CEO trust and profile audit: Rod Drury, Xero

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Rod Drury is the founder and CEO of the small business accounting software Xero, one of the largest software companies to come out of New Zealand.

In the following presentation, Thought Leadership Partners analysed Rod’s profile as a CEO and looked at the strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for Rod to build profile and trust at scale:

Like many founder/CEOs, Rod’s preference for thinking and reasoning from first principles can occasionally get in the way of the message. As a result, there are opportunities to incorporate more examples and stories to support Rod’s messaging.

Rod’s language choices are generally well balanced- with a preference to simple conversational copy.

One red flag is Rod’s language and tone can vary slightly from piece to piece. Combined with the lack of story-based personal evidence, readers may question whether written content is authentically Rod.

Rod’s CEO scorecard

Interest benchmark: 82%

Trust benchmark: 63%

Visibility benchmark: 58%


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Our recommendations for Rod:

  1. Rod is a strong communicator (but could benefit from more frequent storytelling)

    1. Rod’s authenticity, directness and strong opinions are a great platform for building interest and trust. Despite being a generally great communicator, there are opportunities for Rod to include more story based content.
  2. The narrative is a key strength for both Rod and Xero

    1. Relative to competitors (and most other similar stage companies) the narrative is a competitive strength for Xero.
    2. Rod has a strong and well balanced CEO narrative that’s told consistently. Regardless of your entry point, it’s easy to understand why Xero exists and how the company will succeed.

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  3. Most of Rod’s current communications target the partner community. There are opportunities to make this content more accessible to other stakeholders.

    1. Similar to most growth-stage CEOs, there’s a reasonably large number of important stakeholder groups right now for Rod and Xero
    2. Most of Rod’s current content appears targeted at the partner community. Small changes to make this content more accessible would open this up to a broader set of stakeholders.


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  4. More focus at the company and society level will improve reach and profile.

    1. Most of Rod’s current content is focused at the product level. Based on the suggested audience prioritisation, we’d recommend that CEO communication from Rod should be allocated in the following themes/proportions: Product/service level 33%, Company level 25%, Industry level 22% and Society level 20%


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  5. It’s important to allow more of Rod’s personality and excitement to surface in his written content.

    1. Compared to his spoken word communications and social media, Rod’s written content can appear muted. Allowing more personality and excitement to surface will improve engagement, authenticity and consistency.


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If you’d like a template of this audit so you can conduct your own, contact us and we’ll send one through.


Merry Christmas / Summer Reading List

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Before I wrap up for the year I wanted to take a few minutes to wish you all a very Merry Christmas.

It’s been a big and exhausting year for many of the people we work with – so I hope you all have the chance to rest, relax and enjoy some well deserved time with family and friends.

I love a bit of time reading over the summer break. So I’ve collected some of my favourite things I’ve read and written over the past year.

Maybe you’ll find something to read and enjoy over the break. I hope so.

Merry Christmas,
Steve Pell

A Summer 2016/17 Reading List

Published @ Thought Leadership Partners

My main adventure day-to-day is building the profile of CEOs – most of whom run fast growth technology businesses. As part of this work I write regularly on CEO comms and marketing. Some of the pieces that have resonated this year:

Published @ Management Disrupted 

Many of you will know Management Disrupted as a side project where I interview interesting Australian CEOs. There were a bunch of fun interviews this year including: Martin Hosking (Redbubble), Collis Ta’eed (Envato), Simon Lee (PromisePay), Tim Fung (Airtasker), Didier Elzinga (Culture Amp) and Jason Wyatt (Marketplacer)

Some broader reading I really enjoyed in 2016: 

Three articles that made me rethink my perspective and changed the way I look at the world in a small way:

Two newsletters that I’ve loved this year are

  • Nextdraft – A daily newsletter that’s never boring
  • Marketoonist – Weekly cartoons on marketing and communications

Two books that have kept me thinking all year:

  • Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt. Perhaps the best business book I’ve read in the past five years. A powerful reminder that strategy is much more than a buzzword or synonym for success. Simple, practical and more insightful than most business school courses on strategy.
  • You Are the Message by Roger Ailes (founder of Fox News). Even if you deeply disagree with Ailes politics and personality, it’s impossible to ignore the impact of Fox News on the media and political landscape. A practical guide for how to communicate in the current environment.
Let me know what you enjoyed – I’d love your feedback.

The biggest corporate comms disasters – 2016 edition

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It’s been a big year for corporate comms disasters.

There’s a lot to learn from how a company manages a crisis. Whilst crisis management isn’t something that we do here at TLP, it’s very closely aligned great CEO and corporate communication. It’s a pressure cooker, where the consequences are huge and everything simply must go right.

This list collects some of the big examples where everything hasn’t gone right and there’s been compounding communications failures. It’s the instances where a bad situation has been made much worse by the failure of communication.

Here’s five disasters from 2016 (included with a range of links to read more):

1. Bellamy’s – Revenue, margin and management credibility all downgraded in one day

Releasing a really bad result to market is bad enough. But being deliberately vague about the implications, and even whether it represents a downgrade made the issue much, much worse. Compounding the issue, both the CEO and Chairman have recently been selling shares on market, pocketing $2.4m and 2.9m respectively.

See also Bellamy’s great China moderation

Update 14-December-2016: Bellamy’s shares have been suspended from trade. A big and ugly reset of investor expectations is about to happen.

Update 19-December-2016:  The AFR is reporting that “Maurice Blackburn is meanwhile investigating a potential class action claim against Bellamy’s following its share price plunge and suspension.”

Update 22-December-2016: Bellamy’s has extended the voluntary suspension of its shares until January 13 to “continue negotiations with key suppliers and manufacturers“. It’s unclear what the underlying issue is – but it’s unlikely to be good news. The only positive at this stage is the company has resisted making more promises without understanding the full picture – which is a good start in rebuilding credibility.

2. Slack validating the competition

Microsoft announced their competitor to Slack in Microsoft teams. Slack responded with a full page New York Times advert, which validated and turned the launch into a real news item. This would otherwise have gone largely unnoticed by those outside the tech community.

3. Ignoring the crisis management team at Ardent Leisure / Dreamworld

In ignoring the advice of crisis managers, Ardent Chairman Neil Balnaves turned a tragic accident into a communications disaster. The company initially responded legally, and was on the back foot chasing to media coverage from a very early stage.

The issue was made worse by a vote on the CEO’s bonus, that went ahead just days after the incident.

See also Dreamworld accident: How to avoid a PR disaster

4. 7-Eleven “still don’t get it”

The 7-Eleven wage scandal didn’t turn into a crisis of confidence until the company transitioned (‘sacked’) the Alan Fels led independent board – charged with investigating and righting widespread wage abuse. Fels subsequently spoke out publicly, stating “7-Eleven still don’t get it”.

See also 7-Eleven creates new public relations disaster

5. Seven West Media following the Tiger Woods ‘arc’

After it was widely reported that Seven West CEO Tim Worner had an affair with an assistant at the company two years ago, the company went into lockdown, saying the issue is a personal matter for the CEO and refusing to comment.

The share market clearly disagreed, with shares down nearly 10% in the first few hours of trading post announcement. Many sources say that the company has played legal hardball and tried to shut-down the story, making the issue an even bigger rabbit chase for journalists.

Update 19-December: This is likely to get a lot worse for Seven West before it gets better – only great crisis management from this point forward is likely to save Worner’s job.

Update 20-December: New revelations today of up to four more affairs, drug use, and payment of an indirect bonus by Worner to Harrison. The CEO is mentioned in the press as a “serial sexual exploiter” of staff. The Board is likely to have their hand forced at this stage. Worner appears very unlikely to make it to Christmas.

Reports: Seven CEO Tim Worner Outed By Former Lover

Update 22-December: There’s some big challenges now for the Seven Board. Worner must go, but the Board have known in full for 2 yrs. It’s very hard to take the moral high ground now without Board change (which in itself is difficult in a family company). Today the Board has announced an “Independent Enquiry”, whilst announcing ongoing support for Worner (see also Seven West Media board missed the change in corporate culture).

It’s going to get much worse before it gets better, with journalists digging into credit card spending, the irregularities of the initial dismissal and Worner’s denials of widespread drug use. Given the typical Tiger Woods arc of denial, minimisation, resignation and repent – it’s likely that there’s still more to play out.

It will be interesting to see how long the Board continues to attempt to minimise the damage, before recognising that their only job right now is to rebuild trust and credibility with shareholders, employees and the general public.