Will Buckley of Xero on improving the small business survival rate and why you should get clear on the things you can actually control

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Will Buckley is the Director of Canada at Xero, one of the fastest growing software as a service companies globally which leads the New Zealand, Australian, and United Kingdom cloud accounting markets. Will is a trained accountant with extensive experience in Finance and entrepreneurship who is fiercely passionate about helping small and medium sized businesses thrive by providing them with real-time visibility of their financial position and performance in a way that’s simple, smart and secure. Originally from Australia, Will is leading the growth of Xero’s expansion into the Canadian market.    

Looking back ten years, where did you think you’d be by this point in your career? How did you get here?

Ten years ago, I was pursuing becoming a professional soccer player and I never would have thought I’d end up where I am today. That dream unfortunately ended after I broke my leg pretty badly in a tackle and I suddenly had a good amount of time during recovery to think about what I wanted to do moving forward. Over that six month period, I finished my degree and jumped into the business world as an Accountant but didn’t really know what to expect. I didn’t have a set direction at the time but I knew that I just wanted to get going doing something else. My accounting career started off in public practice with a small accounting firm before I found an opportunity to join an early stage startup. That was a transformative experience because after that startup was acquired, I ventured into the corporate world but never felt a similar kind of passion for what I was doing like I did in the early stages of that startup. Eventually, I started up my own Accounting firm and grew it to a decent size before I transitioned to joining Xero. While I haven’t taken a linear path, I take everything in my stride and ensure that I always built on it.

You’ve been all around the world with Xero, how did you first start with the company and why were you drawn to it?

I came across Xero after starting my own firm; I loved the platform and used it as a platform to manage my own accounting practice. After using the platform for a couple of years and watching my client base grow, I started to develop a bit of a “fan boy” relationship with Xero, and began checking their careers website every now and then for positions. Eventually, I joined the Xero team in Australia after transitioning the operations of my firm to my partner in the practice. I wanted to be a part of the company that helped people like me grow their accounting practice. I started off supporting the senior leaders of the Australian business, which then turned into an opportunity to relocate to the U.S to help build the franchise there. It was a very exciting 12 months working with the U.S-based leadership team as we started scaling the platform in North America. After seeing that there was a lot of interest in our platform from Canadian customers the opportunity presented itself to lead Xero’s growth in Canada. This is my third year and third country with the company.

How are you thinking about expanding Xero into Canada? What is your strategy and what are you focused on when going up against such big name competitors?

Our approach has always been simple and consistent: we listen to small business owners and understand the problems they are working through in order to deliver useful solutions to help grow their businesses. We want to become experts in what is important to them. We are also in a great position as a result of our platform. Starting in the cloud; it’s much easier for us to innovate and make progress quickly in the market. As we continue to create a community of accountants, bookkeepers and third party integrations around our customers, we’ll differentiate ourselves through the quality of data, insights and trusted advice that we are bringing to our customers. The strength of our platform is a key part of what makes moving into a new market like Canada so exciting.

We are incredibly passionate about increasing the survival rate of small businesses, and our platform has done a lot to increase those survival rates in other commonwealth countries. When small businesses get on our platform, their 5 year survival rate tends to increase from 50% to 83%. We believe that once we get our community going, our platform will do a lot to help build the economy and small business ecosystem in Canada. No business should go out of business and I love the fact that we help entrepreneurs pursue their dreams.

What have been some of the most important business lessons you have had to learn the hard way? How have they enabled your success?

Maintaining a consistent approach in dealing with situations and people is something that is very important to do. This is especially true when one becomes a leader and it is a key for having your employees and stakeholders feeling comfortable with having honest conversations with you. I definitely feel that being consistent is one of the best ways to bring the best out of people.

Secondly, getting really good at understanding what is controllable and what is uncontrollable is paramount. You can drive yourself mad by always worrying about what other people are thinking and what might happen. Getting very clear around what the things are that you can control and influence through your own actions is critical. Be aware of what is uncontrollable but don’t let it get to you.

Lastly, you must learn how to manage risk. In the back of my mind, I’m always running my own balance sheet in order to understand where the risks in decisions may be, and when it is time to consult with someone else to help balance the risk profile of a decision or situation.

What does leadership look like to you and how does the next generation need to start thinking differently about leadership?

I’m really excited about the leadership styles that are starting to emerge as the next generation makes it’s impression on the workforce. To me, it’s clear that bringing diversity of thought to problem-solving is going to be a key part of leadership. Organizations are more connected to the global economy than what they ever have been, and in order to be competitive in a global market, we need to represent as many cultures and backgrounds in our strategic approach.

As innovation continues, new industries will be created and traditional industries will have to adapt as they become disrupted by new technologies. By remaining compassionate to each other, we will be in a good position to compliment technology advancements with people experiences.

What would be your one piece of advice for those in the workforce today to get ahead and find work that is fulfilling?

I am a big believer in investing in your education. That doesn’t just mean putting your head in a book and going to school to get certificates. Be conscious and active in the environment and surroundings you are in and take everything from it that you can. Always try to build on your skills, attitudes and knowledge whether it be through your network or just the work you do. If you approach every experience this way, you will wake up in 10 years having accumulated a lot of powerful knowledge.

Take the time to understand what is on your horizon and do what you can to get a clear picture of what direction you are headed in. If what is ahead doesn’t excite you then it is a great opportunity to alter your approach. It’s all about the journey and people often forget that. Think long term because when you are short sighted you can get lost once you arrive at your short-term goal and you haven’t thought about what is next.  Getting to your destination is one thing, but it’s so important to enjoy the journey because that will tell you a lot.

Aubrey Chapnick