Xero is an online accounting software provider for small businesses. Although the organisation deals mainly in the realm of technology, their Managing Director, Trent Innes, has been recognised as an exemplary people leader. In 2017, he was recognised as Australian HR Champion (CEO) of the Year at the Australian HR Awards.

Trent Innes, Managing Director Australia, Xero

Trent Innes, Managing Director Australia, Xero


Innes has led two leadership programs, Emerging Leaders @ Xero and Managing @ Xero which focus on retraining and helping employees develop new skills.

Innes said Emerging Leaders @ Xero is about building a business management community with employees already inside their environment, which makes it easier for them to learn from each other through a peer support program. It also empowers employees and gives them the opportunity to, “own their own career”.

The programs create new opportunities for employees to grow inside the organisation, helping Xero retain their best employees in diverse roles.

Emerging Leaders @ Xero was started in 2016 and has involved 45 employees to date, whilst 125 employees have undertaken Managing @ Xero. The programs encourage cross skilling which has enabled members of the customer service team and small business team advance into the strategic sales and product teams.

Innes said these retraining programs came about once the organisation looked for aspirational employees who showed promise and then thought about how Xero could fill the skill knowledge gap.

As a result, the majority of roles at Xero are sourced directly through internal talent. Only 9 per cent of the roles in the past 12 months have been filled with external recruitment.

For Innes, a willingness to embrace change and trusting employees is key to meeting modern challenges like automation and work/life harmony. He said leaders need to be conscious of smaller things that matter to employees like traffic and the cost of travel and believes teams should be afforded greater freedoms.

“You need to empower people to be successful,” he said.

Innes’ approach to both external business and the workplace is focussed on people. In 2017, Xero had 446,000 subscribers in Australia, many of whom operate small businesses and Innes said he keeps in mind that, “behind every small business is a person” and that the combination of purpose and values help build success.

In the workplace, the focus is on values and behaviour rather than restrictive rules. Innes enforces only two rules for his employees: wash your own cup and avoid eating lunch at your desk.

By encouraging a sense of individual and collective responsibility, a positive attitude is fostered in employees which see them go the extra mile to solver customer problems.

“Attitude always trumps skills and knowledge,” Innes said.

In 2017, Innes was also the winner of the IT and Telecommunications Executive of the Year and Managing Director of the Year at CEO Magazine’s Executive of the Year Awards.


Only two in five Australian workers (40%) believe employers understand how to improve wellbeing in the workplace. (Workplace Wellbeing Report)