Welcome to our first ‘Day in the Life of’ post. A series of interviews with our people here at Thermatic Homes, providing insight into our day to day activities and who our people are.
Kicking off our new ‘Day in the Life of’ series is our Managing Director – Karl Wallace. We sat down with Karl to get an in-depth perspective of what a day in his shoes looks like.
Can you give us a brief insight into your career path which has led you to be in the position you are today?
I started my electrical apprenticeship just before my 16th birthday working for a commercial electrical company called Lorne Stewart, I then qualified and worked on a self-employed basis for 7/8 years, again mainly within the commercial electrical world.
In 2002 a family friend pointed me towards an opportunity within a company where he was working (Bramall Construction Limited) they were looking for a qualified electrician to supervise electrical teams rewiring houses for Bolton at Home, I took this position and absolutely loved it, I was trained by my line manager in regards to customer skills, surveying, QC checking, ensuring that the properties were completed to a high standard, in a safe manner whilst keeping the tenant happy and well informed throughout, whilst I was well versed in my trade this was the first time that I had to develop customer skills as I was in and out of potentially 10 properties per day, this was the part that I loved most as I took great pride on ensuring the absolute satisfaction of the tenants.
After a number of years, I stepped up to Site Manager then eventually Project Manager after which Bramall’s asked me to head up their own in-house M&E department, which we grew very quickly with in house PAYE plumbers, electricians and Gasfitters, this was a baptism of fire for me as this was the first point in my working life that I had to consider cost, profit, P&L!
I then moved to ROK PLC, ROK had recently acquired Avonside Plumbing and Heating Limited is a view to integrating them into the group as the North West based element of ROK PHE, that said Avonside was at that point purely mechanical only, I started in a view to adding an electrical arm to the business, I had a very enjoyable couple of years at ROK before they, unfortunately, went into administration.
With very short notice I then set up my own company subcontracting to mix of commercial and domestic clients, one of which was Thermatic Maintenance Limited, we undertook several projects for Thermatic and whilst sub-contracting to them I established a good relationship with their then MD who after a couple of years offered me a role within the group, I decided to take this role and have not looked back since! Within 12 months we set up Thermatic Homes Limited in a view to venturing into the domestic world, we were initially electrical only, then a couple of years later we added the mechanical arm to the business, then also renewables and build services.
1. Are there any moments in your career, past or present, that stand out to you?
The first one is the day that my dad without my knowledge bought me a suit, arranged a number of interviews for apprenticeships and explained to me that he would not allow me to be a useless layabout sleeping in each day without a job! He diligently drove me to each interview, waited outside and did not stand back until I had secured a job and started work, I did not appreciate it at the time but certainly do now, this is a method that I have had to adapt with some of my own children, so history has definitely repeated itself.
I remember the day that I was offered the position as M&E Manager at Bramall Construction, up until then I had fought to not be pigeonholed in M&E by taking on sites that were anything other, but the challenge of the role appealed to me so much that I decided to jump straight back into the M&E world! It was such a huge responsibility in comparison to what I had been undertaking for them up until that point, I was very excited but also nervous at the prospect.
And finally, the day that I was made MD of Thermatic Homes.
2. What kind of skills do you need to be effective in your role?
Commercial awareness, sales, technical skills, customer skills, people skills, planning, programming, identifying, and nurturing new talent…
I think that generally, you need to be a good all-rounder, that said there are some things that I think come naturally to me that I believe that I do well whilst there are many things that do not do as well as others, that is where having a good team comes into play, I think that we fill the gaps in each other’s abilities to excel collectively.
3. Can you tell us about a typical working day for you?
My day starts with an hour drive to work whilst simultaneously blasting my ears with music (my day ends this way also – a good de-stress tool!)
It then follows on with a large cup of tea at my desk whilst perusing my to-do list, some days I do not even close out the first item!! I am sure that is the same for us all.
In honesty, no two days are the same! I spend a lot of time with my senior management team shaping the business, I like to spend time with our clients in a view to ensuring them that we are fulfilling their requirements and offering the quality that is expected.
I also spend substantial time with our sales and estimation team in a view to ensuring that we are pursuing the right opportunities and that our rates are competitive whilst also being achievable which is often a difficult balance!
4. We can’t do an interview without mentioning COVID-19 as it is very much the topic of conversation at the moment. How do you think Thermatic Homes reacted to the pandemic and what kind of effect on the overall industry do you think it will have?
I think that we reacted well, we had to be conscious of the fact that we were working within people’s homes so as well as the safety of our engineers we also had a duty of care to the tenants within. Rightfully so all non-essential works ceased whilst servicing and breakdown continued. We had to ensure that we kitted our engineers out with all the necessary Covid PPE, we asked them to take a picture of themselves wearing all PPE outside each property before knocking on, this was not a trust issue but merely a way of ensuring that our clients had absolute confidence that we were working in a safe manner.
We ensured that our planners called each property the day before we entered to ask the tenants if anybody was isolating or symptomatic within, we had to evacuate our offices in favour of home working, we are all now well versed in Teams and Zoom, it has been extremely challenging as it has been for the rest of the world but we are getting there, fingers crossed that the recent lockdown and vaccination programme will keep the higher numbers at bay and allow some form of normality to resume.
5. Where do you see Thermatic Homes in 5 years?
Interesting question… We have made huge strides over the last couple of years, in terms of developing our skills within the renewable technologies industry, we are now MCS registered for the delivery of Air Source Heat Pumps, Solar PV, Battery storage, EV Charging, etc… and are also PAS 2035 accredited, we have also set up our own training academy to upskill our engineers, our client’s engineers and provide training to like-minded companies wanting to learn these type of technologies, this coupled with the phasing out of gas and the countries ongoing carbon reduction targets makes me think that the next five years will see Thermatic Homes continue to embrace these technologies and plough ahead assisting our clients in the roll-out of heat pumps, Solar PV etc. Also, our Build Services department is relatively young I would like to see this expand so that we can be seen as a ‘one-stop shop’ within the domestic arena.
6. Can you tell us about the hardest moment in your career and how you overcame it?
I think that it has to be the decision to continue with my own business, set up at the end of my time at ROK or to accept the position within Thermatic, there were many aspects to consider. At the time I had a young family and was working away from home virtually full time and had a poor work/life balance, but I had worked hard to build my business and although had not been trading too long was reluctant to walk away, I had set the business up with my brother and a friend, my brother had made the decision to relocate to Australia which made the decision easier.
Anyway, 8 years on and I am glad that I made the choice that I did, so no looking back now ????
7. Thermatic’s culture is at the heart of the business – can you describe what the culture means to you?
The culture is hugely important to me, I have worked with most of my team through Bramall Construction, ROK and now Thermatic (engineers and management alike), we have also added some integral people along the way.
We are a hardworking, fun-loving, hands-on, roll your sleeves up type of team that genuinely enjoy working with each other (I hope so anyway ????).
There is a great atmosphere within the office, one that I have rarely seen elsewhere, one that I am proud to be a part of.
8. What do you believe is the greatest thing that Thermatic Homes has achieved so far?
We have built some incredible relationships over our years of trading, relationships with clients, engineers, housing associations, main contractors, clerks of works, supervisors, managers, suppliers, manufacturers, accreditive bodies. All these relationships are extremely valuable to us, they have allowed us to grow our business and will be a part of its continued success.
9. Do you have any advice for people who want to work in the industry?
Yes, do it! I have not regretted a day, there are so many different avenues to choose from once within the construction industry. I have seen apprentice electricians eventually progress to Estimation Managers, RLO’s and Planners to operational roles, this was very difficult to do historically as there seemed to be a pre-defined route for this type of progression whereas now it is far more open in terms of training and peoples mindsets.
My son is currently a year 3 electrical apprentice who has shown a real interest in design, so who knows where this could lead him in his career.
We receive many emails and letters from individuals looking to move into this industry or continue with their apprenticeship after the companies that they have been working for have unfortunately closed their doors.
We have brought a number of people into our business through this route.
10. What do you love most about your job?
The challenge! I love the concept of trying to build something, each day brings its own challenges to ensure that as you grow it is not at the detriment of quality or safety.
11. Finally, if there was one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Yes, as previously mentioned, I have spent a lot of my working life on the road, not so much now but I missed some quality times with my children when they were growing up, time that you cannot get back, if I could speak to my younger self, I would tell him to concentrate more on local works.