Every year, the Stanford Graduate School of Business organizes a series of global study trips to bring greater global awareness to its MBA students. These study trips help us develop the skills to tackle pressing global challenges. They also give us a deeper understanding of the business, economic and social issues in the countries we visit.
Having grown up in New Zealand, I was honoured to lead the study trip of 32 students and faculty to New Zealand. We were addressing the academic theme of “Scaling Excellence Internationally.”
We wanted to answer some key questions.
- How is New Zealand transitioning from the primary sector to a knowledge-and innovation-based economy?
- How are NZ multinationals leveraging a uniquely “kiwi” brand to differentiate themselves globally?
- And how are NZ entrepreneurs launching and scaling in international markets?
We were excited to meet with the chief product officer at Xero, Angus Norton. Xero is very well positioned to address these questions as it has become a global business based in New Zealand. Many of the themes from that discussion resonated with our group. We also heard them echoed in other meetings with prominent NZ leaders during our trip.
Empower your Team:
Many New Zealand leaders we met with mentioned the power of collaborative leadership. Sir Graham Henry said his change in leadership enabled the All Blacks success in the 2011 World Cup. He switched from an authoritarian coaching style to empowering a core group of players as leaders within the team.
In the rapidly evolving tech industry, empowering employees to make decisions and act on them is arguably even more important. Particularly for a company like Xero, with geographically distributed executives.
Angus spoke of moving at “Xero Speed”. The goal is to do this while still maintaining a high bar of excellence – defined as “Minimum Loveable Products.” Continuing to achieve this at Xero will speak to the leadership’s ability to empower contributors at all levels of the company.
Scaling with partnerships:
New Zealand is a small island. Everyone we spoke to emphasized that competing in international markets involves recognizing this and establishing strategic partnerships.
Mike Tod and Bruce Parton talked about how Air New Zealand invented alliance networks based on revenue-share. These were important to establishing new routes and markets.
Similarly, Angus spoke about how Xero is using partnerships to address risks. The biggest risk is Xero customers outgrowing the product as their own businesses scale. Being flexible and continually evaluating the strategic fit of all partnerships is key to continued success.
Define your Vision:
We were fortunate to experience firsthand the New Zealand summer and unparalleled lifestyle. The flip side of this can be a level of complacency with success, restricting the pursuit of excellence. Angus spoke about strategies to maintain Xero’s hard-charging growth. They ensure that all of their people buy-in to the long-term vision of enabling the small business economy to thrive.
We also asked Prime Minister John Key about New Zealand transitioning to an innovation economy. He said the government’s free market policy is not the only thing that’s important, it is also key to encourage NZ citizens to stay outwardly focussed. As New Zealand companies continue to assert themselves on the world stage, it’s critical to define what success looks like.
Our study trip to New Zealand was incredible and we could not have asked for more insightful speakers across the board. All of us came away with a deep appreciation for what New Zealand has to offer. Thank you again to Xero and all the other NZ business leaders for hosting us during our visit!