Rachael Powell, Chief Customer Officer of Xero, on Curiosity and Growth
Many would be satisfied to climb the sales or marketing ranks. But Rachael Powell has held leadership roles in both disciplines and in HR and customer success. Ask her the secret to her amazing career success and she’ll likely attribute it to her insatiable curiosity. “We all want to be the best version of ourselves, and you can only do that if you continue to evolve,” Rachael says.
Rachael also has a fierce drive to succeed…a trait she may have inherited from her grandmother – a working journalist right up until she passed away at 88. “She was beyond her years in wisdom and strength of character in a world that was still very male-dominated. I think her success came down to tenacity and grit.”
I’ve never demanded a promotion or politically navigated my way to take on more. I believe that if you instead explore, continuously learn and build ambidextrous skills, you’re a valuable asset for any organization.
Inspired by her grandmother, Rachael always chose to take the path less travelled, to accelerate her learning and to seek out mentors and role models. She was so fascinated by business that she opted to finish her undergraduate degree whilst taking on a full-time graduate role in a high-growth startup. In her first job at this telecommunications company, 19-year-old Rachael was hired as a graduate accountant in charge of distributing OpEx budgets across the organisation and holding cost centre managers accountable to expense forecasts. Always on the lookout to broaden her horizons, she worked her way into marketing within 18 months, where she had a ball establishing the corporate event division of the company amongst other things.
She then spent 12 years at IBM. After starting in business development for channels, Rachael landed in a strategy role. That’s when Rashmy Chatterjee became an important mentor who encouraged Rachael to earn her MBA and taught her how to build strategy and diplomacy. “She taught me so much about navigating the politics of an organization. The way she worked through conversations to get to the best outcome for IBM was pure gold.”
Now Rachael is making her mark at Xero, a company with a market cap exceeding$20 billion and double-digit YOY growth. In her starting role as Xero’s Chief People Officer, she helped to transform the face of the company and embed key cultural DNA grounded in strengths-based leadership principles and a strong purpose to improve the lives of people in small business, their advisors and communities across the globe. In this capacity, Rachael also drove the diversity and inclusion strategy strongly focused on gender diversity — something many technology companies struggle with. Today 40% of the board is female and the number of female executives reporting directly to the CEO has exceeded 60%, whilst overall employee gender diversity sits roughly 50/50. .
Now as Chief Customer Officer for this hot software company, Rachael is responsible for Xero’s global sales, marketing, digital, communications, and customer functions globally, supporting over 2.7M subscribers over 180 countries.
“I’ve never demanded a promotion or politically navigated my way to take on more. I believe that if you instead explore, continuously learn and build ambidextrous skills, you’re a valuable asset for any organization.”
Some of Rachael’s other keys to success:
- Focusing on customers. Rachael developed a framework called JEDI to ensure Xero continues to track and measure every stage of the customer journey from discovery through to consideration, acquisition and then importantly retention, which includes deepening relationships and delighting customers.
- Ensuring diversity. To reflect the customer base her organization serves and ensure an empathetic connection with them, Rachael is committed to all elements of diversity in her teams at the global level and within the regional teams that engage directly with partners and customers.
- Addressing unconscious bias and building psychological safety. Rachael knows the importance of creating safe spaces for people to ask questions and build knowledge about uncomfortable topics or topics that people feel they are inadequately trained to deal with. Not only is unconscious bias important, but so too is bystander training. Rachael believes every single employee has a role to play in leading by example.