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How a series of tragedies led this CEO to build a multi-million dollar company

(Source: Yahoo Finance)
(Source: Yahoo Finance)

The New Investors video series brought to you by Yahoo Finance reveals the secrets of the most successful entrepreneurs and business people in Australia today. This is the second episode of the second season.

Imagine losing or nearly losing your father, your partner’s sister, and your partner before you turn 24 years old.

For Hayley Warren, this is no hypothetical – it’s her life and reality.

The CEO of medical technology firm Halo Medical Devices became well-acquainted with tragedy before she was a teenager. But instead of caving in under the grief, it oriented her purpose in life – and she changed the medical technology industry along the way.

Speaking on the Yahoo Finance New Investors – My Story show, Warren revealed how her passion for helping people began at the tender age of 10 when her father experienced a farming accident that would change her family life.

Strike one, two, three

“One day, I was out on the farm, in the field and dad got his arm caught in this piece of machinery, and it was awful,” she told New Investors host and Yahoo Finance Editor-In-Chief Sarah O’Carroll.

“This amazing pillar of a man who I'd never seen cry was in a lot of pain and I was the kid on duty that day. So we're, 10, driving across the paddock, dad in the passenger seat, Royal Flying Doctors meeting us on the other side, ready to ship him straight into surgery.”

Thus began her interest in healthcare. “Even at the very young age, I was thinking: ‘what can we do to get people at home, who are recovering from injury, more devices, more help?’”

Warren went on to study teaching, but soon realised she hated it. She switched to a science-based degree instead, and after 12 years emerged on the other side of university with a degree in physiology.

Strike two

When she was 23 years old, Warren was crossing the road with her partner’s sister one day when tragedy struck again.

“She was hit by a car and killed,” Warren said.

The second tragedy pointed her further down the path of healthcare. “Let’s do something in that field,” she had told herself.

Strike three

Life wasn’t finished with her yet. Tragedy struck one more time – and this time it hit the person that would have otherwise become her life partner.

He was an amazing man, Warren recalls – a geologist. They were in a long-term relationship and certainly would have gotten married.

While travelling in Bolivia, her partner suffered an accident and passed away. But the tragedy was accompanied by a logistical nightmare: at one point, she had her mother and father around the kitchen table on laptops working with the Bolivian government to get his body back to Australia.

His death caused her to ask herself some of life’s most primitive, and profound, questions.

Hayley Warren, CEO Halo Medical Devices. (Source: Yahoo Finance)
Hayley Warren, CEO Halo Medical Devices. (Source: Yahoo Finance)

“Life is too short,” she said. “What am I doing in terms of where am I going? What's my mission in life?”

It’s enough to send the ordinary person running the other way, but Warren had more grit than that.

“You either you sink or you rise to the top. And it took me 12 months to come back on top.

“To be honest, I really learned so much about myself in the depth that grief.”

Building the first product

The tragedies led her to her first idea: revamping the goniometer, which is a tool used by physiotherapists to measure injured patients’ range of motion in their joints.

Thanks to support from her friends and family, as well as some inheritance money left to her by her partner, she was able to “start something”.

The objective was to narrow down the margin of error – which was at 30 degrees, according to products on the market at the time – down to one degree.

(Source: Yahoo Finance)
(Source: Yahoo Finance)

She spent nearly $100,000 on a group of engineers that ultimately couldn’t make the desired product for her. But through some luck, she was referred to someone who worked with sensors and things kicked off from there.

Warren went on to win WA’s Innovator of the Year Award and People’s Choice Award at ABC’s New Inventors.

“From that, a little bit of a cascade happened,” she said.

“I got my first mentor, which led into my first investor and from that point it sort of led into the next development, more sophisticated introductions to overseas manufacturers.”

Now, Halo Medical Devices is now a US$10 million company and their initial 500 products sold out within two weeks when they first launched.

Warren aims to help the 3.2 million people every year who are recovering from joint surgery after occupational injuries, just like her dad when she was 10.

Lessons learnt: The tragedies made her stronger

Now, as an entrepreneur, Warren is so resilient she’s virtually made of Teflon.

“Having the experiences I've had in life has made me so confident that I can handle anything. It does not matter whatever the world brings at me: I got it,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Where other entrepreneurs may struggle with fear of stepping into unchartered territory, Warren is unfazed. “The unknown is something I embrace because it. You know, how bad can it be?”

She attributes her strength to her life experiences, her self-knowledge, her strong sense of purpose as well as to guided meditation.

“I am not great at sitting still,” Warren admitted. “So for me, sitting and listening to meditation doesn't work but I will exercise and walk to meditation.”

Podcasts are also a source of inspiration: the CEO will seek out someone that has done something she wants to do, and will listen to their podcasts for a few weeks to lift her game.

Private time with her family – pizza and movie night on Fridays, for example – is also something Warren won’t compromise on, even to the detriment of her social life at times.

“That's what we do and I'm very protective around that.”

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