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Meet Steve Oakley, the managing director of Heuch Refrigeration and winner of the 2016 Innovator of the Year Award.

Oakley recently commenced commercialisation of the world's first 100 per cent solar powered refrigeration containers, a project that was central to winning this year's award.

Oakley first began the project in 2005.

“The time wasn't quite right then. The project worked technically but it wasn't commercially viable,” Oakley said.

“Now its the right time, the right people, the right product and a bit of luck.

“Our new products are still at the fringes in that context but they are now emerging as a competitor and will become increasingly so in the future.”

Oakley's nomination was a bit of a surprise as he only found out about it when he was notified that he was a finalist.

He was nominated by the company's business development manager, Martin Oakley, who also happens to be his son.

Martin Oakley has an interesting background he has two business degrees and completed a refrigeration apprenticeship.

“I was very proud to have my son nominate me. I was presented with a gift even without winning,” he said.

So what are the qualities of an innovator?

“A disorganised mind, a propensity to doodle on ideas in the search for new alternatives and a willingness to commit when the occasional good idea gets traction,” Oakley said. “Without innovation we are doomed to fail simply by standing still.”

The opposite of innovation, according to Oakley, is an attitude of “that's how we have always done it.”

Heuch Refrigeration has always been involved in a diverse range of projects and with the changing landscape Oakley said the company is refocussing its efforts in the fruit and vegetable growing and processing industries.

“We look forward in the coming months to introducing some wonderful new products we are pleased to be associated with out of Europe,” he said.

“The energy and process efficiencies these systems can provide is outstanding, we are very excited about the possibilities.”

Founded by the late John Heuch in 1970, the company thrives on a 'why not?' culture and a willingness to adapt to change.

Two of its senior managers joined the company as apprentices in 1978. Oakley believes the HVACR industry has changed considerably since he first joined it in the early 1980s. “I think today's industry is safer, cleaner, increasingly more mature and effective,” he said.

“I am very proud to be part of an industry that when challenged 20 years ago with consequential damage to the ozone layer we took up the challenge and adapted.

“Our industry has been at the forefront of change.”

Oakley said winning the award has been great for the business. “The value to the business is difficult to understate that little glass award is potentially worth more than its weight in gold,” he said.

“As news of the award has spread so too has the peer support and encouragement for a small but vibrant refrigeration engineering company battling away in a global market.”

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