Over the past five years, the pace of change in accounting software has been astounding. In Australia, much of the innovation has been controlled by three kings of accounting software: Clive Rabie from Reckon, Tim Reed from MYOB and Chris Ridd from Xero.
Each is perfectly suited to his role and brand, but, apart from a wealth of experience in the software and technology fields, they share surprisingly few similarities. The upbringing, attitudes and life experience of these leaders have forged unique personalities that distinctly impact the products they develop.
Each of these three kings leads an army of software developers, brand managers and sales reps, who battle for market share. Together, they form a more powerful force than perhaps even they realise, shaping and moulding the future of the accounting industry.
As long as they do it right, they are also making our lives easier along the way.
CLIVE RABIE, GROUP CEO, RECKON – the corporate mover and shaker
The turning point in the career of Reckon group CEO Clive Rabie came when a good friend died on a squash court. Rabie was 30 years old, the same age as his late friend, and owned a few Healthy Life franchises. His friend had worked in the head office of Healthy Life.
“I suppose I just associated the business with him,” says Rabie, now 54 and married with three children. “You never can be absolutely sure what encourages you to make these changes in your life, but it was clear to me that I needed change.”
Change was something with which Rabie had become familiar, personally and professionally, over the course of his life. Growing up in South Africa during a time of apartheid, he spent much of his youth yearning for change. Whereas most of us are comforted by the place of our childhood, Rabie says he was always keen to leave.
And leave he did, but not before completing two years of compulsory national service. “It wasn’t fantastic,” recalls Rabie, “but in a funny way, it was a good experience. I’m not against the idea of some people having experiences that take them out of their comfort zone.”
After completing national service and then a bachelor of commerce degree, Rabie moved to Australia in 1982 and took a job for 12 months with Coopers & Lybrand.
But his calling was business, so after building and then handing over the Healthy Life franchises to one of his brothers, he launched a sign manufacturing business that evolved into an importer and wholesaler, then accepted a major contract from Toyota for sign maintenance.
It was here the Reckon connection was made. In order to manage the Toyota contract, Rabie developed his own CRM software. It was such a success that he took it to Reckon founder Greg Wilkinson to sell as a new product called Workflow Manager.
When Reckon hit trouble in the early 2000s after an expensive foray into financial services website development, Wilkinson called Rabie in as a consultant. But that role never quite panned out.
“The day I walked into the business, I never left,” says Rabie. “I love the software, and I think it is just such an interesting industry.”
Rabie helped turn Reckon’s fortunes around by focusing on what the company did best: selling boxed software. More recently, he has overseen Reckon’s move into the cloud, which involved cutting long-held ties with US software giant Intuit. A lack of control over the software’s code meant Rabie could never be sure it would be perfectly tailored to the Australian market.
“For companies such as ours, there are two positions to take,” says Rabie. “In Australia, you’ve got Reckon, MYOB and Xero living very close to the local accountants and therefore catering for that market. Then you’ve got the international players that are going for a small percentage of the Australian market. We don’t want a small percentage – we want 90 to 100 per cent.”