1 company to Autodesk.

Marsh understood how to graphically represent, in a non-technical way, what people felt inside spaces and how to represent that according to the definitions within ASHRAE Standard 55 and ISO 7730.

He let us use his thermal comfort tool which ultimately drove thousands of visitors to our website, and which we continue to use today to educate the public and design practitioners on human factor design.

The lessons I learned from these and other professors was that mechanical solutions should always be the last resort to solving indoor environmental quality problems, and that energy use was the consequence of bad architecture.

This philosophy drove the Indoor Climate Consultants Inc. motto: “Design for People, Good Buildings Follow.”

Blame Scheatzle and Marsh for pushing me to think about client complaints from a perspective that has nothing to do with load calculations, sizing and selecting equipment.

It was the best thing that ever happened to my practice and allowed me to earn clients from all over the world. Thank you gents!

Trades: Nothing happens until what you put on paper gets assembled in the field

Most don’t know this, but out of high school I started working for a geotechnical engineering company as a lab grunt, and then I later moved into the carpentry trade.

I have thousands of hours on the tools in framing and cribbing. Alan Wanagot (a Lithuanian framer) and Manfred Claussen (a German cribber) fed my work ethic and kept me in physical shape. I miss those days!

They also taught me this: everything you put together must be plumb, parallel, perpendicular, straight, square and level.

I was also taught to sacrifice fast for better—it prevents shortcuts and jobs that look like someone dropped a bowl of spaghetti on the site.

Those working in the trades know what it means to have “the eye”: the eye of perfection.

These assembly habits served me well when producing engineered drawings. I still get compliments to this day on the drawings we produced over the years. But most important of all was the ability to express our expectations from the trades. The work we saw from our fabrication shop, and the work I inspected in my engineering practice was going to get “the eye”, and if it wasn’t up to snuff it wasn’t up to our standard.

Alan and Manfred, wherever you are, bless you for not firing me when I screwed up and for imparting upon me the meaning of “excellence in the trades.”

So many others…so much knowledge…I share these lessons from my heroes to you. <>

Robert Bean is director of healthyheating.com, and founder of Indoor Climate Consultants Inc. He is a retired engineering technology professional (ASET and APEGA) who specialized in the design of indoor environments and high-performance building systems. He is also a co-host of the Edifice Complex podcast: edificecomplexpodcast.com.

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