A family affair: Directline Structures

A family affair: Directline Structures

The second in a string of features looking at what drives family businesses to succeed turns to Duncan and Katy Murray of Directline Structures...

Tell us a bit about Directline Structures, what does the company do?

We are one of the only companies in the area which boasts both professional designers in-house, and also undertakes construction as a contractor at a fixed price.


What is the history behind the business?

28 years ago Duncan was working for a Kent company and realised that his jobs were the ones making all the money.

Duncan went on to leave the company alongside its marketing manager and together they started up on their own, on a small controllable scale, designing and building big sheds for industry, but very good big sheds.

Katy has since joined the business after university and is now an equal partner in moving the business forward. She provides the architect’s skills to complement Duncan’s civil engineering skills and experience.

We have moved on from sheds over the years, to become a specialist in school buildings and general commercial projects.


Where are you both from, how old are you and what backgrounds do you have in business?

Duncan 63, was born in Dundee and brought up in Edinburgh. After working on motorways and designing offices for national companies, he moved to Kent to marry Jenny (now company director and a chartered accountant).

Katy is 27, born and raised in the Weald of Kent. She studied architecture at Bath and Kingston Universities. She is now fully qualified as a chartered architect.


What roles do you both have at the company?

We overlap a great deal. Part of our ethos has always been to ‘have the whole team in the room’. So clients are consulted throughout.

The project concept is not governed by any one person’s input, but constantly developed. This aids efficiency and speed, but also provides best value for our clients.

We are pleased to see several very big consultants now doing the same.

Obviously Katy does architecture and Duncan does engineering, but the overlaps are crucial.


At what point did Katy decide to follow in the family footsteps?

After finishing her architecture part two, the decision was whether to join a big architects’ practice as a very junior person, or to join the company. The latter may have looked the easy option but really the reverse is the case.


Do you talk about business outside of work?

Of course, until our partners tell us to stop. But the whole world is interesting when you understand buildings and infrastructure, and so everything is worth looking at and discussing.


What is your working relationship like in the office?

The demarcation is fairly automatic. Clients will normally prefer either the architect or the engineer as their contact and we work with that.

Duncan has no problem accepting advice from Katy... as long as he agrees with it! Katy is gradually taking on more of a management role in the office, and Duncan is happy to let go of some of the day-to-day client and project management.


What benefits does being a family business bring?

As well as being family, we are a small setup and we only have staff that fit in. This applies to our suppliers too, as we keep the same teams on projects.

Also as a tiny group of like minds we have a consistent attitude to service and fairness to all.


Where do you see the business five years down the line, will you both still be involved?

Katy will gradually take over. Duncan will carry on doing ‘the fun stuff’ which is using design flair and experience to get the best concept, and overcome technical challenges.

As a large proportion of our work is in rescuing projects that are overdesigned and over budget, this is a frequent requirement.

Also seeing a project from the stage of it being just an idea, to a design, planning and then construction, that first idea is where most efficiency occurs.

The variety of projects will undoubtedly grow as Katy brings her architecture skills into the company.

She has already expanded the services we can provide by offering more traditional architect’s services alongside our core design and build specialism.

Katy says she can’t see Duncan ever retiring, and hopes that he will always be willing to offer help and advice.