Before winning the Engineering and Manufacturing award, Katy Moss began her career finance aged 16 as a management trainee at HSBC Bank.
At 21 years old, she undertook an accounting course at a night school and obtained a job as a Finance officer at the institution after she qualified.
Before she knew it she was a lead school business manager responsible for 11 schools, tasked with assisting in procurement and helping schools share best practices.
Sadly, around the time of getting that the role her late father became very ill and died in shortly after in April 2011. While he was alive, he had tried to negotiate a sale of the business so as not to leave Moss and her mother burdened after he passed.
As the executors of his estate, Moss and her mother were advised to go into the business to understand it, and then dispose of it. The period that followed was very difficult, Moss says.
She explains: “A sale was not forthcoming and what could a 28-year-old girl add to the business that others couldn’t. Most of the staff had known me as a child, so it must have been hard to accept and listen to me.
“All I knew was that we all wanted the company to succeed and that this common goal was what needed to be the main focus as anything else was just a distraction from moving on.”
The business lost a few people along the way but it was then able to move in the right direction. After a couple of years, Moss moved on from her role at the school, it was a pivotal point for in her career.
“Going from banking and business management of a school was a shock but actually the skills I had acquired there were very transferrable,” Moss says. “What I lacked was knowledge about our specialist industry – the engineering of the products and then physically making them.”
Disaster struck again when Moss’s mother suddenly passed away. In the middle of it all Moss and her husband built their home and had a baby 18 months ago.
“It has been and continues to be a near vertical learning curve, hearing about products which are named such rude things too,” She says. “What has been great are the people along the way who have taken time out of their days to show me their processes, where our products go, why they are critical, what makes them great.
“All these things have helped me gain an insight into our business on another level so where initially I was simply focused on margins and figures, I am actually suggesting how to engineer and design the products to improve our customer’s processes. For me a lot of it is common sense and maybe because my father was such a leader in the industry some of it may even be genetic, who knows.
Today, her biggest personal challenge is juggling life, building a home, managing two estates as executor, and being a mother to a baby and a pre-teen.
“Trying to still be a good mother through everything that has happened at times has felt impossible but I know you can only do your best, you have to learn to accept you can’t do it all and find peace with that,” she says. “I won’t lie some wine has been involved too.”
On the business side, Trent Refractories is operating in a shrinking market and this poses a significant and ongoing challenge. Competition is high, with rivals that have lost a lot of business and are scrambling to pick it up.
Moss says: “We need to try and maintain our market share along with achieving new growth so we must try and diversify or do things differently to survive. I hope that a fresh approach, open, honest and also a passion for perfection will in time set us apart and give us an edge.”
Despite the challenges, Moss is optimistic about the company’s trajectory, profitability and culture, which she says is becoming more positive: “We are profitable and we make excellent products, I think we have some really positive customer relationships and we recognise that this is really important to ensure success.
“Winning this award really has made me reflect on the last five years and everything which has happened. I think we are still seen as the weaker sex, the ones who won’t roll up their sleeves and get dirty, not strong but delicate. Our business addresses these issues as neither myself or my ladies fall into that stereotype and I think people find it refreshing.”