Tom Robertson, Treasury Manager at Xero
Tom was kind enough to share some insight into how refreshing it is working for a company that lives its values, as opposed to housing them on a token wall poster, created purely to check a box. Enjoy.
How would you explain to your Grandma what you do?
If Xero was a household, I manage everyone’s mortgages and banking to make sure they’ve got cash/borrowing capacity available at the right time, in the right currency and account to cover both day to day and longer term purchases (both planned and unplanned!). Finally, investing any surplus cash until it’s needed.
Was working in tech something you dreamed about doing as a kid? If not, what was it?
I think my early dreams involved something with either a round or oval ball, but those quickly evolved into something more realistic. Economics was a subject at school I always found super interesting given the way it underpins so much of how people, businesses and wider society operate. But ultimately, I wanted to work in a space that had a tangible and positive impact in NZ.
Tell us a little bit more about your career journey and ultimately about how you ended up working at Xero?
I followed my early interest and completed my university studies focusing on Finance and Economics, with my first real job being a grad role at ANZ in Financial Markets. Starting at the cusp of the GFC was a pretty eye opening introduction to banking. It was a great place to learn and develop skills but the roles were also pretty specialised, and ironically the industry was starting to deal with significant tech disruption.
Speaking with Treasury teams daily, I was always interested in moving into an in-house Treasury role. After moving to London in 2013 where there’s a dedicated professional body (ACT) that offered a two year programme to gain a specific qualification in Corporate Treasury, I decided to hit the books again. About half way through, it paid off in helping me land my first non-banking role at Rentokil Initial - aka the queens rat catcher.
In 2017 after a four year O.E. my wife and I moved back to Wellington. Xero was top of my list of places I’d like to work. I followed Xero closely from their IPO, attending a couple of AGM’s, loving the vision and huge ambition that Rod and the company had. I was bracing myself for a lengthy period looking for a role, given Treasury roles tend to be fairly niche. A couple of weeks in, a role at Xero popped up on a job search email for their first Treasury role that had me pinching myself over how ideal and well timed it was.
“I’d not worked for a company where the buy-in to the values was so strong and believable”
Can you share some more insight into what that transition was like?
For me most of the transition was super positive. I came into an awesome wider finance team who all loved what they were doing and I’d not worked for a company where the buy-in to the values was so strong and believable. Not just seen on posters or emails but actually visible in the way people work and interact with each other.
I think the biggest adjustments were showing the ability to adapt and get things done in a fast paced environment. Because new things were being tackled all the time there wasn’t a ‘playbook’ or corporate process to follow. Which viewed another way gives you a lot of accountability and ownership over the work that you're doing.
“Working at a bank wasn’t a great opener at bbq’s whilst I was in the industry. ”
What do you like about working in tech relative to your past jobs?
For starters I’ve loved working at a company where New Zealanders have a really positive association with how Xero has transformed the way SMEs and accountants operate, and the impact Xero has had on the industry and its people. Working at a bank wasn’t a great opener at bbq’s whilst I was in the industry.
Working in a high growth company is great as well. It can be challenging at times, because you don’t always have the resources you need or want but it’s exciting and a lot more motivating than being in an industry heading in the other direction.
What did you study at University and was a career working in tech ever on the radar back then?
Finance, nah can’t say I was ahead of the curve back then...I was looking at the more vanilla routes!
What kind of people attributes do you think are important for people considering a career path in tech?
Being adaptable, agile and resilient are key especially when you're working in fast growing organisations. Keeping a holistic perspective on your day-to-day work and direction of the organisation is also important when initially transitioning from different working environments.
Do you have any advice for people considering tech as a career path and how they might get there quicker?
If you don’t have an obvious hard skill that’s considered in-demand by tech companies (e.g. product development), find a short list of companies that inspire you and be proactive around trying to engage with people at those companies to understand how they operate and what type of roles you could see yourself in for a good chunk of time.
Lastly, what do you love about working at Xero?
Xero’s a big organisation but it’s retained a culture that really is unique. I’ve been inspired by how ambitious Xero’s been from day one and continues to be - the milestones chalked up along the way are something everyone involved can be extremely proud of.