Born and raised in Bromfield, our founder, and Managing Director (MD), Jeff Wheeler, started Univent 12 years ago with the intention of creating a one-stop shop for industrial ventilation, heating, and cooling solutions – designed to suit any operational needs.
You might find it surprising to know that someone as successful as Jeff did not finish school. He dropped out after his fourth year at Hodge Hill School. Jeff dropped out of college too: “Six months in, I dropped out because I was too interested in girls and didn’t attend any classes,” Jeff laughs.
When he dropped out of college, Jeff’s father gave him an ultimatum that he either had to work at the family’s grocery store or get a job.
Jeff acted quickly and was awarded an apprenticeship at Stanley Refrigeration, where he had previously done work experience during his first attempt at college. “When my dad gave me the ultimatum, I phoned them up, got an interview, got an apprenticeship through the company, and started going to college while working.”
The idea that changed it all
When the company he was working for closed its doors, Jeff moved onto Carter Refrigeration where he worked for around 12 years. After that, he went on to work for a construction company as a Chief Mechanical Designer.
During all this time, however, Jeff had one thing on his mind: “I was always thinking about setting up my own company. I wanted to build a business as a one-stop-shop where we’d be able to design, manufacture, install, and commission the entire job.”
Throughout his many years working for others, he identified a gap in the market that he could take full advantage of. “We were forever having issues with deliveries of equipment, subcontractors not turning up to site and more. I knew I could supply a better service than what was out there.”
The journey that made it all worth it
He mentions that starting his business was not easy, “We set everything into motion to start production of the manufacture and design of air handling units and ductwork.
“It was slow, at first. It was hard to get customers, and it was challenging,” he mentions. “But I knew that there was an opportunity to make this work. We just needed to get our name out there.”
He recounts his first major order, the one that solidified the opening of his own company, which was to build two air handling units for a company in London. “I have a picture of it in my office as a reminder of where we’ve come from.”
We asked Jeff if there were ever times where he felt his business just would not make it. He says there have always been moments. But generally, everything has happened at the right time.
The truth about Jeff
Even though Jeff has built a highly successful heat recovery and airflow management company that has been running for many years, he still has a certain air of humility to him. “I don’t class myself as a Managing Director, just one of the lads,” he says. “I often go into the workshop and work on the tools because I do enjoy it and to show the lads in the workshop that I still have the skills.”
When Jeff was asked if he has any regrets about the journey that he took to become a successful business owner, he said, “I have no regrets because I learn what I need to learn from mistakes, but that’s what drives us forward.”
To Jeff, Univent is much more than just a company. While it certainly is the sum of his many years of experience in the industry and his qualifications, it is – most importantly – largely about family.
For many years, Jeff’s father, a greengrocer by trade, worked for Univent. “To this day, no one in the workshop can build a panel for an air handling unit like him,” Jeff says.
Now that his father is retired, two of Jeff’s sons – Sean and Ellis – run the company workshop, and his hope is that they’ll someday take over the business. Although his third son, James, is currently a semi-professional footballer, Jeff would like him to take over the design and drawings aspect of the company one day.
The plan for the future
When his sons take over the business, his plans are to go traveling and have a house abroad. He would like to live abroad while it is cold in the UK and then return home for the summer.
Our founder has big plans for the next three years. He wants to build a bigger manufacturing site. The company currently has two units, but he would prefer having them all under one roof.
The family man
Other than being a successful MD to a thriving business, Jeff also has a lot going in his personal life.
Married to Wendy, mother to his two youngest children, with two pet dogs and two horses to ride, feed, and exercise, there’s certainly a lot keeping him busy on the home front.
Like Jeff, Wendy is a jill of all trades and there’s no job too big or too small for her to handle. She currently works in the Univent office as part of the procurement, bookkeeping, and logistics teams and is a valuable part of the Univent family.
Wendy and Jeff make a great team and it’s largely thanks to their friendship and good humour that the Univent team can function as the tight-knit unit they are.
Jeff and Wendy share the responsibility of driving their children to football games and taking their daughter, Paige, to horse-riding lessons, and they take turns cheering her on at horse shows on Saturdays.
Once every three or four months, Jeff, Wendy and their family try to go away on holiday to recharge. During the Christmas holidays, the business closes for two weeks, and this is when he and Wendy really get to wind down and relax.
Advice for future business owners
Jeff’s advice for aspiring entrepreneurs: “Make sure you understand every element of the business,” he says. Jeff believes that you can’t ask anyone to do a job that you don’t know how to do yourself. This is his key to success.
Jeff is not the kind of MD who doesn’t like to get his hands dirty. “When we’re busy, I’m in the workshop helping the lads build if there is a time constraint and the job needs to get done.”
What we can learn from Jeff is that it does not matter how many times you may fail, if you work hard enough and identify a real gap in the market, you could quite possibly be running a hugely lucrative company for over 12 years before you know it.
At Univent, we create bespoke heat recovery units, air handling units, ductwork, stainless steel canopies, and extractor fans, built to suit the specific needs of any business, no matter the size. Share your business requirements with us by calling 02476 367000 or emailing us at: firstname.lastname@example.org . You can also contact us via our website.