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Leanne Preston

PROFILE: Leanne Preston

LEANNE Preston never thought a case of head lice would result in a global business. From a start-up 12 years ago to a company with distribution channels all over the world, the founder and chief executive of Wild Child had no inkling of the journey a case of hygiene and determination could deliver.

"I really don't know what I would be doing now," says Ms Preston when quizzed how her life would have turned out if her then eight-year-old daughter hadn't come home from school with head lice.

"People ask whether, if the marriage was still going and your daughter didn't get head lice, would you have done this, and I really don't know."

The first steps of Ms Preston's now-global business have been well documented - under the enormous strain of a marriage break-up and with three young children, Ms Preston found a solution for head lice using natural ingredients rather than chemicals, which may be harmful to children.

Before that, Ms Preston was a stay-at-home mother supporting her husband's business ambitions.

As for her own aspirations, she admits it was not something she thought about while growing up.

"I guess I was cut short because at age 15 my parents said that it wasn't important for girls to be educated, so I had to go out and work," she said. "And really, that's where my business life began because my very first job was working for a shire council; I was taking minutes at meetings and sitting in on council meetings all day so I actually got to see how boards were run and how it all operates.

"That gave me the confidence to really run my own board from what I had learned in those early years."

Wild Child's current board boasts an impressive list of prominent people, including Austal chief executive Bob Browning and former managing director of Channel Nine Melbourne, Paul Waldren.

"I look for people with a certain skill set who can really contribute to Wild Child's growth," Ms Preston says of recruiting high-calibre board members.

"I haven't had a knock back yet."

Following the council stint, Ms Preston worked in the real estate and finance sectors, while a later position at Coles Myer provided her with great insight into the workings of a large corporation.

The circumstances of how the business started - in the lounge room of a rented house in Margaret River with $30,000 from a property settlement - have also garnered Ms Preston much media attention, with headlines often playing on her divorced status.

Looking back, Ms Preston said the headlines were a double-edged sword.

"There are times when I cringe because I think just about every heading is 'single mum' or 'divorced mother of three' and I think, you don't ever hear that with a guy; they (media) never refer to what his status might be," she said.

"But on the positive side, it's certainly given us some great stories and opened some amazing doors; and it got us coverage where, had it just been a head lice product, it may not have."

Despite the headlines, Ms Preston does not regret having her early struggles out in public and has even documented her trials and triumphs in a book, published two years ago.

The company, which already distributes to 14 countries and will start shipments to France next month, is about to start a new chapter with anti-fungal products to be launched within 12 months.

Wild Child will also re-launch its baby care products range, several years after a fire gutted the only facility the company had mandated to manufacture the products.

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