Process Chiller Academy Roots – My Journey in HVAC/R.
Question: How did you get into HVAC/R in the first place?
Martin King: It was in 1981. I was in my automotive class shop when they offered that type of thing.
I remember that, at the time, I was thinking about going to Junior College, getting started taking some classes to see what I would find myself drawn towards.
Anyway, back to the shop class, I was sitting in a presentation by a salesperson from Phoenix, Arizona. He was pitching this automotive diesel school, and I’m like, well, that’s pretty cool. But I had no interest in working on diesel engines or cars. That wasn’t my thing. The life-changing event came at the very end of his presentation; he says something like, by the way, we also have this HVAC refrigeration solar course in passing. If you are interested here are some brochures, that was kind of it.
So at the end of class, I grabbed the brochure, read it, called the guy, and a couple of days later, he showed up at my parents’ house and signed me up.
Three months later, I was in Phoenix, in course, learning HVAC, refrigeration, solar, and it was one of those crossroads in my life.
I think everybody goes through these crossroads, and almost every time, you don’t know it was a life-changing event until a long time after. I sometimes think, if I had not been in that shop class on that day in my senior year in high school, my entire life would have been totally different. If it were not for that seemingly random event, I don’t think I would have ever said, hey, what about a trade?
Since that day, it has been a wonderful journey with MANY ups and downs. Thinking back, I would have done a few things much differently in my career, and personal life had I know what I didn’t know. Yet, the journey along the way has been amazing. Overall, HVAC/R has been a wonderful life for me, my family, and many of the employees we’ve been blessed with working with and knowing over the years.
Question: How did you end up starting and running your own HVAC/R business?
Martin King: I think my roots to owning my own business can be attributed mainly to my parents. My father, Paul King, and my mother, Annabelle King, owned their own Schwinn bicycle dealership.
My dad bought that business as an existing business back in the late 40s, using the GI Bill after returning from World War Two. And it was basically an American Dream story.
I came along in 1962, and as I was growing up, I was involved in that business. I learned about the highs and the lows because there were a few lean years for our family. I learned that was just the course of business. I also learned how to take care of customers, about mechanics because I was fixing bicycles in the back. I recall one of my first jobs was fixing flat tires. My experiences growing up in a small business are how owning a business became part of my DNA.
When I got out of HVAC/R school, I went to work in the Union. I started as a year two apprentice since I got a two-year credit for my schooling. I carried on for the two more years of on-the-job training I needed and turned out as a union journeyman. Overall, this was an amazing opportunity.
Next, I decided to pursue something different while staying in the HVAC/R industry, so I starting working in the wholesale business. There, I learned how to sell parts and equipment related to HVAC/R. While all that was going on, I felt this drive to own my own business someday.
After a few years of working in HVAC/R wholesale, I had saved enough money working my day job and working as a mobile DJ on the weekends to start my own small HVAC/R business.
Right around that time, I became engaged. Shortly after our engagement, I said something to her like: I’m going to quit my job, and I’m going to be working for myself. Fortunately, she had a great job working for Intel Corporation, and that was a lifesaver as we worked to get the HVAC/R business going. Through all of that, she has stuck with me through thick and thin for over 30 years now.
When I started, it was just me and my old DJ van taking any HVAC/R service job or install I could get. Our little company existed for over 16 years; we grew the business a lot during that time. Although it was hard to maintain a reasonable work/life balance, I feel blessed for the opportunities, especially the people we got to serve and work with.
In 2000 we decided to sell the commercial air conditioning business.
So, that’s how I got into owning my own HVAC/R company.
Question: How did you get started in Process Chillers?
Martin King: The story goes that back in 1998, our little commercial HVAC/R company was doing great. One of our biggest maintenance customers came to me and said, hey, Martin, we just purchased this multimillion-dollar Hewlett Packard digital IC tester for testing microchips and memory chips, things like that, and we need a chiller for it.
I said that chillers are not my lane of expertise, and I shied away from it initially. Their response was, that’s fine, we’ll reach out to some other companies that we’re talking to. Leaving the site after the meeting, I recall thinking this is probably not a good business move. In the back of my mind, I knew how it was going to go.
With me saying no, there was a good chance my customer would farm out the chiller install to one of my competitors. One thing leads to another, and eventually, I could potentially be at risk of losing the maintenance contract for the entire facility. So I chose to take the job in the end.
On our first chiller job, we ended up buying the chiller from one of the major equipment manufacturers. The chillers we initially purchased were glorified condensing units. It was a condensing unit with a chiller barrel in it, so we needed to install everything else ourselves.
So we purchased pumps, piping, valve, and controls then built the entire system from scratch on the roof. It was very clean when we got done; however, it looked like an Erector Set type of a job. Fortunately, the customer was happy with getting the job done on time and within budget. Ultimately, we ended up doing quite a few jobs for that particular client.
After the initial installation, things were happening in the background I was not aware of at the time.
Apparently, there was a problem within Hewlett Packard around these new digital IC testers. As it turned out, the HP sales teams, although they knew a lot about testers they were caught flat-footed in the area of process chillers these advanced systems needed to have to operate.
What I learned a long time later, some HP engineer(s) back in Stuttgart, Germany, put a note in the site prep guide for these new testers. Something to the effect, if you need a chiller system for your tester, here’s an 800 number call. Within a month of that note in the tester site perp guide, our phone just lit up.
In a short period, we ended up with projects from all over the continental United States, Europe, Malaysia.
In 1998, we chose to start manufacturing our specialized chillers specifically for these HP testers. Within less than two years, our chiller manufacturing business, along with doing the installs, our business experienced explosive growth.
In 2000 we ended up selling the commercial HVAC/R company and going into manufacturing chillers full time. At the same time, to keep up with demand, we outsourced the manufacturing through a private label agreement with another company located in Pennsylvania.
As the Legacy Chiller Systems, Inc. brand grew in the chiller market, we expanded into many other chiller markets, including breweries, wineries, distilleries, lasers, and custom projects. As a result, we went from making only two models of chillers exclusively for HP projects to over sixty.
Overall my time in the chiller manufacturing business was quite the adventure. Over those years, I was amazed at the vast array of opportunities I got involved in, from mining projects to building custom cooling applications for the patriot II missile systems and everything in between.
In June of 2020, we sold Legacy Chiller Systems Inc and became “retired.”
Question: Why did you start Process Chiller Academy?
Martin King: So, like many things in life, the road to processchilleracademy.com has been a journey.
I wanted to start something that would provide quality (no fluff) training to existing HVAC/R apprentices and journeymen, even business owners. I also believe it is very important to get HVAC/R success stories out there (starting with my own) to attract new (desperately needed) people to this wonderful industry.
As a test of concepts to offer specialized training for HVAC/R and chillers, I created the first online course I call the basic refrigeration and troubleshooting course back in 2017.
Within a fairly short period, I had about 600 students all over the World, so I considered this a successful initial test. Still running Legacy Chiller Systems at the time, I had to file the online course concept away in the back of my mind.
In June 2020, after selling legacy chiller Systems, Inc, my wife and I took about six months off to travel, ponder life, and figure out what the next life chapters would be for us.
While doing so, the ideas of online training and the initial test was on my mind, and late in 2020, I chose to pursue this concept. So, in January of 2021, we officially launched processchilleracademy.com.
Since then, it’s been a journey as I was new to the online education, business. People knew me for engineering and process chillers and doing design work around process chillers, yet; they didn’t know me in online education. As a result, I’ve had to reinvent myself in the minds of the thousands of people I’ve met and been blessed to know over my career.
We are working on many site content projects such as a blog, podcast, affiliate programs, and paid free online HVAC/R and chiller content. Our current focus is to build a PCA community.
We recently added a resource page to the processchilleracademy.com site that’s full of stuff. We’re focusing on serving HVAC/R journeyman level technicians, and we’re promoting what we call our best tech series. We are adding new Best Tech content to the resource page and rolling out a Best Tech workshop soon.
We are also working on adding a new page to our resources area to serve HVAC/R business owners. We are calling this content out Best Owner series that will also include a workshop coming soon.
Hopefully, I’ll have another update for everybody at some time in the future.