Intuit CEO-elect Sasan Goodarzi will bring an inclusive, but intellectually challenging leadership style to his new role. In his own understated way, he represents a model of US capitalist behaviour that contradicts the management model that prevails in the White House.
Following an extended handover period working alongside his predecessor as CEO (and future chairman) Brad Smith, the current executive vice president for small business is very much the continuity candidate.
Positioning himself as a “steward of the culture and steward of growth for Intuit”, Goodarzi told AccountingWEB in an interview on the first morning of the company’s QuickBooks Connect event in San Jose, California: “I’ve been a part of shaping the company’s strategy. The way Brad led the company and having been part of the decision-making, it’s less about how things are going to change than how to maintain and accelerate this momentum.
“There’s a huge focus on getting everyone galvanised around a platform that allows us to go global and get everyone fired up about delivering benefits for customers.”
When he takes charge on 2 January, Goodarzi’s vision will be built around “being very clear about the direction and the world you’re trying to create”. Having been schooled in the customer-focused Intuit management culture for 14 years, he will work to create an environment that will “unleash employees to deliver innovation at pace”, while ensuring they know how the company is performing and what is happening around them.
So far, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect to hear from a successful Silicon Valley executive. But some of his following comments may come as a surprise: “Don’t call us an accounting platform. We’re not in the accounting business.”
In case you’ve just spat out your tea at this revelation about the $55bn QuickBooks developer, he clarified: “We are not just a platform for accounting, we are a platform to help small businesses succeed and a critical part of it is to make accountants successful.”
The vision that Goodarzi is trying to align his people around is a “burning platform” – one they may need to dismantle and rebuild before external forces engulf it.
The burning platform metaphor is part of the creative paranoia that drives this commercially fertile corner of California. As recounted by former Nokia CEO Stephen Elop in 2011, the scenario is based on the experience of a Piper Alpha oil rig worker who found himself standing at the platform’s guard rail looking at the icy North Sea 30m below. No one would ordinarily make the jump, but the on-rushing flames caused a radical change in his behaviour, Elop noted.
The moral of the story for Goodarzi is that even when things are going well, “It’s really important to show employees that small businesses have control of 50% of economy and 50% of them go out of business. Bringing that failure rate down to 0% is our role. So we focus less on our results than what’s possible for customers.”
In a digital world dominated by digital FAANGs [Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google] Intuit has cultivated a more caring, inclusive set of brand values based around the idea that when “you prosper, we prosper”. And that approach is a very much a part of the Silicon Valley milieu that lures talent from every corner of the globe.
In contrast to the barbed wire barricades being erected a along the country’s border a few hundred miles south, Intuit’s management team includes several immigrants and children of immigrants.
‘Struggles taught me a lot’
Goodarzi himself was born in Tehran and was part of the generation driven out when the Shah was overthrown in 1979. Goodarzi and his family endured a tough time in their adopted country, particularly when 52 hostages were detained for more than two years at the US embassy in Tehran.
“I was bulled,” he said. “But the struggles at school taught me a lot. It taught me to be a dreamer and perseverer. If you believe and stay at it, anything is possible. I strongly believe in inclusion and recognising what people go through. Many people are immigrants, who have dreams and experiences that shape their lives.”
Five years ago, Intuit launched QuickBooks Online onto the global stage as part of its corporate metamorphosis. While some observers doubted whether an American company really understood the byzantine complexity of the global accounting profession, this inclusive perspective and the transition to cloud accounting have helped the company make significant inroads in Canada, Australia, France, India and the UK.
“If you look back 4-5 years, maybe 10% of our customer base was outside the US,” said Goodarzi. “Now it’s 25% and growing at 60%. I feel very good about progress – it shows we have nailed the product/market fit.”
UK success story
The UK has been a particular success story and is the fastest growing territory outside of the US – fuelled in part by accountants turning to QuickBooks Online as a way to support clients through Making Tax Digital.
“We see [MTD] as a huge opportunity,” Goodarzi said. The company has a “follow me home” policy where employees go with customers to watch how they use products and hear what they think. “They don’t want to hear about [MTD]. They want to hear what’s going to make it easy for them. Our focus will be that,” Goodarzi said.
As the new UK tax regime evolves, this could see Intuit borrowing elements of its consumer income tax products from the North American market and building them into a compliance module within QuickBooks.
For the QuickBooks Connect audience in San Jose, his core message was about how the product is being adapted to manage cashflow and get more access to capital. And just to reassure accountants they weren’t being overlooked, new features are being added to QuickBooks Online Accountant to make their lives easier too. The day one accountant audience greeted a new bank statement import and reconciliation routine with whoops and applause.
An integration with TSheets means that the QBOA client overview now includes detailed project profitability reports and charts, while and an email-to-task workflow management facility points towards another interesting development direction.
But the product with which Goodarzi is closely connected is QB Assistant. The voice/text bot was his big reveal at last year’s event and at the London QB Connect in February. Yet few of the accountants attending the San Jose event - or many in the UK for that matter - have seen any visible evidence of the bot at work.
“This is not a product watch, this is about fundamentally changing the industry and it’s accelerating daily,” Goodarzi said in response to a query about QB Assistant’s whereabouts.
“This is the perfect example of how we’re leveraging data and applying AI to it. It has answered 1.5m questions so far to help people run their businesses. It’s a huge listening post. We know what they’re asking and why they’re asking it, so we’re getting smarter. We’re also learning what questions are on their minds that we haven’t addressed yet – like who owes me money and profitability questions.”
So even though it’s not out on the streets in big numbers, the R&D project feeds back to Goodarzi’s vision of using AI to transform small business.
“Those that win the race will be those who focus on helping customers with what they care about. They care about growing, getting paid and getting capital. All the rest is compliance, and we will with governments to understand it and then automate it.”
About John Stokdyk
AccountingWEB’s Head of Insight has been with the site since 1999 and likes to spend his time studying accountants’ technology habits. When not nerding out, you can find him exploring obscure indie music and searching for the perfect organic sourdough loaf from his base in Brighton, UK.