Joe Marchese in his teaching mode at the Community College of Allegheny County.

PITTSBURGH - Refrigeration and air conditioning contractor/educator Joe Marchese has long believed in on-the-job training. He first got involved in the business at the age of eight helping out at his dad’s New York City contracting company on Saturdays. His job was to take apart window air conditioners and salvage good parts for reuse.

Today, 35 years later, he is teaching technicians at a Pittsburgh steel plant the skills needed to service HVAC equipment at the massive facility. And while there is an hour or so of meetings in the morning, most of the day is devoted to maintenance and service, with Marchese guiding five techs who are literally learning on the job.

In between his first job and his most recent job, he ran his own refrigeration contracting companies, was national service manager for a manufacturer of soft-serve ice cream machines, was the facilities manager for a supermarket chain, and served as a sales rep for a rack controls company.

He now provides that practical knowledge to mechanics at the steel plant five days a week, to a dozen or so students in the HVAC program at a local community college a couple nights a week, to a growing audience of subscribers to his technical-oriented Website (, and to readers ofThe NEWSwith his monthly column.

It is that last (but hardly least) category that is providing the context for this profile, as a “behind the byline” look at one ofThe NEWScolumnists.


Marchese was born in the Bronx and raised in Yonkers, N.Y. His dad and three uncles formed a contracting company in the mid-1950s on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan. The travel distances were short, but the work plentiful.

“In fact,” said Marchese, “they didn’t do any after-hours work. They shut off the phone each night and didn’t turn it on again until 8 a.m. the next day.”

While in high school, Marchese continued to work in the family business while taking HVAC and refrigeration classes at a community college. After high school, he started working for his father almost full time.

When his father passed away in 1987, he took over the business at age 23 and ran it for a few years before starting his own business in Yonkers with the title Thermoabatic Mechanical Corp. Regarding the name, he said, “I was trying to sound scientific.”

There was an emphasis on refrigeration. “I always thought refrigeration was more constant work throughout the year, whereas a/c and heating were more seasonal. Refrigeration better suited me,” he said.

In 1992, he decided to get involved in the manufacturing sector by signing on as national service manager with Coldelite Corp., a maker of soft-serve ice cream equipment. “Most of my job was training,” he said. “I traveled and did training for distributors. It was a fun job.”

But a relocation of the company to North Carolina made him decide to return to New York after a year and restart his service business.

The HVACR lab at the Community College of Allegheny County, one of Joe Marchese’s teaching locations.


The transition to Pittsburgh had a personal aspect. His parents first - and unexpectedly - met Joe’s future wife while she and a friend were traveling through Europe. Marchese’s parents and the girls, who lived in Pittsburgh, crossed paths at a restaurant in Switzerland and then at another location in the country some 100 miles away.

Sensing the hand of fate, the parents invited the girls to visit New York when they got back to the states and the girls took up the offer, with Joe acting as their guide.

Joe began to see one of the girls fairly regularly, including one or the other often flying each weekend between Pittsburgh and New York. He and Anita were wed in 1988 and began to raise a family. They now have three boys.

By 1996, Marchese decided to permanently relocate to Pittsburgh so his wife could be close to her family. He took a job as facilities manager for Super K supermarkets and spent each day “dealing with contractors who serviced the refrigeration equipment. I visited the stores where there were major issues and worked with the contractors.”

From there he went to a company that made controls for supermarket racks and then decided to return to refrigeration contracting work by forming Coldtronics in 2000.

The starting and restarting of a refrigeration contracting business was not that much of a challenge, said Marchese.

“Actually, a service business is easy to start. Everyone is looking for a deal. All you have to do is give them a better price at first.” That even included offering a free diagnostic service call for a potential customer. His good work on the job helped him build a committed customer base. It was almost all refrigeration work, except for satisfied customers who asked him to also do the HVAC work at their places of business.


The teaching aspect of his career started in the mid-90s, when he began to do some training at meetings and seminars of the Refrigeration Service Engineers Society (RSES). An RSES member, Art Miller, was affiliated with the Community College of Allegheny County; he asked Marchese if he wanted to teach there part time. He continues to do that night training to this day.

The steel mill day job started late in 2007, when the local union representing operating engineers won a contract concession with AK Steel to have some of its members do HVAC work at the mill rather than have it done by outside contractors. Marchese was asked to be on site throughout the week, guiding those already skilled in such areas as pipefitting with the technical requirements of HVAC work.

“This was a really unique opportunity. It is totally on-the-job training,” he said.

The day job caused him to once again step away from his own contracting firm, but the Website arose about the same time. He noted, “A lot of full-time techs these days just don’t have time to go to meetings at night for training. The Website will allow them to learn at their own pace.”

In addition to running contracting companies, teaching, and operating a Website, he has also managed to consistently provide a quality monthly column forThe NEWSfor close to a decade. That poses just one question: When does he find time to write the darn thing?

Publication date:03/31/2008