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Celebrating 30 years of Cold Link

By John Ackermann
The first edition of The Cold Link was published in September 1987, and we look back over three decades of reporting on the local (and international) cold chain — how did we get to where we are today?

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John’s first editor’s picture!

Soon after starting my own business as a refrigerated distribution consultant, it became apparent that a need existed for a newspaper aimed at all role players in the cold chain industry. A newspaper specifically, as opposed to a journal type of publication. A publication that would appeal to those involved with the hands-on application of the industry.

The first ever front cover of The Cold Link in September 1987,
framed in John’s office.

My first attempt at this was to join up with Dennis Hayes of the Industrial Digest, with whom I had previously had contact with as an advertiser. Together, we launched the Cold Chain newspaper in September 1986. A year later, Dennis and I decided to part ways and the first Cold Link newspaper was published in September 1987.

With my involvement in the industry since 1970, I had managed to build up a wide network of contacts. This proved invaluable in developing the circulation of The Cold Link — in addition to the support from many of the readers and industry role players.

The first edition went out to 2 800 people and had 10 pages of content. In those days, we needed litho-positives and colour printing was rather expensive so I stuck to black and white mostly. I hastily had to learn the practicalities of printing. It was exceedingly difficult, because you used to do the layout in galley and to change something was time consuming. The process was not as straightforward as it is today.

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John showing me his archive of The Cold Link copies.

The distribution was also tedious. Many of the copies for posting was hand folded by myself. I would get some students in to help fold the copies, print the labels, and send for postage. This was all done in-house for quite a number of years.

The response from the industry was very encouraging in the form of advertising and participation, and I received many heartening letters.

The birth of SARDA
Through the readership, it became evident that the industry needed some form of coordination between all the role players in the cold chain. The idea of a refrigerated transport association was suggested and we held an interest meeting at the President Hotel in February 1990. We had a good attendance from across the country, with more than 200 people supporting the concept of bringing together the local cold chain industry.

This gave birth to the South African Refrigeration Distribution Association (SARDA), which was formed to cover not only refrigerated transport but all role players in the logistics chain. The first SARDA annual meeting was held at the Holiday Inn Hotel at the then-Jan Smuts Airport in June 1990. SARDA had a national council with centres in Johannesburg, Durban, and Cape Town, and I was honoured as the founding president.

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John on one of his many Northern Cape road trips.

A global network
The Cold Link created a platform for networking with global industry associations, which I met through visiting exhibitions elsewhere in the world. Also, associations visiting South Africa would make contact to gain access to the market. As the publication grew, more contacts were made with the publication by overseas companies and associations to gain access to my network of readers.

The Cold Link served as the mouthpiece of SARDA and with that, we developed a working relationship with the International Association of Refrigerated Warehouses (IARW). In association with IARW, we jointly presented three courses in cold store management, starting off in Cape Town at Stellenbosch University. From there we moved to Durban and then to Johannesburg, with a two-year period in-between.

We also built up good contacts with the International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) and eurammon. We have had visits from these associations to South Africa — all through the networking of The Cold Link.

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Roadtripping to Xina 1 (phase 2) concentrated solar plant near Pofadder in the Northern Cape, from left: Niel Lourens, Kevin Schlemmer, John Ackermann, and Nigel Amschwand.

Our readership has always been widespread — we even have readers in the most remote places, like Estonia.

Highlights over the years include sponsored visits to exhibitions in Thailand, Germany, and France. Not to mention the motor shows in Hannover, Paris, and Birmingham and the many visits to the annual IIAR convention in the US. Each time building up more contacts and expanding the network.

Refrigeration exhibition
Another concept that emanated from the magazine was that South Africa could certainly support a standalone refrigeration exhibition, which had not been done before. I stuck my neck out and ventured into the organising of an exhibition. And so the first Cooling Expo was held in September 1992 at the Goodwood Showgrounds in Cape Town. Exhibitors came from all over the world and to everyone’s surprise, the show boasted 2 070m2 of exhibition space with 2 882 visitors. It was a challenge, though, as there was political unrest in the country at the time: the Boipatong massacre had just taken place. We were considered a ‘violent country’ — but people still came.

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The 1992 front cover featuring the first Cooling Expo.

It was also decided to have a FRIGAIR conference alongside the Cooling Expo in 1992. SARDA joined forces with the South African Institute of Refrigeration and Air Conditioning (SAIRAC) to hold the first FRIGAIR conference outside Pretoria. For the first time, FRIGAIR actually also generated an income. The profit was shared between SAIRAC and SARDA and used for their educational programmes.

The exhibition hall wasn’t the best. I remember some of the challenges: people were complaining that during the night, the birds had covered their leaflets with droppings, and then, one night, it rained and all the leaflets were wet. But we had a great time and people who had been sceptical about the event were overwhelmed with the orders they took at the show. The rest is history. Since then we have had similar exhibitions.

Fair and unbiased coverage
One aspect that has contributed to the growth and expansion of The Cold Link was building a reputation of being unbiased to all parties in the industry. We provided fair coverage to industry events, whether people were advertisers or not. Readers have often been eager to have us participate in events, with the hope of receiving coverage.

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In the first edition — the aims of the newspaper.

The Cold Link became more like a family newspaper; in fact, people felt as if they were part of the newspaper. Many of our readers have passed on during the years and we have always tried to inform the industry of that.

The paper has also been used as a reference library, with people often referring to our articles.

Changes over the years
Several changes have taken place in the industry. For the refrigerated transport industry, one of the biggest impacts was when it became deregulated and the permit system fell away. This meant that the market was now open. The legal limit of the vehicle has changed on numerous occasions, allowing bigger vehicles and payload space and each time bringing a new generation of vehicles — all to maximise pay volumes. When I started, the maximum length of vehicles was 36ft (just over 11m) and now it is 18m long.

The wider use of screw compressors and plate heat exchangers have all affected the industry. This made systems more efficient. There has also been a broader uptake of the use of ammonia over the years, previously being used only in sizeable plants but these days it can be found in smaller plants too.

There has been two major changes impacting on the Cold Link. The first of which being the phase out of refrigerants. The Cold Link kept very close to every development of first the phase out of CFCs and now the phase out of HCFCs, as well as the greater focus towards global warming. We also provided coverage on every conference and meeting that we attended. This started off at the Cape Town Civic Centre with a later conference in Swaziland, forming a working committee to tackle the issue. The Cold Link gave coverage to all these events.

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At John’s office, a wall proudly boasts the laminated front covers of earlier The Cold Link editions.

The coverage of exhibitions and conferences has always been a major feature in the newspaper, and the Buyer’s Guide features, where we compared transport refrigeration units, cold stores and the like, proved very popular.

From a practical point of view, the second major change was the conversion directly from digital to print. Teething problems made life very difficult initially, while the industry adapted to the digital era.

However, digital photography has made reproduction so much easier. I have had the terrible misfortune of going to an exhibition and taking pictures, only to discover later on that there had not been a film in the camera and all was lost. Or, something had gone awry when developing the pictures and they all came out with a shade of blue and no colour. Once that was done, there was nothing you could do about it.

In the beginning, there was no Internet. We worked with faxes, personal contact, one-on-one communication, a lot of travelling around, and selling yourself. People would arrive from overseas and then phone me to set up interviews. There was no Google.

The future of Cold Link Africa
Ever since its inception, The Cold Link and now Cold Link Africa, has been loyal to the refrigeration industry, ensuring that all role players are kept informed of the latest developments — locally and internationally.

The newspaper has gone from strength to strength, now in its 52-page form, and is printed every two months and distributed to a wide network of readers around the world. Since its merger with Cold Chain Africa in June 2015 to become the new and improved Cold Link Africa, the paper has truly been able to provide ‘one consolidated voice for the refrigeration industry’.

It has since gone digital as well, boasting not only its own popular website ( where digital editions can be downloaded and news is uploaded daily, but also a variety of social media platforms for readers of all ages.

Here’s to another 30 years of Cold Link Africa!

Thank YOU!
A heartfelt thank you to all our loyal readers and advertisers who have supported us over the years. We could not have done it without you.

Messages from the industry

By Ilana Koegelenberg

John Ackermann and The Cold Link newspaper have played a crucial role in uniting the local industry over the past 30 years. John’s name is synonymous with all things refrigeration, and role players of all ages and titles have a great respect for him. Unbeknown to John, I collected a couple of messages from people who have worked with John over the years …

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Ilana Koegelenberg and John Ackermann taking a ‘selfie’ at the 2016 Chillventa show in Germany.

But firstly, from myself, I cannot find the words to adequately express the respect I have for the legend that is John Ackermann. I first met John in 2012 at the first Cool Logistics Africa conference in Cape Town. I was two weeks on the job as the new journalist for RACA Journal and Cold Chain, and needless to say, clueless beyond belief when it came to understanding the sheer scope of the refrigeration industry. John was instantly welcoming and friendly, insisting on taking a picture with the then still ‘opposition’.

Over the next few years, it would soon become apparent that it was impossible to talk about refrigeration to anyone in the industry without John’s name coming up. His followers were loyal and supportive and for years now I’ve heard the most amazing (and sometimes unbelievable) tales of this ‘Mister Ackermann’ character that I would bump into at so many events — locally and abroad.

When the official merger of Cold Chain Africa and The Cold Link in June 2015 gave birth to the new Cold Link Africa, I still had very little idea just how far and wide John’s influence really stretched. I soon learnt just how much the industry depended on him — even if his views were not always popular.

I will admit, as with many others I’m sure, there were times where I thought John and I would kill each other (said in jest) out of sheer frustration. But over the years, I have grown incredibly fond of him. His seemingly boundless patience with my often-ignorance is commendable, and I cannot think of a single person who has taught me as much as John has (even if it was begrudgingly sometimes).

The hours, the days that I have spent at John’s office in Montague Gardens will stay with me for life. The passion with which he would pull out photos from decades ago, meeting notes from the 1990s, or Cold Link editions from way before my time … I have been overwhelmed by the sheer size of his archive and knowledge. It seems the entire history of our industry is stored in that office. It was humbling to have John show me the original edition, the litho plates, the photo library … Our industry will never know how lucky it is to have someone like John as the custodian of its memories. (And I will never know how he remembers everything!)

From endless drives to Pretoria for the HCFC stakeholder meetings to the many hours at the Wimpy or some coffee shop near the airport to try and put together the next edition, John always found time to share his knowledge, even if I sometimes had no idea what he was talking about. Despite all his other commitments, John always found time for the newspaper — even if it meant us spending early morning hours or Sundays at the office (him in Cape Town and me in Johannesburg), piecing together the giant puzzle that is Cold Link Africa. (Deadlines — what is that?)

John, I know you will probably be super annoyed at me for putting this together, but you deserve to be thanked for your years of dedication to this newspaper and the industry. Also, thank you for everything you have done for me personally. It is a pleasure and an honour to work with you. And no, you cannot retire yet!

Ilana signature 200


The industry thanks you

Andrew Stewart of DDL Equipment shared this image of the time he and John went to the
International Institute of Ammonia Refrigeration (IIAR) convention in New Orleans, US, in March 1997.
This was a memorable trip for both.

“30 years ago, if you wanted to know anything about the latest in commercial, industrial or transport refrigeration, you looked in The Cold Link, just like you do today. You cannot say that about any other trade publication. All due to one man!” — Nigel Amschwand, GEA Africa

“What can one say about John … Yes, he’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere (if it concerns refrigeration), because he’s Mister Refrigeration! And to top it all, he’s a decidedly nice chap. Congratulations on the 30 years, John.” — Trevor Dyer, AC&R Components

“I met John back in the 1990s when he held his first safe handling of refrigerants course. It was held at the then Wingfield College with eight candidates, of which I was one. No one ever believed that it would be where it is now. Many scoffed at that idea. Industry needs unselfish people with vision and although very determined in his opinion, it is usually correct. There are few with the same consistent drive and vision in today’s world like John.” — Geoff Hobbs, Techniskills

“John, you are an icon in the industry. It is my privilege to have a friend and brother like you, a man of unquestionable integrity.” — Mark Watters, Elite Fibre

“It was a delightful pleasure for me to have made the thermal test chamber a reality for South Africa together with John. Without his dedicated and inspiring way and his open and friendly manner, this successful project wouldn’t have been possible. From Germany, best wishes for the next 30 years of publishing and thank you for your support, John!” — Michael Schuster, GIZ

“Congratulations on this remarkable achievement, John. Your contribution to both our industry and this publication is incredible. On behalf of the industry at large, we are most appreciative!” — Steven Friedmann, ebm-papst SA

“John really is one of the ‘old men’ of the industry; a man with a passion for what is right and correct. He has never been one to roll over and accept something he does not agree with. This is one of his most endearing characteristics. When you sit there and he starts to turn that lock of hair of his, well you know something is coming. John over the years has been a good friend; I will never forget the time when he stood in the gap for me as he has for so many. Here’s to a memorable 30 years — may we be blessed with your company.” — Andrew Perks, A Perks Enterprises

“For me, coming into our industry was a very cold experience. The first warm heart and handshake was from John Ackerman, with a guidance of ‘keep your head down and do what you need to do’. Thanks, John.” — Cassie Steenkamp, Power Compressor Exchange

“Congratulations to John and Cold Link Africa on their 30-year milestone. We appreciate and value the role that The Cold Link has played in the industry as a platform for sharing news and events. Wishing you much success into the future.” — Clinton Holcroft, Serco

“I would just like to thank Cold Link Africa and John for all the wonderful articles he wrote and published for Bitzer in the early years. He really helped us find our feet.” — Rudy van Driel, Bitzer SA

“Congratulations, John, for your 30-year achievement. Will still look forward to more very informative editions to come. Wishing you all the best for the future.” — Peter Hoetmer, Metraclark


“John to me is a pillar of our industry. His relentless quest in having us do the right thing is and has been an inspiration. His involvement with SAIRAC having driven many adult education initiatives. His push for industry standards, especially around greenhouse gases without the help of government. His contribution to the advancement of our sector and voicing issues beneficial to the future. I thank John for being who he is and congratulate him on 30 years.” — Derick Truscott, AMS / Elta Group

“John has been one of the great mentors for me (and many other younger people in the industry), having had the opportunity and privilege to work with him on many different levels. He has a razor sharp intellect, but balances this with humour and humanity. One of the greatest lessons I learnt from John is to ask the right questions to get the job done without fear of anyone else’s opinion. He has given his life to the refrigeration industry, making it better wherever he could. I would like to thank John personally for what he has meant to me and for the selfless work he did for our industry.” — Dawie Kriel, Energy Partners

“Thank you, John, for all the assistance you have given us at Eurocool in numerous ways; it is greatly appreciated. We wish you well for what lies ahead.” — David Mackay, Eurocool

“Thank you for your contribution and service to our industry over the years, John. Your steadfast commitment to good practice and excellence is an example to us all. We wish you many more years of success.” — Robert Hanssen, Cubicool International

“In my mind, there are less than a handful of people that truly stand out through their unrelenting, and most of all selfless contributions for the betterment of our industry. Besides my late father, and significantly so Rory Macnamara, John Ackermann in my mind is a doyenne deserving of more words and accolades than I can express in a couple of sentences. So here goes:

Congratulations! There are not enough words to describe, give credit to, and thank you for your selfless efforts and the personal time that you have so clearly dedicated, not only to the publication of The Cold Link, but to all the links in the cold chain. John, you are an icon of our industry and I am so very proud to have had the opportunity to interact with you, both on a professional and personal level.

John, please accept our hearty congratulations on your thirtieth anniversary of The Cold Link! We sincerely thank you for the years of service and we are looking much forward to working with you for many years to come.” — Dominick Kempe and Susanne Döbelin, ToolSense

“Over the years, when an issue of Cold Link Africa lands on my desk, I am prompted to put my feet up (briefly), divert the phone, and browse its pages with a cup of coffee. The world can stop while I catch up with the happenings in South Africa’s refrigeration industry. Most of my practical information has come from its pages, as well as a few enquiries. In Cold Link you have created something of immense value to everyone in our industry and I thank you for it.” — James Cunningham, Barpro Storage

“I could fill a whole Cold Link Africa with my thoughts about what John has contributed to OTTC over the years. He’s been one of our greatest supporters and I’ll send my (long) congratulations to one of OTTC’s greatest supporters, personally.” — Isolde Döbelin, OTTC


“’Oom’ John, as Mr Ackermann is affectionately known to all the past and present staff at Phoenix Racks, is a legend in our industry! Mr Ackermann has always been willing to share his vast knowledge and sage advice. We at Phoenix would like to congratulate John on this awesome milestone and once again thank John and Cold Link Africa for their fantastic support over the years. We wish Mr Ackermann and Cold Link Africa all the best for the future.” — Graham Conway, Phoenix Racks

“John Ackermann is well respected within our industry. His insightful questioning and subsequent articles give pause for thought and are very often hard-hitting. HC has always enjoyed his visits to us and the wealth of knowledge he has accumulated over the years of his intimate involvement with our sector. Well done, John, for your amazing contribution. We congratulate you on your achievements. We look forward to more of the same.” — Robert Kruger, HC Heat-Exchangers

“John, I do not know anyone else who has put so much of their time and effort into our industry. From SARDA and SAIRAC to ACRICSA and FRIGAIR, you have been involved and taken the lead, all while running your own business and being the editor of Cold Link Africa and a member of the local Rotary. We salute you as a true stalwart and leader. The refrigeration and air-conditioning industry in South Africa owes you a big debt of gratitude. Thank you and God bless you, John Ackermann.” — André van der Merwe, Evapco South Africa

“Mister John Ackermann (aka ‘Oom’ John) is a truly unique and exceptional individual. Over the last several years, I have gotten to know John well and today I can say it is an honour to call him a close friend. I have known John for some 25 years+.

In the early years, his direct approach would catch me off guard, but over time I came to realise that he has an incredible skill of being able to zone into the heart of the matter. His legendary “Sorry?” and hearing problem are sometimes used as a convenient technique to be able to gather his thoughts and ‘attack’ with a different line of questioning. I learnt the hard way that if John asks you a simple question with an apparently obvious answer, watch out, it is a trap!

Having been present at several interviews where he would be gathering material for an upcoming Cold Link article, I was able to witness his practical thinking and impressive questioning techniques. Very often the interviewee (including myself!) would give complex and convoluted answers, but eventually, John would prevail and get him or her to bring it down to the basic first principles that his readers can understand. There have been some rather heated exchanges, but eventually the dust settles and the interviewee accepts that it is easier to come across to John’s ‘simple way’ of thinking than to endure further interrogation.

No visit to John’s office is complete without him dashing off to his Cold Link archive to find an interesting article relating to the subject matter at hand. His substantial archive is also useful to find material from a decade or two ago, related to a new development (for example an expansion) at a given site or project. The bottom line: if it was a meaningful industry event, he has it recorded somewhere in those thousands of pages.

Across the length and breadth of our country, from large companies to small, from CEOs to apprentices, John and The Cold Link have touched the lives of literally thousands of people. The Cold Link is a ‘time capsule’ of the last 30 years of our industry. Perhaps without realising it (even taking it for granted), we have been able to stay in touch with the goings-on of the entire spectrum of the trade in which we earn our living.

I cannot think of another person who has made as large a contribution to our industry as that made by John Ackermann. Nearly every single meaningful cause in our industry has John either leading from the front or devoting his personal time and support. The definition of a charitable man is he.

Our industry is blessed to have John Ackermann and his Cold Link. Thank you, ‘Oom’ John!” — Kevin Schlemmer, Cool Check

What role has The Cold Link played in your life?

It’s 30 years later and there is no denying that The Cold Link has been a crucial part of the local refrigeration industry for a long time. What is your fondest memory of John and the newspaper? Share your stories with us by sending them to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  as we celebrate three decades!

Click below to read the September/October 2017 issue of Cold Link Africa

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