UK: David Bailey, one of the refrigeration industry’s best known and respected figures, has retired after a career spanning more than 50 years.
Although probably best known for his 19 years representing Friga-Bohn in the UK, David actually began his career as a management trainee with J Gardner of Beckenham, Kent. Trained in refrigeration design and estimating, he joined the food refrigeration department of J&E Hall, based at the company’s iconic headquarters in Dartford.
“In those days, the company was a powerhouse of the industry, employing 4000 people and manufacturing everything from compressors, chillers, air coolers and even paternoster lifts,” recalls David.
Mentored by Hall’s Keith Murray, he quickly discovered an aptitude and love for the technical aspects of the job, learning the craft by sizing and costing large cold store projects. Due to his early experience of air conditioning, he was also often called on to design ductwork systems for abattoirs and meat processing centres.
It was not long before David’s management and people skills were recognised, and he was promoted to Hall’s project department, where he headed up delivery of the company’s first turnkey cold store, for Greens in Hornsea.
One of his most technically challenging and prestigious projects was the cooling system for development of the Rolls Royce RB2-11 jet engine, used on Boeing airliners. Working alongside Alan Moor, later to head Bitzer UK, David was responsible for the engine test centre’s giant cooling system, consisting of 33 modules, each 24ft long, and containing a total of 112 miles of pipe work.
“It was used to cool a tank of aqueous ammonia, in turn used to cool intake air to -40ºC to simulate high altitude conditions while the engine was under test. It was an amazing project and one of the most interesting I have been involved with,” says David.
Given his excellent technical grounding at Halls, it was not long before David was talent-spotted and went to work for O’Gorman Refrigeration. “I was offered a company car and double the salary. We were based in Chelsea, just off the King’s Road, and it was the early 70s. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven,” recalls David.
It was here he encountered the commercial refrigeration sector, as fledgling retail giants such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s began their UK-wide expansion. He recalls that retail technology at the time was very basic, particularly compared with the industrial scale systems with which he was familiar.
“It was something of a culture shock. The control system in those days was pretty basic, consisting of just an HP cut-out. Compared to the electronic control and monitoring systems of today, it was the stone age.”
David’s expertise on the industrial side was soon in demand, and he was given responsibility for a large freezing plant project in Skelmersdale. Delivered with typical aplomb, he was promoted to the O’Gorman’s board with responsibility for large projects.
As the company developed internationally, David travelled extensively overseas looking after projects in the Middle East and Africa. It was at times eventful. He was in Baghdad airport, catching a plane out, when the war between Iraq and Iran broke out, and the city came under attack.
There was a similarly close shave in Ireland, he recalls, where a new food freezing facility was destroyed in a bombing. He attended site to assess the damage, only to discover a pack of explosive that had failed to detonate still attached to an item of plant. Alarmed, he was relieved to learn from a passing British soldier: “Don’t worry sir, we’ve removed the detonator.”
With a typical twinkle, he reports that story had a happy ending, as his company secured the contract to replace the demolished freezer plant.
There followed service with HRP, where David was director of industrial refrigeration, working alongside well known industry figures such as Richard Alger, Doug Wells and Kingley Curtis.
After a period with Hussmann, David took on responsibility for the French-made Friga-Bohn range in the UK, as managing director, an association that lasted for 19 years, until that company’s restructuring under new US owners Lennix made the airside business unviable as a stand-alone business.
His final hurrah was spent at Bitzer UK, where he was instrumental in helping secure specification of the company’s compressors by one of the UK’s leading food retailers.
“Looking back, it has been an extremely varied, interesting and rewarding career. Refrigeration has given me a good living and enabled me to see parts of the world, and aspects of life, that many people don’t see or experience. I thoroughly enjoyed my final period with Bitzer UK – I knew many of the people as we had worked together at various times in my career. I am looking forward to retirement, but the phone does have a habit of ringing,” he says.
Kevin Glass, managing director of Bitzer UK, said: “David’s contribution to the industry over many years has been outstanding. He is one of the old school, immersed in the business and a complete professional.”
Following a reorganisation of responsibilities, David’s role at Bitzer UK is now looked after by Andrew Mitchell and Liam Davies, reporting to business development director Marcus Levy.