How Can WE Uplift Communities in NZ

Wyndi Tagi

July 21, 2019

I first heard Wyndi’s story at the WE Summit 2019. What excited me so much about the event her team hosted was that it looked deeper than just the dollar signs of business. The second the Managing Director of Xero stepped on stage and started talking about mental health and values, I knew I was in the right place.

Then after hearing Wyndi share her own story, I knew I was sitting in the room with a true New Zealand leader.

Wyndi seems to think about business in a people-first approach which creates an energy around her that everyone can feel. And she is doing amazing stuff: balancing 5 children, a company, holding several governance roles and being an incredible sportswoman, she manages to do a lot!

So enough of me talking, let’s bring on Wyndi!

Before we jump into it, can you explain who you are and what you do for those that don't yet know?  

Haha… let me think about that! To my kids, I’m the taxi driver, ATM machine, loud sideline supporter and I’d say best Mum in the world lol! To the rest of the world, I’m a Māori Woman with no formal qualifications who loves business and traveling the world, that is a Co-Owner and Co-Founder of the Growth Chartered Accounting firm, WE Accounting.

I have a passion for helping small and medium-sized businesses thrive because I know that when our SME’s thrive, families, communities and the economy thrive too. That’s one of the reasons why we have taken WE, International, opening a branch in Samoa and doing business across the Pacific Islands, we see that we have an opportunity to make a real difference there.

As well as that, yeah, I have a few governance roles and founded the Charitable Trust, Be the Connection, with my husband too.

Wyndi Tagi at an event

You've had quite a career at forward-thinking companies and roles. After 7 years of establishing yourself at ASB, you took the leap and started your own business. What inspired it?

My dad and my kids were my inspiration. Growing up I have fond memories of my dad journeying with me around the country for sport. The reason he could do this was because he owned his own business. I wanted the same for me and my kids!

I was sick of applying for leave so I could be a part of my kids’ lives and also feeling guilty about taking time off work for sick kids. I remember one time in my career I got called into my manager's office because I had used up all of my sick leave. I was a solo mum at the time, raising two kids and it was a hard juggle! Kids get sick! But it was all of these things that motivated me to - firstly, go into business and secondly, to be a boss that understands these types of things and accommodates them.

And so when the opportunity came up, I took it and I haven’t looked back.

Wyndi Tagi and her partner Eli having coffee

You didn’t make the jump alone, you also brought your partner along for the ride. Why was it important that you started this with Eli?

In the beginning Eli was key! When I met Eli he was studying for his Chartered Accounting qualification. Once he got qualified I saw it as a prime opportunity to start a business. I like to say that I ‘pimped him out’ lol.

When we started WE, we started from scratch, with one non-paying client, my dad (he did our fit-out, we did his accounts). So Eli worked in the business first, while I continued to work at ASB. Shortly after making the decision to start our business, we found out we were pregnant with our youngest son, Blake, so within 6 months of opening our doors, I was working in the business too.

With Eli’s accounting knowledge, he became the service that we initially sold. I did the sales, marketing and customer service side of the business and soon became the one setting the strategic direction. Now Eli quite happily pimps me out, selling the business development packages that I’ve created which I run in conjunction with him and our team.

But when it comes down to it, he and I make a great team. Our skill sets complement each other, our passions are in alignment and we want to achieve similar things in life. And if you throw in five kids between us, it does become difficult to find time to be together. What I love about working with Eli is that not only do we get to spend time together, we get to watch each other create magic every day and add value to the lives of others. That is probably what inspires and continues to grow our love for each other and has made our relationship stronger.

I think a lot of people have a hard time conceptualising how they would transition from their day job to starting their own business. Was it hard? How did you make the transition? What steps did you take to ensure the smoothest process possible?

Honestly, at times it was hard but because we knew the difference we could make and we loved what we were doing, it made it easier. I think first and foremost, you need to love what you are doing and you need to have a mission that you want to achieve. Intrinsic motivation will help you get through the hard times!

For us, it also helped that Eli was an accountant, he did the numbers to ensure we could cope financially. Having a mortgage and kids to feed, we felt a responsibility to ensure we could make this work. This included ensuring we had enough money saved to cover us for the period of time we knew we wouldn’t make money and also to cover set up costs. We tell people to talk to an accountant when looking to set up a new business, but so many people don’t. People do their due diligence when buying a new house but they don’t when they are looking at starting a business that is going to pay for that house. Doing those numbers are critical and for us, have helped us on our growth journey.

Then, we did a lot of research! Best accounting software, home-based or office based, where to set up an office, who our competitors were, what they were offering, etc. We checked over everything we could to ensure we mitigated as many of our challenges as possible and capitalised on our opportunities.

Wyndi Tagi and her partner Eli

Now you've made the transition, is there anything you would change if you had to do it again?

I don’t think that I would change too much, to be honest, the reason for that is because I believe that everything happens for a reason. I’ve learned many lessons over the years and I’ve been able to use those lessons to grow WE as well as share my lessons with my clients! I think the only thing that I would change would be to seek business coaching earlier than we did. Once we got on board some great coaches, big shifts started to occur and WE grew in leaps and bounds.

We find that on the outside, a lot of successful careers look like straight lines, where in fact to the person they feel like complete squiggles both personally and professionally. Have you faced any difficulty getting to where you are today? How did you overcome it and how did it help you become who you are today?

I think for me there have been two major challenges. The first was my own mindset. I hit all of those mindset obstacles… imposter syndrome, afraid of the tall poppy syndrome, not having a formal qualification, feeling like I wasn’t good enough and questioning if I was the right person to lead my team to fulfil our vision. It took me some time to work through these but I invested in myself, sought after good coaching and mentoring and surrounded myself with people who believed in me that I could learn from. I did lots of self-reflection and felt the fear and did it anyway (I do this a lot lol). Now, these obstacles still pop up every now and then, but I have better tools to overcome them now.

There’s a saying… ‘grow the leader, grow the business’. So, every day I am growing.

The second challenge, which has become one of my life’s biggest blessings, were the lessons of breast cancer two years ago. Realising my mortality was quite sobering and showed me how precious life is and the importance of living my life to the fullest, with no regrets!

I could talk about the challenges and lessons of breast cancer till the cows come home lol, but some of my biggest learnings have been to live in the present moment and spend my time and energy doing things that I love, with those that I love most. It’s also driven me to help others to do business and life in a way that fulfils them. I would say that I take my health a lot more seriously now than I used to, too.

Wyndi Tagi's family

Sports appears to be a huge part of your life. A New Zealand and Auckland rep in cycling, an Auckland rep in Women's Cricket, West Auckland Rep in netball and a black belt in karate. Wow. What learnings from sports have you been able to apply in both your personal and professional life?

Business is very much like sports - make goals, create a plan, surround yourself with people who will help you succeed, measure your progress… the list goes on! It’s interesting what sport has taught me about life and business, in fact, I have hired successful sportspeople in my team because of the qualities they bring.

There’s a discipline that comes with sports. I know what it takes to be successful and I am not afraid of the hard work that it takes to get there. And the leadership skills that I’ve built up from captaining sides have helped me when I’m working with a team. I know that we are only as good as our weakest player, so it’s about working together, utilising the individual strengths and creating unity and strength as a collective.

Then there is also the health aspect and the bodies ability to work at its optimal levels. When you have a healthy mind and body, the level and quality of output are far greater. So I understand the importance of being physically fit and healthy so my clients and my kids get the best of me.

For my personal life… Our kids are very active and so far have done well in sports. I love to watch them having fun, achieving success, learning and growing as people and athletes, developing leadership skills, pushing themselves to see what they can achieve. It’s beautiful and these are all things that they can take with them into the future, regardless of whether it’s pursuing sports or not.

Although WE Accounting looks like it started as an accounting company, you now offer a much broader service. Why was it important to you that you didn’t stick with simply accounting?

The accounting industry is evolving. We knew this from the day we opened our doors 8 years ago. In order for us to stay relevant, we decided we wanted to be at the forefront of change. We also saw that accountants simply weren’t serving their customers in the way they wanted to be served, so we set out to give them what they wanted and more.

But quite simply, we know that paying an accountant is a grudge purchase, you’re paying someone to tell you how much tax to pay. We also know that completing your tax return is not going to help you grow your business and that is the area of business that we are most interested in. So we’ve created a service that utilises accounting and knowing the numbers along with business development services that help you see some real progress. This is also part of the reason our Samoan branch also does a lot of our NZ tax work, it frees up our NZ team’s time so they can better engage, have deeper conversations and spend time doing business development work.

Wyndi Tagi, Eli, and the managing director of Xero, Craig Hudson

If you today could give yourself advice 10 years ago when you were earlier in your career, what would it be?

Rushing Woman Syndrome is not something to be celebrated. When people say ‘take time for you’, actually take time for you!

What's your current dream?

Every day I visualise WE being a global brand, connecting SME’s around the globe, where they can share, learn, collaborate and buy from each other in this big WE Community. And off the back of that, have thriving families and communities around the world!

Based on what you've seen and done, if someone wanted to follow in your steps to creating an impact, what should they do?

Follow your heart! Find what it is that you love the most and then find a way to be paid well doing it. Too often we try to chase the dreams of others and do what we think society expects us to do. Just do you. Do it well. You can’t go wrong then!

And finally, where's the best place people can find out more about you and follow your journey?

If you love business, connect with me on LinkedIn. Otherwise, I do have Facebook under both WE Accounting and Wyndi Tagi. I love connecting with new people, so please don’t be shy!

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