18/06/2009 - 00:00

PROFILE: Leanne Preston

18/06/2009 - 00:00

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From a simple idea to a global business, Leanne Preston has made some good decisions during the past 12 years.

PROFILE: Leanne Preston
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.

 

No stopping this Wild Child

Who is your mentor?

Bob Browning (chief executive of Austal). I can't speak highly enough of Bob.

What advice would you give to parents?

If I could give any advice to parents it would be never be afraid to immerse your children in your business world because I think they need to learn and understand the mechanics of business and the passion. And if they have entrepreneurial flair and a business understanding, there's nothing they will be afraid to undertake, it gives them confidence.

Have your children shown any interest in the business?

They very much would like to be involved with the company but I try to encourage them to follow their own dream first.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I now have a partner in my life and we absolutely love the water and boating is something that we love to do, and also travelling. And now that the children are away from home, being able to visit them and have family time is important for us.

Any plans to float Wild Child?

It's certainly something we've considered several times over the

past few years but we're glad that

we've remained private; we think

we've made a good decision.

We're actually in a really

good position; the

company remains

debt-free.

STANDING BY BUSINESS. TRUSTED BY BUSINESS.

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