“Love” and “accounting” are not two words you would usually hear in the same sentence. But at Xero, we enjoy walking around in our company-branded t-shirts because it opens up conversations with business people who use—and yes, love—our cloud accounting software.
It’s not that these entrepreneurs have suddenly discovered their passion for crunching numbers. Rather, technology has freed up their time to focus on their mission, enabling them to make more strategic decisions, and in the process, transforming their businesses.
This is what ‘beautiful business’ means to us at Xero. It’s one of the concepts discussed in the first episode of Xero On Air and you can access the podcast here.
In the one-hour podcast, I spoke with host Graham Brown from Asia Tech Podcast and Marjolein Janmaat (or MJ), our Talent & People Experience Lead – Asia. We discussed Xero’s culture of care, what we look for in people who wish to work at Xero, our transition into the software world from different fields, what ‘beautiful business’ means, and more.
The people and culture at Xero
Both MJ and I embarked on a multinational journey before ending up at Xero Singapore’s office in Cross Street. Born in Dublin, I have spent time in Jersey and Melbourne, and haven’t lived in my home country for the past 10 years.
Before coming to Xero, I had worked in financial services, accounting and auditing, as well as in recruitment for finance roles. This was a world of suits—a manager even kept razors, shaving foam, and spare ties in a locker to make sure everyone looked sharp and formal when meeting with clients.
Things couldn’t have been more different when I joined Xero in 2015. On day one, Trent Innes, Managing Director – Australia and Asia—who at the time was Sales Director for Australia—handed me a laptop and a Xero t-shirt. He had two instructions: figure out how to work on a Mac, and lose the suit.
The reason for this was not to embody a certain startup cliché, but to relate to customers more closely. After all, at Xero, we work with small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). We talk to entrepreneurs who have worked day in and out to launch and grow a company; to owners who run and oversee different parts of their business.
This culture of caring for people is a theme that keeps coming up in our discussion because it’s core to the way we function as a company. When we care for our people, they’ll care for our customers, too.
MJ, who was born in Japan but grew up in Singapore and spent a gap year travelling around the world, says this culture of care is distinct to her Xero experience. Before joining Xero, she held a strategy consulting role, where she worked with different projects and managers. In that world, she had to fight hard for the projects you wanted to work on.
In contrast, at Xero, “we might all be in different roles but we’re all fighting for the same thing, which is to help SMEs grow their business,” says MJ. “It’s been amazing. I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else or imagine being in the previous role at all.”
Choosing people to join the Xero team
Xero Asia’s team, based in Singapore and Hong Kong, has grown twice since last year. We’re looking to reach and exceed 50 people soon.
The first thing I look at when interviewing people is their attitude. What do they say when they arrive and meet their interviewers? Do they show warmth of character and a sense of curiosity? I believe these traits tend to emerge during the start of an interview. An interviewee might show care and curiosity by reciprocating the interviewer’s queries about how his week went or what his plans for the coming weekend were.
In addition, we also look for people who can understand Xero’s platform and bigger challenges in reaching and helping SMEs. We don’t expect that people come to us passionate about the accounting industry. But we want to see how they can transfer their passion to some of our major goals and values.
What I don’t necessarily look for is a university degree. After all, there are plenty of things you would learn from experience that you wouldn’t in school.
What ‘beautiful business’ really means
At Xero, we strongly believe that when business is done beautifully, it can change the world. This is not an empty tagline, but one that has grown from the company’s experience with SMEs in over 180 countries.
Xero employees, though—whether in Asia, New Zealand or Australia —have had business owners come up to them in the street on seeing them wear the Xero tee, and say: “I love Xero.” What this really means is that they love what they’re able to do now that they are using Xero, such as focusing on their goals and vision for their business.
That’s why the focus now is on the beautiful business that results from using cloud technology for their accounting and general business operations.
“At the end of the day, your people are your brand,” says MJ. When you have a good company culture, it will reflect in the way your people talk to your customers—and this also makes your business truly beautiful.
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