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Xero wins top prize at Hi-Tech Awards

Saturday 18 May 2013 6:03 p.m.

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Wellington company Xero has scooped the top prize at the annual Hi-Tech Awards.

The company, which provides online accounting software, won the PWC company of the year award. It also won the HSBC and NZMEA over $5 million export category.

The judges in the company of the year category were full of praise for Xero.

"The hallmarks of a great company are focused leadership, rational planning, and superb results in the market," says one judge "Xero exhibits all of these."

Cloud software company Vend took out two awards as well – the HSBC and NZMEA under $5 million export category and the State Government of Victoria Services category.

The judges say "Vend's objective of moving every bricks and mortar retailer onto the cloud and its execution of a strategy to achieve this goal impressed us. With thousands of retailer customers in more than 100 countries, Vend is well on the way to being a real New Zealand IT success story and has plenty of growth left in it yet."

Three companies were in contention for the top prize.

The tech sector earns New Zealand $5 billion a year and employs more than 40,000 people. So for Xero, winning tech company of the year is a big deal.

"We have so many people working for us behind the scenes," says Rod Drury of Xero. "For them to think that they're one of the best companies in New Zealand is something we are very, very proud of."

Mr Drury founded Xero seven years ago. It sells online accounting software worldwide.

"Before, I think young New Zealanders might have thought they had to go up out of Silicon Valley to be part of Google, or part of Facebook. Now we are building these sorts of jobs with all the benefits of still living here in New Zealand."

Xero's shares have rocketed in value and the company's now worth more than $1.5 billion, although it's still to make a profit.

"We'd love to be profitable; that's our goal," says Mr Drury. "But we are not going to swim to the safety of the side of the pool. We are growing a really big business."

Xero's an inspiration to another of the three finalists – corporate travel software company Serko. Like Xero, it struggles to find staff.

"There is a huge shortage for us at the moment," says Darrin Grafton of Serko. "We can't get people fast enough.The work's there; it's just getting the talent locally."

Both companies have built businesses online, so they owe a debt of gratitude to the third finalist, Bill Buckley. Auckland's Buckley Systems makes 80 percent of the world's electromagnets – vital for making silicon chips.

"Never think it is easy," says Mr Buckley. "It's something you have got to dedicate your life too, and time and everything. You have got to live, dream and sleep it."

But you don't need to be an engineering genius to join the tech industry.

"We employ lots of graphic designers, lots of marketing people, and it's a really fun place to work," says Mr Drury.

Not only is technology fun, it's New Zealand's fastest growing export sector.

The 12-strong international judging panel included Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak, the director of engineering for Google, Craig Nevill-Manning, and Cisco's senior vice president, Howard Charney.

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