The West

Leanne Preston.
Leanne Preston.

Wild Child cosmeceuticals is set to float on the Australian stock exchange, in the latest bid for a global reach by the WA company that started on a kitchen table.

Founder Leanne Preston said a new state-of-the-art factory in Malaga - a milestone move that bucks the trend to go offshore - as well as a range of new markets and products are in line with the expansion strategy.

But the latest developments in the Wild Child juggernaut coincide with a personal trauma, with Ms Preston revealing she has late-stage breast cancer.

The former Telstra Australian Businesswoman of the Year said she was confident chemotherapy and radiation would extend her life for years.

Ms Preston said she was temporarily stepping back from the helm, with the company's technical director John Found, who is her husband, acting as chief executive.

Reflecting on her incredible journey, Ms Preston said she had always envisioned Wild Child as a global success.

Ms Preston originally hoped to float the company during the mining boom, but shelved the plan in 2009 when investors overlooked it in favour of resource ventures.

Then, she was seeking to raise $40 million, but has declined to reveal a current value until a prospectus is released later in the year.

In line with her expansion strategy, she is in advanced negotiations with Austrade to break into the Asian market and recently appointed its first distribution manager in South Africa.

The two new markets will give Wild Child a presence in every continent except South America, and will add to its distribution network of nearly 50,000 retailers around the world.

"I started it (the company) on my kitchen table in Margaret River 17 years ago, and I'm very proud at how far it has come," she said. "It is a WA success, and it is a good story for WA manufacturing."

The decision to move its production base back to WA from Victoria came when Ms Preston and Mr Found calculated whether to join the trend to go offshore to Asia.

"We thought it would be crazy to go offshore when we could do it for a similar price in WA, provided we moved to a fully automated process," she said. "It is really lovely to see the products being shipped out the door."

The Malaga factory services domestic demand while factories in the US and the Czech Republic supply foreign markets.

Ms Preston said local production had the added benefit of drawing on Australia's clean, green reputation.

She said the environmental guarantee was key, given her initial foray into business was based on her personal bid to find a natural remedy for her daughter's head lice. At the time, the only treatment sold by chemists was an organophosphate pesticide used for agricultural spraying.

Her research led her to develop Quit Nits, a natural anti-lice solution that has become Wild Child's flagship product.

She set up the business with a $60,000 divorce settlement, and by the time the first truckload of 10,000 bottles left Margaret River she was down to her last $100.

Wild Child has since gained recognition in exalted business circles, with its board served by the likes of Bob Browning, the former chief executive of Austal Ships, and Jonathan Fisher, general manager (corporate finance) at Atlas Iron.

Mr Found said the million dollar-plus facility in Malaga was capable of making one product per second. It had manufactured 300,000 items in its first few months employing 11 casual and full-time staff two days a week.

Mr Found was previously the director of pharmaceutical consulting firm Harper Point, which Wild Child bought in 2009, along with the intellectual property for more than 300 drug and cosmetic products.

This gives Wild Child the options of bidding for government tenders to manufacture hospital-grade supplies, as well as producing make-up such as mascara and lipstick.

The West Australian

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