The host is in the hot seat: A conversation with Stuart McLeod from Karbon

A pale pink circle with the words 'Stuart, Jess & George, Karbon', and a cluster of 3 headshots next to the circle. These are Stuart, Jess and George's headshots.
  • Karbon’s Jess Marcello and George Connor interviewed the host of the Accounting Leaders Podcast (and Karbon CEO and Co-Founder), Stuart McLeod for the 50th episode special.

  • Stuart finds purpose in his work with Karbon from knowing that his product helps accountants better serve their clients. 

  • To build Karbon’s culture, Stuart keeps his focus on hiring people that he actually wants to work with and who help challenge him as a leader. 

Things are bound to get a little wild when the host becomes a guest.

That’s what happened when the host of the Accounting Leaders Podcast and Karbon CEO Stuart McLeod went from the interviewer’s chair to the hot seat for the show’s 50th episode

Interviewed by Karbon’s Content Marketing Specialist, Jess Marcello, and Marketing Development Manager, George Connor, topics range from the merits (or demerits) of tofu to office dogs, to corporate culture.

Over the past 49 episodes, Stuart has gained a lot of insight from his guests—a mix of friends in the industry, Karbon customers, and other inspiring firm leaders who have shared the unique challenges of thriving in today’s accounting world. 

“This podcast has opened my eyes a lot because nearly every partner of a firm that I speak to just exudes joy when they talk about the successful journeys that they've been on with their clients,” Stuart reflects. 

A self-professed ‘bad employee’, Stuart felt boxed in when working for other companies. He earned his early career stripes at Oracle before eventually moving on to Xero. Xero’s fast growth made him ready for a change.

“I just can't work for big companies. I'm just not built for it. If you've ever done the Enneagram, I'm an eight. Things that are out of our control are very anxiety-producing. As an employee, a lot of things are outside of your control. As an employer, you have a little more control,” Stuart explains. 

Stuart goes deep on deriving purpose from his work, curating corporate culture, and what he hopes to see from Karbon in the future. Plus, he cuts loose on some rapid-fire questions that don’t disappoint.

Finding purpose in work

Since the very beginning, Stuart’s been motivated by the impact that accountants and bookkeepers can have on their clients’ lives. And this impact has had a ripple effect in what drives the Karbon team every day. 

“Without us, the journey for accountants is not as good. They’re probably still accountants, and they're probably still doing great things in the world, but they're not enjoying it as much or they're not as efficient or as effective,” Stuart explains on the podcast. 

Of Karbon’s three main objectives for 2022, the first is to build the greatest practice management software in the world. That impetus keeps Stuart going, knowing that Karbon’s customers will only benefit from that push. 

Through all the ups and downs that Karbon’s experienced, the greatest challenge for Stuart is alignment: making sure everyone in the company is on the same page. As Karbon has grown, it’s only become more challenging. 

“With 10 people, we can sit down in a room and I can talk about where we're going and what we need to do to get there. And that is what people generally hear, because of the intimacy of that room. But when there's 200 people, it’s harder for everybody to come away with the same message. I can say one thing, but 200 people are going to take that 200 different ways,” he says. 

A “no jerk” culture

A company’s culture can be elusive and intangible—but it’s easy to see when things are going well and when the culture is not harmonious. As Stuart says, “you have to work with people you like.” 

“Hire people that you enjoy working with, that challenge you, that are intellectual, that do great work, and that you can trust,” Stuart says of his basic hiring criteria. 

But try as he might to keep the culture intact, he’s accepted that growth comes with inevitable cultural change.

“We work every day to try and preserve our culture. I think the pace that we've grown this year has made that job extra hard. You bring in different people with different experiences. You are going to get a different work experience because of that. It's fine and to be expected,” Stuart says. 

What about the onus on leaders to keep staff happy? Stuart doesn’t think it’s all it’s cracked up to be, preferring to be respected over being liked. If employees feel a sense of purpose in their work, Stuart believes they’re more likely to be happy. 

We want to create a work environment where people are happy, enjoy their work, and get meaning from their work. Everybody, not just Karbon people, should be seeking work where they gain purpose and meaning because that typically contributes to their happiness and mental health.

Stuart McLeod, Karbon

Recommended viewing: Using a process to build a culture 

Rapid-fire Q&A

Jess and George wrap up their interview with Stuart with some rapid-fire questions. Here’s a sampling of his off-the-cuff answers.

Tofu: yes or no? No. No way. It’s rubber.

What’s the most trivial thing you’re passionate about today? Hydrofoiling. There's a surfboard with a foil attached to it and you can sort of elevate out of the water being towed by the boat.

What scares you? Climate change.

Do you ever get bored?Yes, I bore easily. I always want a new challenge or a new thing to work on, or something else to tick off. ​​I can't sit on a beach for a day. I'll go windsurfing, surfing, sailing, hydrofoiling. I struggle to even read a book these days. I'd like to be better at that. Books are great.

Would you rather have a magic sword or a magic shield? And why? I translate that into defense or attack. Today shield, but my answer would probably change by the day. I feel like there's so much violence in the world. Less swords is probably better.

The horizon for Karbon

Stuart has seen many companies grow and experience subsequent growing pains. He’s experienced some himself. How many Karbon employees would be too many for Stuart? There’s no exact number. 

“I don't think we're the type of company that would look at it as a people cap. Our goal is to get Karbon into the hands of as many accountants as we can, rather than sort of looking at it the other way around,” he shares. 

With culture and purpose intact, Stuart’s goals for Karbon moving forward remain steady. 

It is our responsibility to put Karbon in the hands of as many people as we possibly can so that they gain the joy, momentum, and the peace of mind that other firms are getting. And each and every one of us at Karbon plays a role in that if nothing else.

Stuart McLeod, Karbon