Formulating for Success

Wild Child Cosmeceuticals

The single mother of three personally developed the company from the ground up after discovering a gap in the marketplace for more natural – and thereby safer – personal care products for children. Her vibrant personality and unswerving approach enabled her to transform that experience into a wildly successful Australian business and an international reach, selling in more than 40,000 stores globally with over five million products sold to date across the globe.

In a recent interview with us, company founder and CEO Leanne Preston discusses her passion for the business and gives some insight into Wild Child’s success.

“Wild Child began for me as a compromise between parenting and the need to gain an income,” she explains. “To some, the idea of a home based business sounds idyllic but the practicalities of maintaining a balance between home life and work require discipline and careful planning.

“Most clients don’t think about the difference between a home based business and a small to medium company; their expectation of service will be the same. Almost invariably, early experience will show that the customer will be the toughest boss you’ve ever had. Sadly, most small businesses or new enterprises are almost always under resourced; prudent outsourcing and time management can make the difference between success and failure.”

To become a successful entrepreneur, Ms Preston advises that one must possess qualities of vision and leadership whilst not shying away from hard work.

“Having a set of guiding principles was important to me at the outset; I always felt that the company had to have a reason for being other than making a profit. I think most of all it was about corporations having a duty of care that went beyond legislated practices. It soon becomes evident to our trading partners that we are an ethical company that avoids those that engage in sharp, unfair or predatory practices. It’s about reputation.”

Those principles include an ethical guiding force and integrity in action, principles Ms Preston says the company has always held its business partners to as well. She also describes the crucial role in shaping business decisions played by both intuition and information – in equal parts. The final key to her approach, she says, was “the knowledge that true fulfilment is to be found in making a difference to the lives of those who benefit from the products we produce.”

Early on, Ms Preston identified a level of scepticism within the marketplace in regards to its uptake of alternative medicines. This observation was key in Wild Child’s early development stage, leading the company to adopt a policy of utilising only natural products that were evidence based. In this way, explains Ms Preston, the company was able to demonstrate credibility within the cautious consumer base whilst ensuring that the company could defend its claims with confidence. “It didn’t take much education of consumers to convince them that there were better ways of doing things.”

Furthermore, the company has a particular interest in green business practices above and beyond its end products; indeed, sales figures suggest that by its focus on such practices, Wild Child has reduced toxic waste in Australia by more than 2000kg of concentrated pesticides annually.

“Our hero product,” shares Ms Preston, “is a line of head lice treatments marketed under the brand Quit Nits.” Quit Nits – the company’s first product line – has revolutionised head lice treatment and offered parents a natural alternative to what Ms Preston described as “the sledgehammer approach” that had been used previously.

“Prior to 1997 almost all head lice products were based on chemical pesticides such as malathion, permethrin and even lindane and DDT if you go further back,” she explains. “Most people don’t think about the fact that more than 90 per cent of the product is washed into the drain which in some circumstances end up in waterways, or worse, in the water table.”

Since Wild Child introduced its Quit Nits line of pesticide-free head lice lotions, the presence of pesticide-based products has decreased significantly, a result which Ms Preston considers both flattering to Wild Child’s vision and also supportive of Australia’s future.

“Wild Child was the first company to innovate in an arena that had been static for twenty years. Needless to say there were soon many emulators who thought we had a good idea.”

On the back of the success of the Quit Nits product line, Ms Preston began to evolve the company in an effort to include a broader selection of offerings for conscientious consumers. “Like most businesses, we morphed into areas that were not really in our original vision. For example, I saw myself as being a sales and marketing person and envisioned that’s what my company would specialise in. Little did I know; our volumes reached critical mass within ten years and we were almost forced to go into manufacturing. I opted for the most automated manufacturing plant which will give us excess capacity to allow for future growth.”

With products generally geared toward conscientious consumers as end users, Wild Child has managed to consistently meet the needs of this demanding market segment through its ability to innovate. In fact, Wild Child is now entering into a new phase of investment in innovation.

An opportunity integral to this evolution was first recognised by Ms Preston in 2009, leading to Wild Child’s acquisition of Harper Point Pty Ltd, which had a portfolio of more than three hundred personal care and pharmaceutical formulations along with other intellectual property. This acquisition enabled augmented research and development capabilities further to Wild Child’s existing R&D program. “The synergy of the two companies was tangible from the start, and it allowed us to offer turnkey solutions to other companies.

“Innovation is a key part of our culture and the ability to stay in front of the pack is directly relative to the calibre of your scientists,” Ms Preston continues. “I think that I am extremely fortunate to be married to our chief scientist. Not only is he my best friend, John innovates in real world settings and understands the nuances of marketing, which is crucial when you want to commercialise technology. It’s probably the reason why universities and pure research companies rarely commercialise technology effectively. They find it too difficult to bridge the gap between science and marketing.”

Furthermore, Ms Preston expresses her pride for the company in keeping “red tape” to a minimum. She describes Wild Child as a company constantly striving for better ways to shorten any process to a productive outcome. Every process in the business is regularly reviewed for its continuing relevance and where needed, it is redefined. These evaluations ensure that the desired outcome is encouraged and that value to clients is maintained. “Flexibility, mixed with agility and nimbleness, means that Wild Child is able to assimilate and adapt to the ongoing demands of the business.”

When asked about the value of industry relationships, Ms Preston is quick to identify the support of the company’s strong network of suppliers, clients and customers, without whom she says the company would not exist. “I think I am most proud of my board of directors,” she adds.

“One of the things that I took very seriously from day one was that I needed to access expertise and experience that I did not have. To counter that I formed a board that had expertise in areas such as corporate governance, law, finance, science and marketing. It was not an easy thing to do for a start-up company but I consider myself very lucky and have formed a great relationship and respect for my board members.

“I always had a mind that building a competent team had to take into account that we would grow into other areas, so I chose key personnel who were more qualified or experienced than I really needed.”

The company now employs two qualified chemists who oversee every aspect of operations ranging from quality control and product development to regulatory affairs and technical marketing. Despite this driving ambition, the Wild Child workplace is actually quite casual, says Ms Preston, with many of the company’s greatest ideas coming up in casual conversation around the coffee machine.

“I have found that encouraging freewheeling, sometimes comedic, conversation results in some interesting ideas,” she explains, once again demonstrating the vibrancy of her personality. “Our chemists are not as impressed as they have to try to turn an unconventional idea into reality but I find it interesting that the craziest ideas sometimes contain elements of serious innovation.”

The company is proud to announce the most recent result of this sort of innovation – the launch of an organic range of baby products about which Ms Preston is quite excited.

Indeed, despite the consumer caution that Wild Child has faced, the pharmaceutical industry as a whole is remarkably stable and robust. However, Ms Preston says the company still takes caution despite this stability, asserting that – as in all industries – competition is always tough.

“Our particular sector is dynamic but fortunately not at the whim of the government pricing policy so we don’t suffer the same fate as some of the higher risk drug manufacturers,” she explains. “Having said that, you can never take anything for granted and we are forced to innovate and review product ranges constantly. All this is a good thing for the consumer but it does put pressure on the bottom line sometimes.”

Ultimately, Ms Preston says it comes down to integrity and customer care. “I have always tried to remain faithful to the principles with which I began and the conviction that natural health care products can offer much safer alternatives to higher risk conventional treatments.

“I am often asked to give public addresses to women’s groups and the University of WA Business Studies unit on the subject of women in business and commercialisation of technology. I find that MBA students in particular are fascinated by real world business experience. Our company is frequently used as a model by the University.”

Indeed, Ms Preston’s incredible rise to success has cast her as a role model for young entrepreneurs across the world, especially young women who can relate to her humble beginnings. Her passion and vision despite the challenges faced by a single mother are what many look to as a “formulation for success.”

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

December 16, 2018, 3:53 PM AEDT