Tetra Mechanical is an interesting name for an HVAC company. When you look up the definition of the word, ‘tetra’, you’ll find that it is a type of South American fish. So, when I spoke with Kent Donnelly about how the company got that name, I learned an interesting story about the company and its owner.

You see, Donnelly took over the management of the company at a young age after his father suffered a severe heart attack. At the time, the family-owned business was called Sentinel Refrigeration – a name that was, according to Donnelly, hard for people to spell and remember. It also didn’t seem to have any cache within their marketing area.

He says he sat down and really analyzed the business, its performance-based service delivery methods, and its mission. He boiled everything down to four attributes, which he calls the Four Faces of Performance.

Tetra Mechanical's Kent Donnelly
Kent Donnelly, Tetra Mechanical

“Everything we do is about fairness,” Donnelly explains. “I’m talking about fairness in our approach to technology, in our treatment of the team, as well as in our pricing and delivery to customers.”

He adds that in geometry, a tetrahedron is a triangular pyramid with four equal faces or planes.

“For me, I felt the tetrahedron truly represented our four faces of performance. One face represents the Earth because we are stewards of the planet. Another represents HVAC equipment which requires us to do everything we can to give it a fair shake to produce comfort.

“The third face represents the customer. We must provide them a fair price for the job we do. And the last face is for our company. We must be as responsible and fair to our employees as we are to our customers.”

Donnelly shortened tetrahedron and the company’s new name became Tetra Mechanical.

Destined for HVAC

The Tetrahedron is Tetra Mechanical's symbol of performance
A Tetrahedron: The Four Faces of Performance that is the basis for Tetra Mechanical’s Name

The company was founded by Kent’s father, Mike Donnelly. Donnelly, a World War II veteran, made a good living as a salesperson working for the Coca-Cola company. One of his customers was a refrigeration contractor who also did work for Coca-Cola. Kent says his father was very intrigued by refrigeration and made good friends with this contractor.

In 1962 or 1963, Mike Donnelly had a dispute with Coke regarding a commission they refused to pay him. So he left, and with his friend the refrigeration contractor, started Sentinel. Unfortunately, his partner died very shortly after starting the business (not even three months later) leaving Mike with a company that he had very little knowledge about from a technical or business standpoint. He had to figure it out on his own.

Which he did. According to Kent, his dad rented a commercial refrigerator and ice machine and disassembled them to figure out how they worked. He then reassembled them.

“Then he went out and did what he did best – selling business,” Kent says.

At a very young age, Kent watched as his father brought non-working compressors home to work on.

“I just gravitated toward mechanical things,” he says. “My dad would bring home motors and let me tear them apart. By the age of seven, I could pretty much rebuild semi-hermetic compressors on my own. Dad would order the parts and I could rebuild them. Then Dad would reinstall them at the job site.”

Kent Donnelly, who by his nature prefers to work on his own in the background, says that people thought of him as the Michelangelo of refrigeration and air conditioning, destined for greatness.

“Where Michelangelo was born with a hammer and chisel in his hands,” Donnelly explains, “people say I was born with a set of Magnehelic gauges and wrenches in my hands.”

He humbly wanted to be the best at fixing everything in refrigeration and air conditioning without any fame.

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