XU Magazine - Issue 15

Q&A with Keri Gohman from Xero

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XU: It’s great to be joined by Keri Gohman the President of Xero Americas. Can you start by telling us a bit about your role within the company and what you do.

KG: I am honored to lead the amazing Xero team in the Americas. My role is to ensure that our team has the energy, focus, and resources they need in order to deliver a beautiful experience for our customers. I work hard to focus the team on our core mission, which is to rewire the economy to help small businesses thrive. We believe that by connecting a small businesses’ financial world — using technology to bring financial data together with accountants and bookkeepers who can help — we can help more small businesses succeed and grow their profits. From engineers and designers, to customer experience and sales professionals, our people are by far and away our biggest asset. My job is to make sure they have what they need to succeed. In fact, I like to say that my job is to get out of the way so that their work can shine through!

XU: Following on from that, do you have a normal work day or a routine? What does your work day consist of?

KG: One of the really invigorating things about working for Xero is that no two days are the same. We are operating at a rapid pace because there is virtually limitless upside potential to the impact we know we can have on behalf of our customers. Generally speaking, I divide my time into three major chunks: 1. Spending time with accountants and small businesses to understand what’s working, what could use additional improvements, and what unsolved problems they have that we could help with. 2. Meeting with our teams to help remove roadblocks they may be facing. I can’t possibly do the amazing work our engineers do, but I can clear a path to make it easier for them to achieve their goals. 3. Meeting with external partners in an effort to find and build shared opportunities to deliver for our customers. This includes third party app developers and banks, which represent a crucial part of the Xero tech ecosystem.

XU: You have now been in the role 18 months, have you set yourself any personal goals to achieve whilst working for Xero?

KG: Yes, absolutely, I’ve seen over my career that clear goals are essential to achieving long-term success. In my role at Xero, my personal goals are very much connected to seeing measurable progress in both the success of our customers and the individual members of our team. When it comes to customers, I know that we can profoundly impact the long-term prosperity of small businesses by connecting them with accountants. Data shows that, on average, 50 percent of small businesses fail within five years. By contrast, small businesses who collaborate with an accountant on Xero have an 85 percent success rate. So, my goal is to ensure that Xero is being used as a shared platform by both accountants and small businesses at scale across the US and Canada — so that more small businesses are thriving long-term. I want to ensure we’re making real progress at changing the lives of business owners in our communities. As for the team itself, I am focused on ensuring that each and every person who works at Xero believes deep down that he or she can do the best work of their lives here. We’re building a culture where everyone is empowered to bring their true self to work, given the autonomy to make bold decisions, and motivated to accomplish amazing things on behalf of our customers. Building this culture is my most important job. Our success will always depend on the hard work and passion of our employees.

XU: You’ve only had the position for a relatively short amount of time. Is there anything you feel you have brought to your role and how do you feel you have helped the company develop in the US?

KG: I inherited a team that was incredibly innovative and hard working. I like to think that I have amplified their amazing work in ways that will deliver the biggest possible benefits for our customers. One of the ways I’ve done that is by leveraging Xero’s uniquely global mindset. The US team is fortunate to be able to learn from what we’ve done in other markets, such as Australia and the UK. We’re a mighty team on our own, but we’re even stronger when we bring in capabilities and experience of our global colleagues. Another way I’ve tried to help is by sharing my understanding of how banks and financial institutions work. Prior to joining Xero, I spent the bulk of my career working in the financial services sector, including roles delivering solutions for small businesses, such as heading up small business banking at Capital One. This background gave me a deep appreciation for the challenges small businesses face when it comes to managing their cash-flow, accessing funding, and understanding their financial health. I’m determined to find ways to work alongside banks and financial institutions to deliver better outcomes for small businesses.

XU: You’ve accomplished a lot. What would you consider to be your greatest achievement since joining Xero?

KG: I am incredibly proud of the progress the team has made in a short amount of time, but I also know that we’re really only at the beginning of our journey. The major element I have tried to bring to the team is clear focus. And for us, the number one priority is building connections

between accountants and their small business clients. I believe that Xero’s focus on serving accountants is one of the things that differentiates us most. The data shows that our platform can deliver huge productivity enhancements to our accountant partners. For example, the platform automates so much of the data entry work that accounting practices see efficiency improvements of 60 percent. Even more importantly, because they are spending less time on data entry, accountants can focus on complex advisory services — and the data shows that our platform helps deliver a 90 percent boost in revenue from this strategic value-added work. In the last year, we’ve increased the number of small businesses connected to an accountant on the Xero platform by over 70 percent. We’ve also planted the seeds for even bigger things to come by creating local teams in communities across the country that can help accountants embrace technology to transform their practices and help more of their clients thrive.

XU: As the president of Xero Americas, what do you think are the pros and cons that come along with the job?

KG: The clear pro for me is the culture. I’ve had great jobs in the past, but I have never worked for a company with such a well balanced culture, where people can really be themselves, and where there is so much respect for the fact that people have a life outside of work. As someone with a husband and three kids, it’s a huge deal! The only cons that come with the job are when I need to slow the team down. We’re firing on all cylinders, but some days it feels like there are 10 additional opportunities the team would love to tackle. The reality is that accounting and financial management is a very complex space, so I have a responsibility to ensure that we move forward deliberately to ensure that we get things right.

XU: We all have things that we would consider our strength’s, what would you say your greatest strength is?

KG: I am a data nerd at heart, so my biggest strength is the ability to see through the clutter to identify clear patterns, opportunities and insights. One of the things I have reframed for the team is how we can use data in a positive way to understand and improve the performance of both individuals and the overall business, each and every day. Too many companies use data and metrics in a negative manner — setting goals within a culture of fear, so people focus on avoiding blame if they don’t meet them. Instead, I believe that teams can use data as a tool for growth, as a means of understanding what’s happening, and pivoting their strategy if things aren’t going as planned. I also strive to always see possibility, and then clear a path to chase it down. That’s actually how I got this job in the first place. I believed in Xero’s mission, and saw that it could be a game changer for accountants and small businesses. I wanted to be part of it so badly that I chased down our founder, Rod Drury, to ask if I could be part of the team. I’m so grateful to now have the chance to create a new era of possibilities for accountants and small businesses.

XU: With Xero being global, how is the US market different to all the rest? Is there a difference between the US market and other international markets?

KG: There are two major differences. The first is the sheer scale of the US market — it is far bigger than every other Xero market combined. The second is that the adoption of cloud accounting in the US has lagged well behind other markets, such as the UK and Australia. Our data shows that fewer than 20 percent of small businesses are using a cloud platform in the US today, and far fewer are connected to an accountant. So, we have a lot of work ahead of us to educate small businesses about both the benefits of using a cloud accounting platform, and the vital importance of connecting with an accountant. We’re also taking the time to work with our peers in the financial services and tech industries to ensure that all of the necessary infrastructure and connections are in place to make the experience of using our platform as seamless as possible for both accountants and small businesses.

XU: What is the need for SME’s to use Xero in the US and how have you had to educate SME’s to want to use cloud accounting software?

KG: First off, we know that small businesses want an easy-to-use, real-time view of their business data. They have an expectation that all of the information flowing in and out of their business — financial and non-financial — will be accessible and actionable. Xero is unique in the market as the only platform that can deliver on this expectation. And we deliver it in a beautiful and powerful way. They have come to expect fundamentally, we know that Xero can enable more small businesses to find lasting success. As I highlighted earlier, small businesses using Xero and an accountant are significantly more likely to succeed long-term. So, we don’t need to educate small businesses about why our product is valuable, but we do need to show them that we are here. We’ve found that accountants are the key piece to this puzzle. As a small businesses’ most trusted advisor, accountants are in a strong position to help show how Xero can help them achieve long-term success.

XU: Xero hosts a number of events globally each year, how do you think the events have benefited the Xero community and its partners?

KG: For us, events like Xerocon right here in Atlanta are all about building community — there’s no substitute for that face-to-face connection. We don’t think of ourselves as just a technology company. We are a resolutely human company with a culture that cares about people and reflects the diverse global communities we serve. This extends to our accountant partners and small business customers — they represent a community working together to help each other grow and thrive. We see it as our job to connect like-minded people within this community so that we can all move the industry forward. So, our events play a foundational role in helping us achieve our goals. In addition to Xerocon Atlanta, we’re also excited about our Roadshow events, coming later this year across the US, which will be an opportunity to forge connections between our team, accountants and local partners, such as banks and app developers.

XU: I believe you’re attending Xerocon Atlanta, what’s the thing your looking forward to most about the event?

KG: Absolutely, Xerocon is always one of the highlights of my year, and I am super excited to be delivering the opening keynote at Xerocon Atlanta! I can’t wait to hang out with some of the smartest, most innovative thinkers in the industry. It’s always fun to catch up with customers — in fact, the longer I spend at Xero, the more they are becoming colleagues and friends. I first attended Xerocon as a banking partner when I was EVP at Capital One. When I walked the floor of that event, it was incredibly energizing to meet the amazing Xero team and so many passionate accountant partners. In fact, it’s what motivated me to want to join this amazing company. I feel incredibly lucky to have joined a company with such passionate advocates!

XU: Social media has become one of the biggest platforms to influence people on, but how important do you think it is for a company to be involved and active on social media?

KG: I think social media is essential because it is all about facilitating a two-way dialogue with customers, and reinforcing the sense of community that we’re building across the US and Canada this year. The days of a company speaking at their customers are long gone. Social media is not about delivering a corporate message. It’s an opportunity to have a real conversation every day with customers, thought leaders and innovators across the industry. It’s a vital tool that we use to connect with our global community.

XU: Technology is constantly evolving, but how do you see the development of technology impacting the accountancy industry in years to come?

KG: You’ve probably seen all sorts of headlines that accountants and bookkeepers will be negatively impacted by AI – that the industry is dead. We’re actually seeing the opposite trend play out. Accountants are perfectly positioned at the leading edge of automation technology and its transformative benefits, both to their practice and to their small businesses clients. I believe that we are reaching the tipping point of cloud adoption by accountants.

By the end of 2018, it will be the expected norm. This, in turn, will accelerate an evolution in the types of services accountants provide — there will be less and less emphasis on mundane administrative tasks and a much greater focus on delivering more complex and strategic advisory services and reaching more small businesses with critical advice to help them succeed.

XU: Obviously Xero is a big company internationally, but what do you think the most important aspects are to being a part of an international business?

KG: The biggest benefit of being an international business is that we are able to tap into the collective wisdom of a global team, a global customer base, and global partners. In a way, it helps us see into the future. If you look at trends like open banking dynamics in the UK and the widespread adoption of cloud accounting in Australia, we can take those valuable, real-world insights from other markets and plan ahead for the Americas. And that ultimately helps our US and Canada customers get ahead of the curve too. I believe that cloud platforms like Xero are levelling the playing field for our small businesses. It used to be incredibly difficult for small businesses to compete with big companies because they didn’t have access to the same tools and technology. Today, that’s no longer the case. A business in rural Georgia can now access the power of a global platform like Xero, which is built on the latest AI and machine learning technology.

XU: How do you think Xero HQ is helping the Xero Ecosystem?

KG: We’re very excited by the feedback we’re getting from our accountant partners on Xero HQ. Xero HQ is designed as a real-time hub to service their small business clients, with end-to-end visibility and insights across each business. The Xero ecosystem is a crucial part of Xero HQ. Our ecosystem now includes over 600 leading third-party apps, so it’s easy for every business can develop the right tech stack for their needs. We designed it to solve one of their biggest problems – how do you find the right tech solution for your business among the countless apps that proliferate by the day? Xero HQ solves that problem from both sides; helping businesses discover the right apps and helping app companies discover the right clients. And finally, we add the all-important financial view to the ecosystem. Data shows us that one of the biggest factors between a small business’ success or failure is cash flow. By including financial institutions in our ecosystem, customers can choose to access real-time financial opportunities to avoid those cash flow challenges.

XU: We all have people that we look up to who inspire us. Would you say you have a specific role model who has given you the drive to push on and get to this point in your career?

KG: I have always drawn inspiration from strong female leaders. One of the leaders I admire most is Andrea Jung, who was the first female CEO of Avon, a long-term board member at GE, and is currently the CEO of Grameen America, a non-profit microfinance organization that focuses on helping female entrepreneurs in low-income communities. Andrea was on the board of GE when I started my career. I had immense respect for her, and seeing her in that position of power helped me know that I could dream big in my own career. Many years later I had the opportunity to get to know Andrea in her role at Grameen America. I was blown away, not only by her professional success, but what a great person and mother she is. Andrea has shown me what it takes to achieve success in the business world, while also being a force for good in society. She also embodies characteristics that I try to emulate — she’s smart, driven, fearless and real.

XU: Is there anything else that you think motivates you, apart from a role model?

KG: When I reflect on my career path, one common theme shines through — my desire to make a real difference to American small businesses. Having met so many entrepreneurs and small business owners over the years, I’ve been inspired by their tenacity, creativity and zeal every day. In my time at Capital One, I saw first-hand that we can ensure small businesses thrive by providing them with financial security and independence. And I’ve built on that further in my current role at Xero. We’re investing in the latest cloud accounting technology to transform the lives of small businesses by providing access to real-time advice from accountants, accurate cash flow visibility, and instant connections to the right apps for their needs. Given that small businesses are one of the largest collective contributors to the U.S. economy, that will keep me motivated for many years to come.

XU: To finish off, when you’re not working at Xero, what can we find you doing in your spare time? Any interesting hobbies?

KG: My family comes first, so my weekends are devoted to real focused time to them. And of course, as a new transplant to Denver, I’ve taken up all those quintessentially Denverite hobbies, from skiing to mountain biking to trial running.

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