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“Keep hold of who you are and what your passions are.” With Beau Henderson & Craig Hudson

I think it’s really important to keep hold of who you are and what your passions are. If your work is your whole identity, you’re in trouble when you stop doing it — I know this too well from my rugby career. When you align your personality traits to things outside of work, this is what I […]

I think it’s really important to keep hold of who you are and what your passions are. If your work is your whole identity, you’re in trouble when you stop doing it — I know this too well from my rugby career. When you align your personality traits to things outside of work, this is what I call “the new freedom,” your identity is not solely defined by your career, so you can be fulfilled when you stop working.


As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Craig Hudson — Managing Director, Xero New Zealand and the Pacific Islands.

As managing director, Craig is a key member of the global leadership team, responsible for driving relationships with government, financial institutions, enterprise, and promoting the small business economy in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. Craig has been with Xero for several years, and in 2017 he returned to New Zealand from the United Kingdom, where he led Xero’s entrance into Europe, the Middle East and South Africa markets. Craig is a father of four and a successful former rugby player who spent more than eight years playing professionally in New Zealand, France, England, and Wales.


Thank you so much for doing this with us Craig! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

Iactually started out my career as a professional rugby player, making it onto the New Zealand Sevens team in 1998, which is a big deal for a young guy in New Zealand. Unfortunately, in 2003 I contracted a virus that attacked my heart due to over-training. I played for the Sevens again and in the 2006 Commonwealth Games, but ultimately the virus was career-ending. I collapsed on the field in Hong Kong, and was rushed to hospital. After being forced into early retirement, my dream was crushed.

It took a while for me to get back to working and even longer to find my new direction. I had no formal qualification or trade skills — I’d put everything into my sport. My first real break was in telesales, which I was shockingly good at. From there I moved into a family-owned business that taught me that how to truly care about your people was part of, not in opposition of, building a great, successful business. (I still use those lessons today.) Six years later, we moved our family to the UK — we’ve always had an itch to see the world — at which time I joined Xero as a telephone-based sales representative. I spent two and a half years helping the cloud-based accounting platform break into Europe, the Middle East and Africa. When I got the call from then CEO Rod Drury to return to New Zealand and lead regional expansion there, I jumped at the opportunity to return home. I’ve now been at Xero for five and a half years of meteoric growth, three of those as Managing Director.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

When I was playing rugby for New Zealand, my first tour was to Dubai. The week before, we had a training camp in Bahrain. After training one day, a host took me to some royal gardens that were open only to expats. It was a beautiful scene: right on the water with a long pier that had a sun shelter at the end. We walked past a group coming off the pier and started to talk with who we found out was the Crown Prince of Bahrain. When he heard that I was from New Zealand, he invited me in for tea and brought out a photo he had of him in New Zealand with some sheep. It was a very cool experience, one of many I was lucky to have during my rugby career.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

Definitely my wife. She’s been able to coach me through many situations, allowing me to reframe my thinking in a way I simply could not have on my own. She’s taught me about rethinking situations and maximizing relationship opportunities to help get the most out of the people around me.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Multiple views will ultimately help you make a better decision — both personal and in business — so always look for ways to collaborate and share the load. Doing so will allow you to expand beyond your own lens and subconscious bias, but only if you really listen and take in those challenging your views. As part of this, make sure you’re hiring for diversity of thought and background, to help mold your ideas and mirror your customers. Once you’ve found the right people, trust them. Good leaders know when to get out of the way of the talented team they’ve built.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

Bevulnerable, be real, and know what’s going on with your team. When you do, you empower your team and allow them to be their truest, most innovative selves. Your respect grows from there. Articulating in this way will help attract talent whose values and purpose align with yours, leading to long-term success.

For me, to build a good culture you need to be able to measure it and see it so that your organization can self-govern. If your organization can look after the business without management input, then you know your culture is embedded.

Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

The most important thing is toreach out for help if you need it — don’t wait. Mental health support is not there to be the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, it’s the support at the top. The way I look at it is that we are all on a mental health spectrum where an individual can move up and down. Some people are really mentally fit and some are not.

There are things we can all do to look after our own mental health:

  1. Have a healthy diet.
  2. Exercising and getting plenty of fresh air are also simple ways to improve your wellbeing.
  3. Walking work meetings at work gets you and your colleagues away from screens and helps clear your heads.
  4. Avoid too much social media. With social media you’ve got to remember that for every good post there’s probably 10 bad ones behind it, but you don’t see them. You only see what people want you to see.
  5. We shouldn’t forget to be kind to ourselves. Be conscious of the detrimental self-talk and try and minimize some of the unrealistic expectations we put on ourselves.

I think now is an important time to reset what the new normal is and for businesses to encourage people to be their true selves. This all starts with leadership being open to creating a sense of psychological safety for their people.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

I think it’s really important to keep hold of who you are and what your passions are. If your work is your whole identity, you’re in trouble when you stop doing it — I know this too well from my rugby career. When you align your personality traits to things outside of work, this is what I call “the new freedom,” your identity is not solely defined by your career, so you can be fulfilled when you stop working.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

There’s a lot of pressure on making ‘life-defining’ decisions in your teens, but really you’ve got no idea what you’ll end up doing and the impact of your decisions aren’t as big as you think. Be kind to yourself, stay curious and try to remember people will set you up for success if you show work ethic and willingness to learn. You’re not alone.

Also, try not to get sucked in by social media. There’s a lot of negativity that circulates — around body image, academic grades, family pressure — that can become quite toxic. These things are externally-focused and create a false expectation of normal. Keep yourself balanced by defining what is right for you, and not comparing to what appears to be “perfection” on social media.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom is about a sports reporter who reconnects with his old university professor, who is dying of cancer. The reporter visits the professor every Tuesday and writes about what was important to him. I’m not a huge reader so for me to sit down and finish it cover to cover was a big deal — it changed how I think about my life. At the time I was reading it, I needed to find my career and define who I was. The story showed me that what we all consider to be important is shaped by our own values. As we go through life, we realize some things aren’t as important as we’d thought.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

I have started a bit of a movement already. I continue to amplify the idea that vulnerability in leadership empowers individuals. I want to encourage leaders to create an environment where their people feel safe and able to bring their true selves to work. This leads to economic benefits because of high productivity and alignment to human values.

My wife and I started Always More to the Story, a channel that allows leaders to understand more about the people in their organization so they can be more empathetic. I hope to share stories of leaders and organizations, in addition to my own, to demonstrate that business success isn’t purely about driving bottom line performance. I fundamentally believe you can be successful in business without compromising your ability to be human. Empathy can drive outstanding business results.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Nā tō rourou, nā taku rourouka ora ai te iwi. This is a Māori saying that means “from your contribution and from my contribution, the people will prosper.” It speaks to the power of collaborative leadership and a reminder that you can’t do it alone. I hold on to this saying as it resonates closely with me. I used it at Xerocon last year to put forward a challenge to our community: can we stand together to look after those struggling with their mental health? Together we can change — or even save — a life.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

You can follow my LinkedIn page or the Always More to the Story LinkedIn page, which both explore how we can drive new way of leadership.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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