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Becoming a successful international business

Posted 5 years ago in Xero news by
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Lisbeth JacobsGuest post from Lisbeth Jacobs, Director International, The IceHouse

What does it take to be a successful international business and how can we help companies become more successful faster? These are questions The IceHouse has been working to answer as part of a new initiative which has been running for the last three months.

Last week during Xerocon, Xero CEO Rod Drury referenced our initiative when discussing the entrepreneurial challenges businesses face, so we thought it would be good to share some of our insights with you.

Since its inception in 2001 The IceHouse has strived to work with entrepreneurial companies to help turn them into international successes. We do this by getting alongside people who want to transform their organisations, helping to grow both their talent and the local economy. The ultimate goal for The IceHouse has always been to increase the number of internationally capable owner managers and entrepreneurs and their organisations. More recently we made this goal even more explicit. We set forward the aspiration of enabling 1,000 such firms in New Zealand by 2020. With around 300-350 companies enabled over the last 11 years, we realised this will require a significant ramp up. In order to achieve this ambitious goal we started the IceHouse Business of International Quality project.

So, what are we doing?

We aim to consolidate our own knowledge and expertise with the experience and insights from successful entrepreneurs. The end game is to come up with a hands-on and practical recipe businesses can follow to accelerate their growth. It will help businesses avoid the costs of making the same mistakes as those who went before them. From our side we will use this framework to create truly transformational IceHouse programmes which will drastically decrease the time it takes to become an internationally successful firm.

So far over 35 successful executives, experienced business leaders, strategists, investors and thought leaders have openly and generously shared their stories and insights with us. Together we discussed the factors we believe are critical to a company’s success.


Our research suggests that excellence in six areas consistently leads to success; differentiation, management, market understanding, business systems, access to capital and governance.

So this is our IceHouse definition:

A Business of International Quality:

  1. has a clear and explicit competitive advantage valued by customers and properly protected in the markets it participates in (Differentiation)
  2. is led by a strong & diverse management team aligned around a long term strategic direction and able to respond quickly to changing market conditions (Management)
  3. has a deep understanding and cultural awareness of the customers it serves and the markets it operates in and therefore invests in the appropriate in-market representation (Market Understanding)
  4. is expert in implementation and continuous improvement and invests in systems that allow the scaling-up of the business (Business systems)
  5. displays solid financial management leading to a strong balance sheet and access to the funding necessary for growth (Access to Capital)
  6. is supported by a growth-focused board with strong sector affinity (Governance)

Excellence in each of these 6 areas allows a Business of International Quality to successfully take its business global and defend its domestic markets against international competitors.

But it doesn’t stop here. We want to get your input so we can get this right. Share your experiences, your thoughts; let us know if we missed something or if you disagree. With your input we will be able to focus on developing IceHouse programs that make a real and measurable difference to business owners and entrepreneurs and to the global economy as a whole.

On another note, from my personal experience working for a large global manufacturing group with activities in 120 countries it is clear that the issues we find with the IceHouse in New Zealand are very similar in many other countries. Does our IceHouse definition resonate with any of the international readers?



March 1, 2013 at 10.05 am

adding my experience with start ups: the personality mix of the founding members is a key success factor – creating a succesfull company is usually a rough journey where the interpersonal dynamics are part of the success – it is not unusual that serial entrepreneurs move from venture to venture together with their team of people they can work with well.

March 1, 2013 at 11.29 am

Thanks for the article. We exhibited at Xerocon NZ this year and we were blown away by seeing the Xero machine in action. It’s an impressive beast indeed. It was actually hard not to be left with a sense of insignificance as a small start-up by comparison. But this is well and truly tempered by the amazing support that Xero give to the ecosystem – which is for the most part made up of other scrappy small businesses who are making a start at becoming a successful international business. Keep scrapping I say, big or small!

Gayle Buchanan
March 1, 2013 at 6.09 pm

Hey Ryan …. ditto to the scrapping and Xero API’s for the company and support while we all grow … thanks Hamish, Rod and Doug!

Lisbeth Jacobs
March 4, 2013 at 4.29 pm

Thats exactly right Peter. Having a strong management team where people not only bring complementary skills but also trust each other and share the same vision is key to success. Entrepreneurs who try to do it alone will typically get stuck at a certain point.

March 5, 2013 at 11.26 pm

Spot on, Peter. There needs to be some sort of alignment of key agendas of the business and those of the key executives. An individual with specific agenda that goes contrary to the rest of the group can create serious disharmony and lead to collapse. I have experienced it several times.

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