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Above and beyond: Cooldrive Auto Parts managing director and CEO John Blanchard Jr.

THE peak industry body representing automotive air-conditioning, electrical and cooling technicians across Australasia, VASA, announced recently that Cooldrive Auto Parts managing director and CEO John Blanchard Jr had won its 2018 Pioneer Award.

Inaugurated in 1996, the awards recognise individuals who have contributed “above and beyond the call of duty, to standards, innovation and growth of the industry”.

In announcing this year’s winner, VASA president Ian Stangroome said the award recognised Mr Blanchard’s “pursuit of growth and expansion in the quest to continue to provide outstanding customer service to the dynamic automotive aftermarket vehicle repair industry”.

Cooldrive has been operating in Australia for more than four decades, with Mr Blanchard’s parents John Sr and Shirley starting up in 1977 in modest circumstances, trading as Melbourne Auto Air and selling automotive air-conditioning parts from the family’s garage.

Today, Cooldrive is one of Australasia’s biggest auto aftermarket component suppliers, employing more than 500 people in Australia and New Zealand who operate from more than 30 branches supplying a broad range of products and services across automotive air-conditioning, engine cooling, engine management, rotating electrical, accessories and workshop lines.

Mr Blanchard, who is also a founding director of VASA (set up in 1993), said he was appreciative of the recognition and thanked his parents “who got me into this crazy business” – and who were also in attendance at the awards ceremony, held as part of the VASA Wire & Gas 2018 conference in Queensland last month.

John Sr is also a former recipient of the VASA Pioneer Award, having received the honour in 2000.

“I was a chartered accountant by trade and … as the business grew, my dad asked me to come and work in the business, even though I’d been packing air-conditioners since I was in school!” John Jr said. “So it was one crazy business.

“I’ve seen a few of these awards presented but I never expected to be presented one … I don’t feel old or close to retiring, I’m enjoying my job tremendously and I’ve never been more enthused or excited to be in the industry.

“I’ve never felt more invigorated to be involved in the company – where it’s going, and where the industry is going.”

He also noted that the Blanchard family’s involvement in the automotive industry actually goes back 100 years when his grandfather bought a business selling petrol and repairing cars in 1918.

Among other awards presented at the event, life memberships were given to former VASA directors Mark Padwick (who is also Sanden International Australia managing director) and David Jackson (who also picked up a special recognition award).

By Terry Martin