How Clare Brophy juggles an international business career, four children, including an Emmerdale soap actor, and a dance school

It’s a rare thing for the boss of an international manufacturing firm to put a shift in on the factory floor but Clare Brophy was up for the challenge.

The president of stairlift manufacturer Handicare and vertical lift firm Garaventa Lift in Europe recently spent two full days working in Handicare’s factory in the Netherlands and says she was ‘dead’ at the end.

“I said ‘for goodness sake don’t just have me stood there watching what people are doing, give me a job,” she says. “I welded, I made some seats, I hung the rails and powder-coated and was absolutely shattered.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

It’s an exercise that Brophy is keen to repeat across all three of the stairlift and vertical platform factories under her remit. The other two are in Italy and Kingswinford, Dudley.

Clare Brophy, president of stairlift manufacturer Handicare and Garaventa Lift in Europe and rest of the world. Picture: Gerard BinksClare Brophy, president of stairlift manufacturer Handicare and Garaventa Lift in Europe and rest of the world. Picture: Gerard Binks
Clare Brophy, president of stairlift manufacturer Handicare and Garaventa Lift in Europe and rest of the world. Picture: Gerard Binks

"The passion that the guys in the factory have simply blew me away,” she says. “The attention to detail and their determination to make it perfect was just so humbling.”

Brophy, who is based at the company’s Guiseley office, was promoted to her new role in January this year from her previous role as executive vice president, Europe and rest of the world, following a reorganisation of the European operation by its Canadian owner Savaria Corporation.

“Previously, we were functionally-led,” she says. “I was commercial, there was a guy for finance and a guy for operations. Because we had so many different CEOs, we never had a strategy as to where we were going and how we were going to get there. Savaria decided to just have one leader for Europe and rest of the world and it was me.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Savaria has a clear goal: to reach CA $1bn (£580m) turnover by 2025. It currently stands at CA $837m (£488m) according to its latest accounts.

Handicare and Garaventa together employ about 1,200 people out of 2,000 across the whole organisation.

Handicare manufactures stairlifts in the Netherlands and UK, with an assembly plant in China. Garaventa Lift has a factory in Italy, providing custom lifts for commercial and residential applications. It sells via a network of trusted dealers, and direct sales offices in the UK, Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Poland and Czech Republic.

Brophy says her current focus is to create better communication between staff at Handicare and Garaventa Lift and also improve teamwork between the different sites of each business.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

"I want to break those silos down and get people collectively working on our strategy,” she says. “We need to make sure that we have the right people working in the right positions who are collaborative with their working.”

Bradford-born Brophy began her career at the age of 16 when she joined Acorn Stairlifts but she founded her first enterprise when she was 13 years old and opened a dance school. “I had a dance school scholarship and what I learned there I would pass on to the children around our area because they couldn’t afford to go,” she says.

While studying for her A-Levels, Brophy had dreams of joining the police force but after taking a part-time sales job at Acorn Stairlifts, based in Keighley, she realised she had a talent for selling and could earn a lot more money there. She decided to drop her A-Levels and work full-time instead, buying her first house at the age of 18.

Age 21, having rapidly worked her way up the business, Brophy and a colleague decided to set up their own stairlift company, Companion Stairlifts. “We knew we had the capability of running a stairlift company but I look back now and I think where did I get that confidence?” she says.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

They approached Minivator, a stairlift manufacturer who decided to invest in the business. “We had £20,000 ourselves to invest and they offered us £450,000 for a majority stake in the business,” she says.

Within four years they had formed a partnership with Help The Aged, now Age UK, which helped to drive growth. In 2010 the business was acquired by Handicare.

Brophy stayed at the company and became UK managing director in 2017 and a member of the senior management team in 2018. Handicare was acquired by Savaria in 2021.

She travels around the UK and Europe on a weekly basis. “I have four kids age 10 to 17. They’re used to me being away but at the moment it’s quite a lot. I’m in a new role so I want to be there in front of our people and if I’m visible they’ll get to know me a bit more.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

“I’ve said to the children it will calm down and we do spend time together at weekends. Family time is really important.”

On top of her busy career and family life, six years ago Brophy bought a dance school. “I bought it because my children dance. We have 10 teachers and I’m there at 8am on a Saturday getting all the three year olds into their classes. I love it. My life is non-stop but I do enjoy being busy.”

Meanwhile, her 11-year-old son, Huey Quinn, plays Kyle Winchester in Emmerdale and last year won a Soap Award for his role in the Al Chapman shooting storyline.

"He’s been in Emmerdale for 10 years. When he was a baby I saw an advert for a dark-haired 18-month-old little boy and decided to put Huey forward.”

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Initially, he wasn’t used very much as he was so little so Brophy would take him on set herself but these days her father is Huey’s registered chaperone for filming days. “He likes to have his time with grandpa when he’s filming and it’s a nice thing for them to do together,” she says. When not filming he attends his usual secondary school.

Brophy describes herself as ‘firm but fair’ in the workplace. “I’m demanding but it’s coming from a place of wanting to be the best for the customer,” she says. “I’m equally super supportive. I’m happy for mistakes to be made but what I’m not happy about is if we don’t learn from those mistakes.”