Joe Powers Insitu Photography
After Katie Bigelow returned from serving two years in the Iraq war, she struggled to adjust to life as a stay-at-home mom. But things quickly changed when her side project grew into a multi-million dollar business. Here, the mother of seven shares with Metromode how she balances her booming Sterling Heights business and bustling family life.
Metromode: What were you looking for when you returned from Iraq?
Bigelow: Re-adjusting to civilian life was a hard road for me. My [post traumatic stress disorder] symptoms were mild compared to others, but garbage in the road, fireworks, and sudden loud noises would take my breath away. The transition was a bigger struggle than I had imagined. I went from having a professional career that encompassed my whole life to having a baby and staying home. It was a shock.
Metromode: Your defense contracting company, Mettle Ops, began as a side business—how did that develop?
Bigelow: I started my business because I had been talking about it for years and my husband told me I should do it because he believed in me. I had no idea how I would fit a business in with [at the time] five children, one of whom needed around-the-clock medical care.
Metromode: Where did the name come from?
Bigelow: I named Mettle Ops after my disabled son, Bret. He was so brave and so sick. He had over 25 surgeries in his five years. We used to say his best quality was his mettle because he faced each trial with courage. He died four months later.
Metromode: What's the most challenging part of your roles as bother mother and business leader now?
Bigelow: It’s been six years since I started the business and many things have changed. Daily, I am challenged to give my very best to those two roles and let go of all else. The second most challenging part is continual business growth.
Metromode: Mettle Ops takes a bit of a non-traditional approach to the government defense space, why is that?
Bigelow: Our approach stems from our history. My husband, who now works alongside me, is a retired army officer and I spent over ten years in the military. We are in defense contracting because we not only care about the war fighter, we were the war fighter. Transparency, tenacity, and grit are our core values.
Metromode: One tactic you took with your business was low overheads and top-level payouts, has it worked as a strategy and would you recommend it to others?
Bigelow: We don’t have shiny buildings and overpaid executives. Instead, we create greater value for our customers and ultimately, the war fighter. We are taxpayers, too. We want to see US defense budgets spent on the war fighter, not big business.
Metromode: Why did you choose Sterling Heights for your company?
Bigelow: Sterling Heights is our home. We are positioned close to our customers just down the street in Warren and many of our vendors are from Sterling Heights and surrounding metro areas. The more businesses we work with locally, the more our community benefits.