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PodcastsMarch 24, 2017

Vic Crone on Xero, her Auckland Mayoralty bid and what changes she wants to see at Callaghan Innovation


Business is Boring is a weekly podcast series presented by The Spinoff in association with Callaghan Innovation. Host Simon Pound speaks with innovators and commentators focused on the future of New Zealand, with the interview available as both audio and a transcribed excerpt.

News broke recently that Callaghan Innovation has a new boss. Callaghan Innovation are the government growth agency there to help move New Zealand past the primary sector, to help us do something other than add more cows to the country and sell houses to each other. Instead, they want us to create and grow great companies. They are also the sponsor of this show, something they do to get more perspectives on entrepreneurship out.

We thought we would get the new CEO in for a chat. Vic Crone is a well-known figure in the business community from executive roles at Chorus and Xero, and more broadly from her bid at the Auckland Mayoralty. We got her up to The Spinoff to chat about that career, that bid, and what’s in store at Callaghan Innovation.

Either download (right click to save), have a listen below, subscribe through iTunes (RSS feed) or read on for a transcribed excerpt.

I’ve always wondered what it’s like to work at a place like Xero where you’re so prominent in the local scene and things like the stock price become the story. What’s it like to be a leader in that company when it’s up and what’s it like when it’s down? Because both of those things can be quite a way out of your own responsibility.

As a leader, that’s just part of doing your job everyday. But for your staff, it is really hard. Especially when you are working so hard, putting in so many hours and going above and beyond. This is a global company so the hours are not normal. And sometimes staff can feel a bit dejected by it. I think that’s where Rod [Drury, CEO] was fantastic in working with the executive team to ensure that our staff knew where we were going and that, actually, technology companies are up and down. They’re all over the place and that’s a normal part of it. And just working to educate New Zealanders. Unfortunately in New Zealand we don’t have a lot of growth stocks, and certainly not a lot of software stocks. In America, for example, this is normal. This is what happens every day, but here it’s very unusual. So part of it is actually educating New Zealand. We want more companies like these in the future. Xero has always been a good example of taking some tough hits, in terms of other companies coming behind it and providing an easier path. It’s kind of like the big brother, really.

In that role as big brother it’s helped a lot of companies in that eco-system it’s built around it. It’s kind of amazing, like when it got up to $40 and then it went back down to $20 – which is still a pretty amazing value multiple, really – and then all the people in the cesspits of the comments section saying it’s not worth anything. It’s so funny to be reduced to the stock price when it’s a company that’s doing so much.

That’s just part of the New Zealand psyche, right? We see that in a number of different places every day with companies. What we need to try to do as leaders, not just within our companies but across society, is to help people understand there’s always a bigger picture. You’re right, Xero’s taking on the world, it’s opened up capital into New Zealand in a way that we never had before. It’s built many jobs and are high paying. And actually when you look at the impact of that service on New Zealand customers’ business performance, it’s significant. So it’s just about remembering that. With media and coverage, you can really only tell one point. Which is why we tend to focus on very small snapshots of things.

We’re funny creatures, humans, aren’t we? We take things for granted so quickly but it’s important to remember that a couple of years ago you didn’t find out what your financials were until maybe four months into the next financial year.

Exactly. I think we do forget the average cash runway – how quickly you’re gonna run out of cash for small business in New Zealand – is about three months. So you can’t have 12 month old financial data. If you have real-time data then you’re going to be able to make much better decisions and really that’s a part of what Xero provides.

Disclosure: Simon works at Vend, who have received Callaghan grants, and Callaghan Innovation are a sponsor of this podcast.

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