'Don't let things stop you doing what you dream of'

Businesswoman tells of cancer battle while starting firm

Sarah Bosley


Sarah Bosley



Abigail Brown

Abigail Brown

This year saw one Thatcham businesswoman take on the toughest challenge of her life – cancer. And battling against the odds she has continued to grow her company throughout her treatment.

Abigail Brown launched her employment company, Openingz.com, in the summer of 2015, but by the end of that year she was given the devastating news that she had stage 2 bowel cancer.

I meet Abi at The Lodge, at Newbury Racecourse, and it is only halfway through our coffee that she tells me that she now has to wear a colostomy bag.

To look at the bubbly 41-year-old you would have no idea of the trauma she has been through and that is the way she likes it.

Continuing to show the gritty attitude that has seen her battle the disease at the same time as developing her fledgling company, she tells me that it “required six months of treatment to reduce the tumour in order to successfully operate in August of last year”.

Recruitment is Abi’s passion and as soon as she first started working in the industry she realised it was what she “was born to do”.

She grew up in Hermitage, attending The Downs School, Compton, before moving to Newbury’s St Bartholomew’s School to take A-levels in English, business studies and theatre studies.

“I just wasn’t prepared for the transition from GCSE to A-level,” she admits. “I wasn’t very academic.

“So after school I spent a year as an au pair in Texas.

“When I came back to England I took a job in office admin as I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to do.”

But the lure of America was too much and in 1998 Abi headed back Stateside, where she spent six months temping, before seeing an advert in a paper that started her on the road to recruitment.

“It was a fairly small advert,” she recalls, “but I felt that it was describing me as I read it.

“So I responded to the advert and got the job.”

It was an admin support position for a company called Volt and within six months Abi was promoted to a field rep role.

“That involved prospecting, knocking on doors; it was a fantastic experience. That was where I realised I loved recruitment and that it was my calling.”

When she returned to England in 2003, her contacts at Volt helped line up an interview for her at Robert Half International.

“I lasted there about seven months,” she says. “It was all about KPIs [key performance indicators] and numbers, numbers, numbers.

“It wasn’t a healthy environment for me.”

So Abi moved to Dovetail Group in Newbury, joining on a contract basis to fill a space on the admin desk. She ended up staying for eight years.

“The fit at Dovetail was so much better as we were allowed to focus on longevity and quality,” she explains.

“We were doing things right and that sat so much better with me.

“It was my time there that helped my local development in the industry too. I developed my local reputation and a network.

“The time in the US was a great foundation, but it was my time at Dovetail that grew my confidence and so it was really tough to decide to leave.”

But an opportunity to join Imago Group, in Thatcham, as the international recruitment manager was too good an opportunity to turn down and Abi left Dovetail – and started on the path that would lead to where she is today.

“I helped them fill internal roles and in 2012 we also created Openingz as a limited company,” she explains.

“I was there for three years and then in 2015 Imago was acquired by ScanSource.

“It didn’t make sense for them to keep Openingz and the opportunity came up for me to part ways with them and take Openingz with me.”

After a bit of reflection Abi says she realised she “might never get a chance like this again” and went for it, taking on the recruitment firm and continuing to specialise in the niche sector of audio visual.

“It was a bit scary, but in the summer of 2015 Openingz became my business,” she adds.

“I found that the clients I had already responded more positively to me being on my own.

“It was tough going; I have picked up four or five clients and several assignments now, but I didn’t raise my first invoice until the October.

“It was just my resilience that saw me through and I just about made it to that point.”

But the crushing blow of cancer came just months later, in December 2015.

“I was diagnosed with advanced bowel cancer,” she reveals.

“Fortunately it was stage 2 and it required six months of treatment before an operation in August last year.

“Early last year Nick Richards and John Panczak, two directors from Laudis Business Advisors, who I had met through networking started referring customers to me and they have proved to be very valuable, so, despite being ill, I still managed to keep the business going. Due to these referrals, I now recruit for organisations outside of audio-visual and enjoy the variety of industries we’re involved with.

“I kept my illness very discreet but it did mean I couldn’t be as active as I wanted to be. But the operation was a huge success and now it’s important to me to raise awareness and let people know that you can cope with something life- changing such as this.

“Pay attention; get things checked out. It is about reassuring people we can get through these things.

“I am very fortunate that it turned in to a positive outcome for me – part of my business is interviewing by video, which was my savour for those four months when I was at home, unable to drive and beginning the early stages of recovery.”

Networking is hugely important to Abi and she runs WAVE, an organisation for Women in AV [audio-visual], which she says is all about developing relationships, friendships, getting exposure for each other’s businesses and ensuring those working on their own are not isolated.

She is also an ambassador for Buzz Connect and works to raise awareness with Colostomy UK. Abi is also very active, attending up to 10 gym sessions a week.

“There is never enough time, but I love what I do,” she says. “I am continuing to get stronger, so I am really optimistic for 2018. It is going to be amazing.

“It has been a year of ups and downs and I am very proud that I have managed to keep the business consistent throughout everything. It is my passion, my life, my livelihood, so I didn’t have a choice but to keep going.

“This is part of my story now and I hope it can inspire people; don’t ever let things stop you doing what you have always dreamt of.”

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