The genius of Iranian-born Dr Faramarz Jahdjuri and US businesswoman Kathleen Hagan set the pattern for green technology, says CoolSky's managing director in Co Down
I owe my interest in renewable energies and the decision to start a small business in the sector to the inspiring leadership of Iranian-born Dr Faramarz Mahdjuri, who founded Thermomax in Bangor and pioneered solar water heating technology. I joined Thermomax in 1986, six years after Dr Mahdjuri was attracted to Northern Ireland by the then Industrial Development Board (IDB) in what was then a visionary investment.
Dr Mahdjuri come up with the idea to use vacuum tubes to capture the sun's rays as a means of heating water, technology which he demonstrated would work as well in colder northern climates as in sunnier parts of the world.
The technology was subsequently applied successfully in homes, businesses, factories, hospitals and hotels in Europe, the US and Asia. In Singapore, for example, Thermomax solar tubes still heat the water at Changi International Airport. The US Department of the Environment in Washington and NASA in Florida also use the technology.
I worked with him, mostly as commercial manager, from 1986 to his untimely death in 1999.
To Dr Mahdjuri, a former science professor at Berlin University, using solar energy was not just about financial savings but also about making a contribution to protecting the environment. His passion for the environment was truly inspirational.
Above all, perhaps, he was a boffin with a human touch, a leader who was keenly concerned about all his employees and knew each by name.
This approach and his commitment to exports have also influenced my own management style.
He shaped Thermomax into a global player by prioritising exports and achieved great success abroad. My ambition for CoolSky is to see it become an international technology leader in the field of renewable energy controllers.
It was during my time with Thermomax in the US that I met another inspirational personality, Kathleen Hagan, a Boston-based businesswoman.
She was first recruited by IDB, then retained by Invest NI to help smaller Northern Ireland technology businesses succeed in the US marketplace.
Kathleen is a former director of US entrepreneurship centre the International Programmes at Babson College and executive director of Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Enterprise Forum. She has tremendous drive, vast knowledge of the US market and a remarkable network of contacts including in the corridors of power in Washington DC.
Inspired by Dr Mahdjuri and Kathleen Hagan, I've moved from an employee to running my business that is focused on developing systems for export that help to preserve our fragile environment.