Faculty Connections – Meet Bill Oliver

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Bill, 64, is a Master Instructor at The Refrigeration School. Bill was born and raised in Springfield, Illinois, and moved to Mesa, Arizona on his 16th birthday. He has been in the valley ever since.

Thanks for your time, Bill. How long have you been at RSI?

It will be six years in June. I am an air conditioning guy teaching electricity. I teach the very first class at RSI: Fundamentals of Electricity. Every single student—other than those in the Welding Specialist program—goes through my class first. Not only do I teach them electrical theory, but I also feel like I’m responsible for preparing them for their future classes as they move through their RSI programs: either EA, RT, or EMT.

You’re setting the foundation for their RSI experience.

Yes, I am. I’m not so full of myself to think RSI can’t run without me, but if I do my job poorly, the other instructors will struggle, and more importantly, the students will struggle when they get to harder classes. I have cross trained and am able to teach five other classes here, but the first phase is my passion because it’s not just about teaching the fundamentals of electricity, it’s about people building.

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You described yourself as an air conditioning guy. Tell us how you got started in the HVAC field.

I’d been out of high school for six months and was bussing tables in a restaurant. My dad said, “Hey son, what do you want to do with your life?” As a typical teenager I said, “Umm I dunno!” So, he said, “Well you’re coming with me because I want to be an air conditioning contractor. I want to learn the business.” We both signed up for air conditioning school in Phoenix. I graduated in 1977, and I’ve been in the industry ever since. My dad had his own residential HVAC business, while my career was mostly in commercial HVAC.

bill oliver

What was your favorite tool in the field?

Forget about the tools on the truck. I was in middle management, a project manager, for many years. My favorite tool was my computer. That’s where I planned, that’s where I budgeted, that’s where I made things happen. Honestly, when I got out of air conditioning school, I found out really quickly that I wasn’t good with my hands, unlike most of the students here. So, I thought, “What am I going to do with all this knowledge?” I was very smart. I just wasn’t good with my hands. But I made it work for me. I took an unusual career path. But that’s how you should think about RSI. When you graduate from RSI, you don’t have to be “just” an air conditioning tech, or “just” an electrician, or “just” a welder. There are many things that you can do, many career paths you can take, many doors that will open for you.

Tell us more about your path, Bill.

When I got out of A/C school, I got into the air conditioning wholesale industry. They sell to air conditioning contractors; I did that for a while. Then I got into energy management systems, building automation systems for commercial buildings. That was fun. From there, I got into estimating, and ended up being a chief estimator. And then I got into project management in the commercial HVAC world until I came here.

That’s awesome. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to fly airplanes, but that didn’t work out. I was an average student in high school. But when I got into air conditioning school, I had a whole different attitude because I knew this was going to change my life. This was going to be a career choice. I took it very seriously and got very good grades. I took it much more seriously than in high school. I still love airplanes though!

Why did you decide to get into teaching six years ago?

I’ve done a lot of teaching throughout my life, but not formally like I have here. I wanted to teach others the knowledge that I had accumulated over the years. I really wanted to make a difference in other people’s lives by helping, by sharing my experiences and knowledge so they could be successful too.

What do you enjoy most about teaching?

Honestly, I’m a tough instructor. I work my students really hard. But what I enjoy most is when students come up to me several months later—after they’ve left my class but are still in school—to thank me for being hard on them, for properly preparing them. That really makes my day. We also have graduates who come back into class to say “Hi”. When that happens, I’ll have them talk to my students. They’ll brag about their great job, the good money they’re making. They can show my students the real possibilities that are out there. That’s what makes my day when I can literally change the lives of others.

Why did you choose RSI?

When I found out the placement rate of the graduates here, I was knocked off my feet. Our graduates are placed in the field of their choice. Generally, they graduate one day and start their new job the next. That’s the highest placement rate I’ve ever heard of. I’m proud to say that I work for a company that changes people’s lives.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you?

My wife, Lisa, and I, have 12 grandchildren between us so far! We have been married about seven years now. There are probably many more grandchildren to come because I had four boys and a girl, and she had four girls and a boy! We have 10 kids between us.

If you could have dinner with anyone, alive or dead, who would it be?

I’m from the land of Lincoln and I love Abraham Lincoln. He’s my hero. He was a thinker, a wise man of God. I’d love to pick his brain, listen to his wisdom, and have him teach me a few things.

What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to new students considering RSI?

First of all, you need to understand that I feel very, very strongly that even though it says RSI on my shirt, I don’t work for RSI. I get a paycheck from them, but I work for my students. I’m here for them; to answer their questions, to teach them and to prepare them. RSI management is kind of my backup team for that.

New students need to understand that that’s the attitude I have when they come to my class. If they take school seriously, if they show up every day and work hard, most of my students will get As and Bs. I work very hard for them. I know how to teach them what they need to know. This school can change their lives, not only in the knowledge they’ll gain, but in the amount of money that they can make in their careers. But it’s up to them. It depends on what they do with the foundation they get from the school and what kind of individual they are. The only thing that can hold them back is themselves.

Another piece of advice I’d give them is when you leave RSI and take your first job, don’t worry about the money, get the field experience. You honestly won’t be any good at what you’re doing until you get field experience under your belt. You’ll learn more in one summer than all we can teach you in this school, and don’t let anybody tell you differently, even though this is a fantastic school. My A/C school didn’t tell me that. When I got out of school, I found out there was a lot I didn’t know, and it was scary. I tell my students they need field experience before they’re really, really good at this.

If you got an unexpected afternoon to yourself, what would you do with that time?

Honestly, I’d probably work on my “Honey Do” chore list. If we had some extra time, my wife and I would probably have dinner and go to a movie. I know it sounds boring, but that would be a lot of fun for me.

What was your favorite part of your time in the field?

I worked for Honeywell International for four years. I was a west coast regional project manager. I worked from home, which sounds really cushy, but I worked more hours doing that. I traveled to job sites and  ran multimillion dollar jobs. It was like having my own company without the risk. If I screwed up, yes, they could fire me, but I wouldn’t lose my house, my car, and everything else. As soon as the sales team sold a project, they’d just give me all my information and I did it all. I hired all of the contractors; I ran the job. I had weekly job meetings with the owner, with the contractors. That job was a blast.

If you were to tell someone “Thank you” for making you the person you are today, who would it be?

It would probably be my dad; he passed away a couple years ago. He wasn’t the nicest guy in the whole world, but he’s the hardest working man I’ve ever known. He taught me hard work.