THE YOUNG ENTREPRENEUR WHO BEAT THE ODDS TO BECOME AN ENGINEERING FIRM CEO
5 September 2017, Written by David Simmons
IT'S hard enough running a company, let alone running it just months after re-learning how to use a spoon.
Six months before Kate Middleton was due to take the helm of Brisbane-based engineering firm Censeo she couldn't even walk or talk.
"I had a massive seizure and spent over a month in hospital at St Andrews in the neuro ward," says Middleton.
"I had to learn how to walk again, talk again, and I even had to learn how to hold a spoon. After having a massive seizure out of nowhere I was diagnosed with a neurological movement disorder that has no cure. The disorder is called dystonia, and I'll live with it for the rest of my life."
Since the diagnosis, Middleton has only gone from strength to strength to such an extent that she was named one of the finalists in Business News Australia's Brisbane Young Entrepreneur Awards.
Middleton's Censeo acquisition story is remarkable, with her motivation to purchase the once ailing engineering group driven by the desire to save the company's dedicated employees.
Before Censeo, Middleton founded careers service provider Career Oracle in 2014 which continues to run through a team of executive consultants without much intervention from Middleton.
The Censeo opportunity arose in January 2016 when Middleton was approached to become general manager of the struggling ASX listed company which had suffered two liquidations of group entities within six months. Middleton was responsible for overseeing the five remaining companies and identified Censeo Engineering as the one company worth salvaging.
Taking control of a complex ASX-listed company
As the general manager of this group of companies, Middleton prepared Censeo for sale, not knowing she would be the eventual buyer.
Middleton gained private equity backing and reprivatised Censeo from the ASX listed group via a management buy-out, transforming Middleton into the youngest female CEO in Australia to lead and own an engineering firm.
"I wanted to save a business that was in turmoil and part of a very large and complex ASX listed conglomerate," says Middleton.
"I built a great rapport with the non-executive board and the global investors and demonstrated that Censeo could be successful in its own right.
"I genuinely wanted to save jobs, and I really believed that Censeo could be salvaged. I just felt like Censeo was a product of when mergers go wrong.
"I took the time to meet with a handful of clients that Censeo had retained throughout the process those of whom were really engaged with the Censeo brand; they didn't actually care who the parent company was. That led me to believe that this company could be saved and that there was a gap in the market within this industry."
In terms of career highlights, since being diagnosed with dystonia in 2015, Middleton has accomplished many things, including a foray at Harvard University. Even still, Middleton says reprivatising Censeo is her career highlight overall, one she is extremely proud to have achieved.
Creating a diversified workforce
"Privatising and purchasing Censeo and becoming one of the only female CEOs of an engineering company in Australasia is a pretty big highlight in my career, particularly given that I'm not an engineer."
"My secondary career highlight was definitely attending Harvard University last year and completing a short course in strategic leadership."
Throughout all of the success of Censeo, Middleton is ensuring the ladder isn't being pulled out from under other women in the industry who are aspiring to succeed in this line of work. Censeo is particularly dedicated to its social goals and giving back to the community around it.
"We gave a considerable amount of our revenue last year toward charities that benefited women, and we celebrate the fact that we have such a diverse workforce," says Middleton.
"When I joined Censeo, I was the only female employed. Currently, we now have a 50/50 representation of people from all walks of life within our team.
"We'll always give back. It's good for staff to know that there's something bigger than us, it's not just about the money grab."
Business News Australia
Author: David Simmons