Market whizz-kid enjoys Kiwi lifestyle

Last updated 08:15 10/01/2014

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The darling of the Stock Exchange is a very Kiwi entrepreneur, writes Anthony Hubbard.

Rod Drury is the digital whizz-kid whose company is worth billions but has yet to turn a profit.

As a true internet entrepreneur, he runs his multinational firm Xero from his home in Havelock North.

Mr Drury is a very Kiwi kind of multimillionaire. He likes to pad around his house in informal gear. He Skypes in his board shorts. He and his wife took their kids back to the bay "so our kids would grow up in the provinces", he told a Hawke's Bay tourism magazine.

"In the bay the right things are important. We can go to the beach, swim, ride up the hill and eat outside with friends."

He said he could "work effectively from the bay a few days a week and spend time with my team in Wellington and Auckland most weeks or overseas."

Xero aims to be "the Amazon of internet software accounting", and in the last year has rocketed up the sharemarket tables.

It is now worth about $6.8 billion, putting it among the market leaders.

And it is yet to turn a profit. Mr Drury cheerfully acknowledges this, saying that the aim is to build up the business first. Xero was building a "long- term, highly profitable business and this will incur further losses".

Big United States investors have put their number into the firm, and it has major expansion plans. Last year its workforce grew from a bit under 400 to nearly 600. Mr Drury himself, a serial entrepreneur, is now estimated to be worth more than $700 million.

What is not so well known is that he is Ngai Tahu, and proud of it.

His father traced the tribal lineage, Mr Drury told the Ngai Tahu on-line magazine Te Karaka.

"For me, it shows you really belong in New Zealand. More and more I have this feeling of pride in New Zealand, and an awareness of the characteristics that make us different from anywhere else."

Mr Drury was raised in a middle- class family in Hawke's Bay and had only a vague notion of his Maori heritage.

In 2013 he was the Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the year, and he has won high praise for helping other businesspeople in Wellington and elsewhere.

Wellington Employers' Chamber of Commerce chief executive Raewyn Bleakley told a newspaper reporter that Mr Drury's story of perseverance "is one we can all learn from".

"For someone who is running a multibillion-dollar company and 600 staff spread over four countries he has been very generous with his time in passing on his experiences, ideas, and advice to both the Chamber and to Business Central members, most recently in Whanganui and Hawke's Bay."

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In 1995 he co-founded Glazier Systems, specialising in developing systems for Microsoft Windows. He sold it for $7.5m about four years later. Then there was AfterMail, an email package that won an international award. He sold the business for $45m.

"It was never designed to be a long- term business. We built it up to sell it to get some money," Mr Drury said. "The other thing we wanted to do was to prove that we could build world-class technology in New Zealand and be as good at developing products as anyone else," he told Te Karaka.

He has certainly proved that. Now the question is: How far can Xero go?

- The Dominion Post

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