A cycling champ turned tech exec talks about true grit

March 11, 2022, 11:35 AM UTC

Good morning,

It’s not every day you get to sit down with a four-time Canadian national cycling champion to talk about endurance in the workplace and how participating in sports is a training ground for leadership.

“There were just four people in my first race,” Tony Ward told me of his start in the sport. “It was about eight miles, and I came third place. And the guy who came in fourth place got a flat tire. I really had no talent. I just kept working hard week after week, month after month, year after year. It was just grit.”

Ward is the president of the Americas at Xero, a global accounting platform for small businesses. He previously held senior leadership positions at Microsoft and LinkedIn.

Tony Ward President of the Americas at Xero
Tony Ward, President of the Americas at Xero
Courtesy of Xero

“Back in April 2020 [at the onset of the pandemic], when no one knew what was going happen, for a period of time at Xero we basically guaranteed the pay of all of our salespeople,” Ward explains. “So, they didn’t have any sales targets. We said, this is not a sales moment; this is a human moment. And we literally said to our salespeople, ‘I want you to call every single one of our accounting firms and bookkeeping firms and see if they’re actually okay.’”

Xero is headquartered in New Zealand. The company, founded in 2006, is listed on the Australian Securities Exchange. In 2021, operating revenue reached $848.8 million NZD (about $582.43 million USD). Xero earned a net profit of $19.8 million NZD (about $13.59 million USD). The platform has over 2.7 million subscribers globally, according to the company. Xero has approximately 4,000 employees and also has offices in Australia, the U.S. and U.K. 

From cyclist to tech exec

“I was born in Calgary, and I spent most of my formative years in Winnipeg,” Ward says. “If you’ve ever seen the movie Fargo, it’s pretty much that. It snows six months of the year, and minus 40 degrees sometimes.”

Ward’s father, a cyclist who emigrated to Canada from the U.K. in the 1950s, introduced him to the sport. Ward won his first of four Canadian championships in 1988. “It was in my city and all my family was there,” he says. 

He traveled the world as a member of the Canadian National Cycling Team. During his racing career, he still pursued an undergraduate degree, which took him seven years to complete. “I was the first person in my family to finish high school let alone go to a university,” he told me.

Ward retired from cycling in 1991, at age 24. Afterward, he was a coach and even a mail carrier when the job market was tight. In his cohort at work, “everybody had a degree and a couple of had master’s degrees; highly educated people were delivering mail,” he says. 

“I remember saying to my wife, if we don’t learn something about computers and technology, we’re going to be illiterate in the 21st century,” Ward says. His wife is from New Zealand, so they applied to The University of Auckland and relocated. She pursued a computer science degree, and Ward, a management science and information systems degree.

After graduating, he eventually got a job in product marketing at the Telecom, an internet service provider in New Zealand. Then Microsoft came calling. Ward was at the company about eight years when he landed the position of chief marketing and operations officer at Microsoft in Australia. Ward then held senior leadership positions at LinkedIn, Spark, SurveyMonkey and Dropbox, all in Australia. He also founded a cloud-based startup.

Staying competitive

Ward is now living in Boulder, Colorado with his family. In his role at Xero since 2019, he’s responsible for expanding the company’s businesses in the U.S. and Canada. “More than half of our employees in the Americas have started after the pandemic,” he says. “And we’ve managed to build the culture, increase engagement, and deliver better results all in a remote environment.”

“We’ve been defining what winning in the Americas means for some time,” Ward says. “It’s not necessarily about being the biggest, but how do we get the best people? How do we motivate them? How do we inspire them to make a difference for accountants in small businesses?” Competing against larger companies is good because “it will make us better,” he says.

His athletic training prepared him for this moment.

“We’re trying to build a 100-year company,” Ward told me. “Just like I was saying about sports, you keep working hard week after week, month after month, year after year.”

Enjoy your weekend. See you on Monday.

Sheryl Estrada

Big deal

Women comprise 11% of the construction field in the U.S. That’s over 1 million workers in a variety of roles, an increase of 133,000 jobs since 2018, according to Levelset’s analysis of the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report. Levelset, a construction payment company owned and operated by Procore Technologies, Inc. (NYSE: PCOR), surveyed more than 550 women in the construction field (82% work for a general contractor or subcontractor). About 69% of respondents feel they have an opportunity to advance in their company, an increase from 63% in 2021, according to the company's new report. Over a third (39%) of women surveyed are office managers or administrators. But 10.5% are presidents or CEOs compared to 7% who are administrative assistants, the report found. More young women are entering the construction field, according to Levelset. Some top reasons why women are joining the industry: flexible hours and schedules, opportunities for creativity and problem solving, and taking pride in being a part of the building process, the report found.

Courtesy of Levelset

Going deeper

In case you missed it, here’s what was featured in CFO Daily this week:

How should CFOs be approaching pay raises? An expert offers advice

Intel exec Dawn Jones’ non-traditional road to the C-suite

When it comes to ESG, your shareholders want a plan this proxy season

Walmart’s CFO on how inflation is affecting pay and costs


Here are notable moves:

Kristin Caltrider was named EVP and CFO at Inogen, Inc. (Nasdaq: INGN), a medical technology company offering respiratory products, effective March 21. Caltrider succeeds Mike Sergesketter, who joined the company as interim CFO in December 2021, and will remain with Inogen through June 24, 2022. Caltrider joins Inogen from Quidel Corporation, where she most recently served as VP of finance since June 2014. Caltrider first joined Quidel in 2007, where she held roles of increasing responsibility. Prior to joining Quidel, she spent almost four years at Life Technologies (now Thermo Fisher).

Brice Hill was named SVP and CFO at Applied Materials, Inc. Hill was EVP and CFO of Xilinx through its acquisition by Advanced Micro Devices, Inc. He previously served at Intel Corporation for more than two decades including as CFO and COO of the Technology, Systems and Core Engineering Group. Hill formerly served as corporate VP of Intel’s Corporate Strategy and Business Unit Finance. Prior to Intel, Hill worked at General Motors Corporation in various finance positions.

Jack E. Leal was named CFO at Movement Industries Corporation (OTC PINK: MVNT). Leal brings over 27 years of senior level experience in accounting, tax, and compliance oversight for both private and publicly held companies with roles at Petrochem Field Services, Inc., GollobMorganPeddy PC, Ham, Langston & Brezina, LLP, ExpressJet Airlines, Inc., Continental Airlines, Inc. and Deloitte and Touche, LLP.

Mark W. Marinko was named SVP and CFO at SunCoke Energy, Inc. (NYSE: SXC), effective March 7. Marinko, 60, has more than 30 years of professional experience. From June 2014 until September 30, 2021, he was SVP and CFO of Great Lakes Dredge & Dock Corporation. From 2004 through 2013, he was president of the consumer services division at TransUnion, LLC.

Lauren Silvernail will retire from her position of EVP and CFO at Evolus, Inc. (Nasdaq: EOLS), a performance beauty company, effective May 31. The search for her successor is already underway, according to the company. Since joining Evolus in 2018, Silvernail assembled a team that built the commercial infrastructure to support the company and led the restructuring of the balance sheet and financing of the business.

Erica Tingley was named CFO at Kit Check, a provider of automated medication tracking.  Tingley brings over 20 years of experience serving healthcare companies around strategy, finance, and M&A. Tingley started her career and spent nearly 10 years in investment banking at Merrill Lynch and Bank of America Merrill Lynch. She subsequently held senior positions and drove corporate development and corporate finance efforts at G100, The Advisory Board, and Perrigo.

Jose Zuniga was named CFO at Madison Reed, a beauty brand of hair care and hair color products. Zuniga brings with him retail and technology experience from his leadership position at Dollar Shave Club, where he most recently served as CFO. He also served in leadership roles at Google, Yahoo!, and Overture. During his seven-year tenure at Dollar Shave Club, Zuniga led the company through its $1 billion acquisition by Unilever and its omnichannel expansion. 


"The Russia-Ukraine conflict has dented our previously optimistic views on Europe’s economic and asset market outlook. Largely due to the sharp increase in energy prices and the potential for additional supply disruptions, our Europe Economics team has revised down their baseline forecasts for 2022 Euro area GDP growth to 2.5% from 3.9%."

—Zach Pandl, co-head of foreign exchange strategy for Goldman Sachs Research, wrote in a client note on Thursday, as reported by Fortune

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