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From the Xero band to the budget roundtable: James Solomons reviews his time as Head of Accounting

Posted 5 years ago in Advisors by
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As Xero retires the role of Head of Accounting, James Solomons reflects on his proudest achievements. As of June 2018, James will continue to support the industry in the multiple ways he has done over the past 10 years.

In May 2014 after the Xero roadshow, I wrote a blog. It challenged Xero to take responsibility for the disruption it was bringing to the industry (for the better). Little did I know that this blog would start a chain reaction of proportions I could never have imagined.

I had spent the better part of five years writing about industry change, and the issues facing small businesses. I’d shared my thoughts on panels at Xerocon and at roadshows. I had played in the Xero All Stars band, and worked closely with the Xero team to help the platform better serve accountants, bookkeepers and small businesses.

I like to say that I was – and still am – one of Xero’s biggest fans and its biggest critics. And for good reason. I knew something special was happening and I wanted to be part of it.

Head of Accounting: the role I had to take

When I was eventually offered the role of head of accounting by Chris Ridd, supported 110% by Trent Innes, it was an easy yes – despite all the mountains I needed to move to make it happen.

I told my business partners at the time. I told my wife and two young kids that life was about to get really busy. Then I reduced my commitment to a flourishing accounting business down from full time to two days a week. And I started working for Xero three days a week. All the while, I knew in my mind that they would both be full-time roles!

But it was something I knew I needed to do for our profession. Where my articles had been making a small positive impact on my peers, I knew with the force of Xero behind me that we could help so many more accountants and bookkeepers find ways to survive and thrive through digital disruption. At a time when our professional bodies were still grappling with the cloud, the industry was moving forward in leaps and bounds. It was leading the globe with its adoption of technology as true innovators in the accounting space.

And that’s why today, as Xero announces the retiring of the role on 30 June, I can safely say I’m going nowhere. The acceptance of a formalised role was not about doing things to become an industry leader. Or working towards finishing a project and then moving on. Our industry is defined by constant change, and the job of improvement will never be done. I will still write articles and blogs, and have an opinion on industry issues. I will still speak at events, lecture at universities, and share my experiences with anyone who takes the time to reach out. And I will still support the Xero partner community, the accountants and bookkeepers in Australia and around the world, as I’ve always done. Because that, to me, is what it has always been about – sharing our wins and losses with our industry community so that they may benefit others.

So in that same spirit, I wanted to share some of the achievements in the role that I’m most proud of.

Building self-sustaining communities

I worked alongside Mel Power who was head of bookkeeping. It was clear to us that our industry needed a strong community to find ways to support itself moving forward. Working together – whether face-to-face, online, via conferences or workshops – is the best way to benefit from the experiences of others. I was never going to tell an accountant how to invoice, manage workflows or run their practice. Rather, I would help build a practice framework that accountants could absorb and adapt as they pursued their own business goals.

Building online groups, launching Accelerate and then Grow Your Practice for accountants, and working with the Xero territory managers to build the skills of Xero’s frontline teams has been a satisfying way to bring proactive support to our partners. If you can leave an organisation in a better position than when you joined it, then you’ve done your job well.

Representing accountants in product development

Xero’s practice tools are world class and take the accumulation of years of experience from many people. Consider Xero Tax, which has mapped out the features required and changed many times. Anthony Migliardi and Matthew Prouse continue to push the boundaries of the product. They couldn’t do so without understanding and representing the views of current and potential users, like yourself to the product designers and developers. The uptake of Xero Tax speaks for itself with regard to the success of the early days of planning, listening and developing.

As Xero has talked about before, deciding what will to build when remains a constant challenge. The decisions are based on many contributing factors – including you. So continue to stand up for what you need to see developed, and know that you have many ways to share your views.

Speak to your territory manager, speak to your account manager and reach out to the Xero Partner Advisory Council (XPAC) and XPAC alumni. As industry leaders, innovators and award winners, their role is to be a voice of support for you when you need it. Being able to help build this network to enhance the Xero community has been a great achievement.

Developing the partner code of conduct

In the new world of shared data, where ownership lines are blurred, the development of the partner code of conduct has become one of my proudest achievements. It was the first of its kind globally. Whilst maybe not loved by all, it was a necessary step borne out of a lack of industry guidance and regulation.

Over a 10-month period, we worked with every industry body and the Tax Practitioners Board (TPB). We formed a unanimous view about how we as accountants and bookkeepers should operate in the best interests of our clients. It was no easy feat. But it proved that our professional associations could work together when needed, to solve the industry issues that impact us all.

As Andrew Conway said back in 2015 at Xerocon, “This process brought the issue into the limelight and will lead the way for further work in this area at an industry level”. The subsequent development of industry-wide guidance notes by the TPB and respective professional bodies proved how important this process was.

Increased advocacy in the small business space

It was a privilege to take part in the budget roundtable that Xero ran in 2016, and share the views of small businesses and their advisers alongside Mark Bouris, Ben Heap, John Ball, Heidi Armstrong, Mel Power, Trent Innes who was Xero’s newly appointed MD, and the Business Insider team. The event was a snippet of what was to come, as Xero began to increase its advocacy in the small business space.

Continual collaboration with peak industry bodies

Lastly, but certainly not of least importance, the opportunity to work closer with our industry bodies over the past three and a half years has been a real highlight. Our industry can only move forward if its professional bodies present a united front. I’m hopeful that the sometimes difficult feedback that Mel Power and I have been able to share, thanks to our honest relationships with Xero partners, will continue to drive change.

And finally… thank you

One personal reason that we join any organisation is to reap the benefit of working with great people. Joining the Xero family has helped me to build long-lasting personal and professional relationships that I will never forget. I’ve been very lucky to have worked with so many talented, committed and amazing people. That list is too long to even consider naming them all. But I must thank Rod Drury and the Xero co-founders for starting this little tech company across the ditch 12 years ago, and Chris Ridd for giving me the opportunity. Xero has changed so many lives, including mine.

Thank you to my fellow accountants, many of whom I now call friends, for their continued support. Thank you to my business partner Rebecca Mihalic for coming in and taking the reigns at Aptus; its success is solely a result of her commitment to the business. It also goes without saying that I need to thank Mel Power for being my ‘credit’. And lastly thank you to my wife Jade and my kids for supporting me through the the craziness. In all honesty – it’s not about to end as there is still so much work to do!

In closing

I thought it would be fitting to reproduce a snippet of the notes I jotted down the day before my announcement into the role at Xerocon 2014. Because the privilege that it was then is as true today.

I am your voice into Xero. I am your voice into industry. I am your voice into the associations. I am your voice into government and the ATO. I am your voice to the wider market and population. I’m here to make sure businesses owners realise that we still have an important role to play in a system which is moving to automation, and where a government is committed to reducing red tape for small businesses. But it requires change from all of us.

I am very passionate about our industry and committed to ensuring that all of your training and hard work to start and build a practice and to get clients onboard isn’t undone by what I believe is one of the greatest things to happen to our industry. I want us all to prosper from the disruption by being able to leverage our expertise and professional skills to deliver true advisory solutions to businesses across Australia.

In closing, I am truly humbled and very honoured to take this responsibility and I am ready and excited to begin the challenge. I look forward to speaking with many, if not all of you, as part of this journey.

Thank you 🙂

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