Inside the keys to B2B leadership, according to two Sage executives

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Fresh off last month’s Sage Summit in New Orleans, where B2B News Network comprehensively covered sessions and panel talks, we’re following up with a dual interview by picking the brains of two Sage executives. They explain what advice they have for B2B leaders, the role of mentoring, the rise of women entrepreneurs, and much more.

In November of last year, Stephen Kelly became Chief Executive of Sage – the supplier of accounting and payroll software to S SMBs.

He has over 30 years’ leadership experience in the technology sector having led successful businesses in California, New York and Europe.

Kelly also served as Chief Executive Officer of two high-growth, US and UK public companies, Chordiant Software (from 2001 to 2005) and UK-based Micro Focus International (from 2006 to 2010).

In 2012 he was appointed Chief Operating Officer for UK Government. Kelly was the most senior Executive responsible for UK Government’s Efficiency and Reform Program – Digital, Commercial, IT, Major Projects and SME strategies.

B2Bnn: Stephen, fill me in one where Sage fits in with the B2B realm?

Kelly: I think in terms of accounting, it’s a really good opportunity to talk about accounting, payments, payroll – the golden triangle.

Essentially what Sage is all about is the movement of money in small and medium businesses. We provide great solutions with our business partners to the end consumers, the end businesses, the small and medium businesses. A lot of our customers are in the B2b space, so we totally get that.

B2Bnn: What are some examples of the work you do?

Kelly: There’s a lot of businesses, in terms of hospitality companies that we service… A lot of areas like construction, where we would provide the accounting solutions, and then they go on to do projects and build, and day to day there would be a lot of subcontractors associated with those builders.

B2Bnn: In 10 years, how would you see the Sage Summit, what would you introduce to people?

Kelly:We are an incredible technology innovator… a lot of the stuff’s being livestreamed now.

And I think you’ll see incredible products, where people can run the business from the palm of their hand, and with whatever device is appropriate, devices, wearables, phones, glasses, all that sort of things that we take for granted.

But the other thing I think is really important about Sage is about making a difference, giving back, and being the voice of the champion of small and medium businesses.

So I’d see over time this would be a major conference where there’s training for entrepreneurs, there’s things about planning cash flow, budget, building a business plan, going international, building websites to go to export markets.

I think there’s a huge opportunity for us to lead that charge. It may not be us delivering that content but it may be lots of partners delivering that content.

[We could have] booths on their general business and growth needs, things like recruitment, retaining the best people… get a load of entrepreneurs in, apprenticeships in, those sort of things. It won’t just be technology; t will be supporting the business through until it’s successful.

B2Bnn: What advice can you offer to small/medium businesses in B2b?

Kelly: I would say never give up, just have amazing tenacity, follow your dreams. From a business point of view, just look ahead and stargaze at what technology is happening.

Ten years ago we used to go around with these clunky mobile phones, and now today we’ve got this amazing personalized device in our hands.

And if you want to go running you’ve got some app on it, you’ve got ski tracks, or whatever you like, everything’s geared towards personalization.

So think about the disruptions happening in the consumer world, and how would that affect the B2B world. How could it blur the lines? How could you think about embracing your channel, and working with your partners, to give a richer, deeper experience, ultimately for the end consumer? I think it’s a world of change; you can be at the forefront of that and invent the future.

B2Bnn: What do you enjoy most about your work?

Kelly: Getting up every day and meeting great people, meeting customers, feeling a huge sense of responsibility, having fun, building something special, sustainable, and have people look at it and say, “Wow, Sage, I want to be with those guys, they’re the good guys.”


Nancy Harris is the Executive Vice President and Managing Director of Sage North America.

She joined Sage in 2011 as vice president and general manager of Sage 50 Accounting (formerly Simply Accounting), driving the strategic and product direction for Sage 50 and overseeing key functional areas including sales and marketing as well as research and development.

Harris has been instrumental in working with the Canadian team to advance the company’s presence in Canada, strengthening relationships with Sage partner channels, accountants, bookkeepers and small business customers.

Before joining Sage, Harris was chief operating officer at ESO Solutions — a private, SaaS-based software solutions company servicing the emergency management services market — where she was responsible for the company’s day-to-day operations, specifically in the areas of client services, marketing, product management and product development.

B2Bnn: You assumed the new position as of last November. What’s that been like?

Harris: I’ve been with Sage just over four years, and started out running the small business division in Canada. When I was promoted to Managing Director, it was really about expanding on my original role, responsibility for the whole portfolio sold in Canada, customers, prospects across Canada.

My focus is moving forward in the small business accounting space, on expanding our footprint, winning in the market as it relates to customer, with a strong customers-for-life philosophy.

B2B:nn Where do you see Sage fitting in within B2B?

Harris: Sage has a breadth of portfolio in B2B accounting solutions.

On a micro business side, Sage 1 was designed for companies starting out, looking for solutions to manage online invoicing, expense management, and the like.

The range goes up to our flagship product, Sage 50, formally known as Simply Accounting. Then there’s the high end of mid-market for B2B, what we call Sage X3, designed for sophisticated manufacturing, industry verticals. The beauty of Sage is that we offer a range of portfolios, and as the business matures, you can stay with and grow with Sage.

B2Bnn: Last year, Sage’s global survey on more than 11,000 SMBs showed that, while more than nine-tenths of those business acknowledged mentoring can help them succeed, only about a third of them have business mentors. Around 82 percent of SMBs with mentors survived after two years, while those without only had a 69 percent survival rate. Can you elaborate on your outlook on mentoring?

Harris: I am very passionate about mentorship.

The surveys done of small businesses show that it does make a difference in terms of longevity, success, of the business in the first five years.

Nine out of 10 businesses say they want to have mentors, but fewer than half take someone on to mentor.

I’ve had the good fortune to be a mentor, and have strong mentors myself. It brings you outside the safe zone, giving you a sounding board, giving you guidance for professional development or business development, and can make a huge difference in how you perform.

It makes you feel as though you’re not alone in the world struggling; it’s very enriching. As a mentor myself, I’ve learned a lot from my mentees.

B2Bnn: What have you learned exactly?

Harris: I remember one young person I mentored… [taught me] do you want to win, or do you want to be right? And you have to really step back and realize sometimes the rules are made to be broken, a nugget that’s always stuck with me.

B2B:nn A passion of yours is helping women in business. Can you elaborate on that?

HARRIS: I am a big believer in supporting women in business. Having some excellent opportunities in my career, I’m very passionate about women in business and the entrepreneur space. In Canada alone, there are a tremendous number of women starting companies.

Sage did a startup survey, and 62 per cent of Canadian startups are founded by women.

People think that women starting businesses are from the younger generation, but the survey found that there’s a lot of generation Xers, aged 30 to 50, leading the way.

In Canada, there’s tax breaks, access to tools, and mentoring, and access to $700 million in business development, from the Bank of Canada over three years

B2Bnn: What do you find fulfilling about your job?

Harris: It really is twofold. One is delivering solutions and services to the market that surprise and delights our customers, and seeing that help the help their business.

The second part, I love the people aspect of my role, working with teams to provide those kinds of solutions, and services to our customers.

For more on our coverage of the Sage Summit, go here and here

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