As a company matures and grows globally, what role does the chair play? Tradify's new chair Tony Ward and CEO Michael Steckler discuss how they work together.
“I see myself as a mentor/coach, but I’d say I get as much back from him as I give to him,” says Tony Ward, chair of tradie job management software company Tradify, of his role with CEO Michael Steckler.
Ward took over as chair from Adam Clark in April 2023 as the Kiwi tech company continued to expand offshore. He’s since brought in fellow Canadian Allison Hawkins, CFO at Halight, to further internationalise the five-person board.
Steckler had moved from his director role to CEO in 2020, taking over from founder Curtis Bailey, who remains on the board.
Bailey founded Tradify in 2010 to help tradies simplify quoting, scheduling and invoicing for their businesses and it now has offices in New Zealand, Australia and the UK and sells into numerous countries. It wasn’t until 2021 that it did its first major capital raise: $10 million led by venture capital firm Movac, which now holds a near 37 percent stake. Bailey holds just under 10 percent.
Steckler says his shift to CEO was smooth because Bailey had decided it was time for a different style of leadership and had already known him as a director for a year.
“He knew my strengths and that what I would bring would be different to what had been done before. He’d got it to a really great size and scaled the product-to-market fit.”
Ward, an experienced tech executive who was formerly president of the Americas for Xero, is based in Colorado, US, and he and Steckler met face to face when he first joined the board to get the relationship off on the right foot.
They have fortnightly online catchups outside of monthly board meetings. Ward says his other main role is to aggregate questions from other board members to ensure they don’t overburden the management team with requests, and that “we’re all working for the same outcome”.
Steckler says the CEO’s relationship with all board members is important but particularly the chair, where there must be a high level of trust.
“You’re more likely to listen and take feedback and guidance from someone that you trust and respect and so, for me, it’s really, really critical and it’s a big part of why, with Adam’s endorsement and meeting Tony, we wanted to work together.”
Ward says his role is like a coach because it is Steckler who is out playing on the field, making decisions for the company.
“The board is sitting on the sidelines coaching; we are not playing the game. The non-executive director title is important, it means you are not an executive, we are not in the business. We are helping Michael and the executive with the business and that is super important.”
It’s something new directors tend to forget and they often tend to jump into a business, rather than staying in their lane, he says.
“All we do as board members is ask questions. We only have three main jobs: hire and fire the CEO and help with strategy,” he says. “We don’t write strategy. Michael and team write strategy. We ask questions about the strategy, and then obviously compliance to make sure we’re following the rules.”
Steckler says his primary expectation of the chair is to provide clarity on the voice of the board – what it expects, and if the management team is heading in the right direction.
“Ultimately, for me, the board is a representation of our shareholder so making sure that we are doing the right things for that constituent is really important and while it might seem like a small thing, clarity of focus that we’re doing the right thing is most important.”
There should be a healthy friction between the board and the CEO, he says.
“The board is there to ask me difficult questions that, on occasion, I might not want to answer but I do think that’s important. You have to have trust and transparency in those relationships, which is why I used the words ‘healthy friction’. I think we’ve got a really good balance at Tradify.”
What’s it like having the original CEO and founder still on the board?
It’s useful, says Steckler, because he knows the company history and what’s previously been tried and failed.
“It’s really great as CEO to have someone who’s sat in the same seat that you can turn to and say ‘hey, I’m wrestling with this problem’, and who says ‘yeah, I’ve been there before and this is what I did’ or even just says ‘yeah, I struggled with that and I didn’t solve it’. Sometimes, from a therapeutic perspective, that is quite useful.”
Ward says Bailey is a good example of how a founder should act once they move onto the board, as that transition doesn’t always work out.
“He’s a man of few words but when he asks a question, it comes with a lot of insight because he knows the business really well.”
Tradify doesn’t disclose revenue figures but is delivering 50 percent year-on-year growth and has 100 staff globally. Its major markets are Australia, New Zealand, Europe and the UK in particular, and North America.
Steckler still describes Tradify as an early-stage company, despite its success to date.
“We’ve got a long way to go to really realise the full potential of the company.”
There are still millions of trades companies worldwide that don’t yet have any software to help them run their businesses but they are now starting to adopt that at scale, he says.
“We’d love to be the global leader – that’s the aspiration. There’s a lot of competition but we think there’s a pretty big opportunity to do that and that’s what we’re trying to build.”
The ultimate goal is to have Tradify become synonymous globally with running small trades businesses.
One of its key competitive differences is that Bailey was an electrician, and purpose built the platform for tradies based on his own experiences rather than having it designed by software developers.
Ward says very few Kiwi SaaS businesses have hit the scale of Tradify, and its growth should be strengthened as a new generation of more tech savvy tradies emerge in ownership roles.
“I don’t see a reason for them to slow down. Even continuing to grow at the rate that they’re growing is a pretty decent-sized number.”
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