Karen Kirby, from Indbuild, recovers from brain haemorrhage to lead company

Karen Kirby made one of her bravest moves setting up her own business, but that battle was overshadowed by her fight against a brain haemorrhage. She spoke to Deputy Business Editor Steven Hugill about her experiences and national recognition

PILES of CV's sit neatly arranged on Karen Kirby's desk.

The company is looking to take on six workers to continue its expansion, and she is scrutinising every one in great detail.

Her firm, Indbuild, is a specialist in steel erection, wall and roof cladding, rainscreens and industrial doors and windows, and has worked on elite developments such as Yorkshire's famous Headingley cricket stadium and Ferrari and Maserati showrooms.

Mrs Kirby is Indbuild's business development and policy director, having took the decision in 1998 to set up her own business.

While working for a rival firm, her experience of the industry had been tainted by the previous regime's attitude.

This was her chance to make her own mark.

A woman starting out in a perceived male-dominated environment, the odds were seemingly weighted against her.

But now, 15 years later, she looks back with pride at Indbuild's remarkable rise.

Winning a British Small Business Champions Award in 2003, she has been central to the growth of the company.

It recently moved into a new 10,000sq ft base in Colburn Business Park, Catterick Garrison, North Yorkshire, and works on projects worth up to £2m, employing 15 direct staff and about 70 sub-contractors throughout the UK.

It secured a deal to work on Tracerco's £8.6m measurement and technology centre, in Billingham, near Stockton, which will develop products for the oil and gas industry, and fitted rain coverings, cladding and rainscreens on Outwood Academy Acklam, formerly Oakfields Community College, in Middlesbrough.

But Mrs Kirby has also fought a more serious battle.

In 2008, she suffered a brain haemorrhage.

It changed her life in every way, including meaning the former financial director could no longer add up sums.

However, the fighting spirit she summoned 15 years ago came to the fore again.

Today, she will find out if her inspired leadership has won her a Natwest everywoman Award, a honour celebrating the impact of women-owned enterprises across the UK.

She said: “Within three months of finding out about the haemorrhage, I thought I was OK.

“But I wouldn't admit to myself that I couldn't do things and that my body would shut down.

“It's an unseen disability because nobody can see what's happening inside your brain.

“When I was recovering, I did a lot of walking and writing.

“It was while I was on one walk, I think I'd gone for about seven miles, that I had a moment of inspiration.

“If I was going back to work, I was going back with the intention of growing the business.

“I thought to myself, 'do we want to stay in our security blanket or take that next step and grow?' because I knew we had to size up.

“When I came back I started off doing the basic things, I couldn't do the things I had before.

“But I found enjoyment in everything, and it gave me a realisation of how important every single part of the company is to its success.”

Mrs Kirby's husband, David, is Indbuild's managing director, with daughter Lisa operations director and son David a draughtsman.

But it's the wider family Mrs Kirby takes pride in; its team of workers, its customers; the people who benefit from its services.

She said: “I set the business up 15 years ago after I was made redundant at another company, and decided there and then I never wanted to work for anyone else again.

“I set up with one of my ultimate goals to treat people better than I had been.

“I just felt in my heart that it was something I had to do, so I was brave, I was gutsy, and I got started.

“It wasn't easy at the beginning and Dave, who was going to be a prison officer, started as managing director to help me.

“But people had faith in us and we started to grow.

“We have gone through two recessions, and that learnt me an awful lot about business and politics.

“It's all about team work here, I saw that when I was off, and how people worked together to succeed.

“I'm chuffed with myself and really proud of my family, especially my children.

“When we were going through the difficult times of starting the business, it wasn't easy as a family.

“But we all went through that pain to enjoy the gains and the Natwest award would just be another part of those.”

  • Indbuild is holding an open day from noon on Friday, December 13, when Richmond MP and Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will officially open its new premises and mark 15 years in business.

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