Jon Macdonald, CEO of Trade Me for over a decade, has announced plans to step down from the leadership role. Macdonald spoke to The Register about the reason behind the departure and what he hopes to get from his new path.
Trade Me was founded by Sam Morgan, who was then a young computer consultant, in 1999. Morgan and Macdonald worked together previously at Deloitte Consultants before Macdonald headed overseas to work at HSBC Investment Bank.
Upon his return in 2003 Macdonald was quickly offered a job within the Trade Me team of 15 employees, a large transition for HSBC’s team of 100,000 upwards. It was in 2007 that Morgan handed Trade Me’s leadership over to Macdonald.
Now after more than a decade, Macdonald is stepping down from his role as CEO.
“In some respects, it’s something that I have considered from time to time over the last few years; just because I have been conscious of the length of time I’ve been at Trade Me. From a personal point of view, I’ve got a seven-year-old and a nine-year-old, I didn’t want to blink and realise that they’re all grown up. I think it’s a good time for me to take a bit of a break, to keep on working and to do a few things where the overall load on my shoulders a bit is less, and I can have a bit more time to hang out with the kids a bit more before they become teenagers and are too cool to hang out with me.”
Macdonald expects fresh eyes and a new perspective will be healthy for the company, and hopes his replacement will be able to bring exactly that – once a suitable one is found.
“I imagine I will be working quite closely with my replacement. It is still early days on that front, and we’ll see how well that plays out. But certainly, I’m going to do everything I can to help with that transition. I look forward to being able to hand the reigns onto someone else… At the moment my departure will fall around December. There is six months there and you need that amount of time, it does take time to find the right person. It could be I end up heading out earlier if that happens, but at the moment I’ll be finishing up just before Christmas.”
Macdonald, who says leaving before Christmas was a strategic move to spend the summer holidays with family, expresses a great pride in the company he’s manned for the last decade.
“I’m absolutely proud of what I’ve done here, and what the entire team has done here. It’s still gives me a bit of a buzz when I tell someone I work here, and there is an immediate positive reaction to that. I do think Trade Me has done an enormous amount of good for people and does hold close in New Zealanders hearts. That is a sense for pride for me and I really will miss it.”
Both internal and external factors also create a sense of pride for Macdonald, who says seeing Trade Me’s impact on individuals and New Zealand will always be a humbling experience.
“We’ve built a big team here, and I’ve had the privilege over a long time period to see people join the business young and quite experienced, sometimes straight out of university or even during our intern projects. But we just see people grow and just develop and be capable of so much more over that time period, and that’s something I’ve really enjoyed seeing. When I look at our impact on New Zealand overall, I do feel like Trade Me has made its mark here and there are many areas, such as being able to help people grow their own business while using the site.”
Although obviously thriving both in a business sense and in personally from a CEO role, Macdonald’s future plans don’t include the same position anytime soon.
“It’s clear to me that I don’t want to do another CEO gig, that would be really out of the frying pan and into the fire. I’ve been on the board of directors for NZX for the last five years and I’ve really enjoyed that, I could well see myself picking up another one or two directorships.”
One thing Macdonald makes clear is his passion to continue his involvement with smaller business, in both a board and mentor role.
"The other thing I’ve had the privilege of doing in my current job is I’ll talk with interesting start-ups and young companies and get a little more involved with that. I could see myself piecing together something that includes a mix of being on the board of companies to rolling my sleeves up and helping out younger companies as well. Through that becoming mentor engaged and just doing interesting stuff with a lot of variety, without the weight that’s on your shoulders all day every day from being in a CEO gig of a public company.”
Trade Me has seen rapid growth in the past decade under Macdonald’s command. It’s grown from 100 staff to 550, as well as bringing in growth of nearly 200 percent.
His departure will be felt heavily within the company, one which places a strong caring community as one of its core values.