The horsemanship entrepreneur
Craig Singleton’s resume proves engineering’s versatility.
Can you take us through some of the twists and turns of your career?
I graduated as a mechanical engineer from UNSW in 1994 and immediately took a role at Coca-Cola Amatil. By the time I had left, nine years later, I was leading the team responsible for production planning and scheduling for every Coca-Cola factory in Australia.
I didn’t know what to do next so I went to see a careers advisor. After just a couple of sessions, she recommended that I do something technical, something creative, and something to do with either boats or planes. The minute she made her recommendation things became really clear to me. I said to her, “I feel like I’ve been saved!” and she said, “I hear that so often, that’s why I keep that in my office,” and pointed to a life ring on the wall.
After studying, I joined EMP Composites and worked on all sorts of projects including sailing boats, motorboats, pools, solar technology, marine energy and more. I enjoyed my work, but after seven years the GFC hit and my division closed. I was left high and dry!
During my time with EMP, I’d moved from Sydney to Bomaderry, near Nowra. I made some local inquiries and picked up a project management job with GHD in its local Nowra office, which is the role I’m in today.
Your new horsemanship product venture is an intriguing departure from engineering. How did it come about?
When we moved to the country, I bought my wife Sam a horse. She loves horses and rode a lot when she was a girl. After going along to a few horsemanship clinics with her I got interested, bought myself a horse and we started learning the art of horsemanship together.
After riding for a while, I started making and selling leather and rawhide braided equipment, which people were really keen on. Recently, Sam and I bought a sewing machine and started stitching our own horsemanship flags – the handheld flags used for training horses. We had discovered that almost every horsemanship flag in Australia has been imported from America, so we said, “That’s ridiculous, there should be an Aussie option”. So we’re currently in the process of developing a series of horsemanship products for the Australian market. We don’t anticipate being able to leave our day jobs any time soon, but it’s a really exciting thing to be doing together.
That is a complete change from engineering …
Well, yes and no! Funnily enough, it’s only just occurred to me now how much my diverse engineering background is helping with our start-up venture. I know all about composite materials and can provide 3D models to manufacturers. I know about international freight logistics and how to source products internationally. And I know how to generate prospective clients. It’s like all the elements of my career so far have come together to be able to do this.
Has horsemanship come naturally to you?
Funnily enough, it’s only just occurred to me now how much my diverse engineering background is helping with our start-up venture.
The style of horsemanship I work with has been a transformational experience for me. The more I’ve read, learned and practiced, the more I’ve found myself able to understand and communicate with the horse. Horses are much more perceptive than humans. They’re very astute and the signals they send out can be very subtle.
A lot of people tell you that when you’re working with a horse like that you’re actually working on yourself. This has been true in my case. I’ve had some troubles over the years with anxiety and depression and I’ve found that horsemanship has really helped me manage these mental-health issues.
Why do you think that is?
Horse training is not about the horse. I find the fundamental honesty of the horse’s behaviour so refreshing. They don’t have an agenda, they live in the moment. They don’t lie, they don’t have malice and they don’t have greed or jealousy. You get immediate feedback and learn how to understand and work with it. Horses have definitely been an avenue to healing for me.
What does UNSW mean to you?
It’s all about the friendships and connections for me. UNSW was very vibrant in terms of clubs and societies. I was heavily involved in socialising and sports, particularly the basketball club. It’s also where I met my wife so that obviously makes it a special place for us.
You’ve reinvented yourself a few times. What do you feel are the most important skills engineers need to thrive today?
Engineers need to be able to think very broadly. Being able to see a much bigger picture and understanding how things fit together is really important. The speed of things has changed so much that successful engineers need to be agile and keep learning. Lastly, I think it’s important to be prepared to seek help if you need it. Getting an outside perspective is very valuable.