For Craig Hudson rugby is in the blood.

He travelled the world as a New Zealand Sevens rugby player before illness forced him from the field and into the business world.

At accounting software company Xero, Hudson was on a technological tour, moving quickly through the ranks to become regional director for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Today as country head for Xero New Zealand, he is using his experiences, including running a small business, to help lead the fast-growing company, with a team of 1800 staff worldwide, towards profitability.

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It's been 11 years since Wellington-based Xero was founded and 10 years since it went public. The company posted revenue of $295.4 million in the year ended March 31 and a net loss of $69m but says it's getting close to break-even.

Hudson, 39, grew up in Tauranga with his mother and two older sisters and threw his life into sport.

His uncle was an All Black in the late 1970s so playing rugby wasn't a choice.

"It was in the family ... it was kind of expected that I'd play rugby at some stage," Hudson says.

He never planned for further study, and only enjoyed PE class at school.

"I was a late developer compared with the others so I didn't make any rep teams in rugby all the way through to probably seventh form because I was a little bit smaller, and I was a bit quiet too. I got bullied a lot in third and fourth form, so not only was I academically falling [a bit] behind, I just didn't want to be there," he says.

"When I failed school C in fifth form that was kind of the lightbulb; 'I gotta sort my s*** out - I need to [focus on] what I want to be'. I always wanted to be a rugby player, and I worked really hard that year ... and got university entrance."

The father of four says he had never considered going to university.

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"No one in my family had gone to university in my extended family so it wasn't ... a given for us," he says.

In seventh form, Hudson made a rugby rep team and was poached by Robbie Deans and Steve Hansen, and went down to Christchurch to play for the Crusaders Academy straight out of high school in 1997.

Hudson played professional rugby for six years. During that time he played rugby for the New Zealand Sevens, Canterbury, Stade Rochelais, Bay of Plenty, Cardiff and the Worcester Warriors.

"For the New Zealand Sevens I went on over a dozen tours to different parts of the world. South America was cool but Hong Kong in 2000 was probably the pinnacle.

"Being able to be part of the squad for the very first time we played in New Zealand was pretty special."

Craig Hudson during a Bay of Plenty XV vs Poverty Bay rugby match. Photo / Lisa Castle Tauroa
Craig Hudson during a Bay of Plenty XV vs Poverty Bay rugby match. Photo / Lisa Castle Tauroa

While playing for the Worcester Warriors, training three times a day, Hudson fell ill.

"I was on the wing which isn't the natural position for someone of my size, and my body started to take a hammering from the amount of work I was doing. I got down to 2 per cent body fat and ultimately my heart gave up once I caught a virus," he says.

Flu in his chest morphed into a virus and attacked the lining of his heart.

"The day before I collapsed I was feeling a little bit funny while we were training so they put a heart rate monitor on me.

"The following day, during warm up, I was running and the trainer came over to swap my heart rate monitor because there was something wrong [with it], he thought.

"I ran to the other end of the field to warm up and do some stretches and I can still see him running towards me waving his arms - the next thing I can remember I was in hospital," Hudson says.

"I collapsed on the field. My heart rate went to 240 and I was airlifted to hospital."
He was later diagnosed with over-training syndrome.

"That was in December, my contract got terminated in February, and so I flew back to New Zealand where my wife led a single crusade to be able to get me back to full health."

It took him 12 months to recover before he got a part-time job as a swim coach.

After a year or so he decided to have another crack at rugby, and took on the role of rugby development officer for North Harbour Rugby.

"I was with them for a year, and the Commonwealth Games was coming up. One of the Sevens guys said they needed some more size on the team and that I should try and get fit again, which I did. I made it into the Harbour team and went down to nationals in Queenstown, and played pretty well," Hudson says.

I love getting the positive affirmation that what we're doing [at Xero] is having really positive impact.

He was then again named in the New Zealand Sevens team.

"I was involved in all of the lead up to the Commonwealth Games in 2006 in Melbourne, but my body started to give up a little bit; I tore my hammy ... and started to relapse."

Hudson didn't make the squad for the Commonwealth Games but went to Hong Kong with the New Zealand Sevens to train for the Hong Kong Sevens. He again collapsed, the day before the tournament.

"My wife was pregnant with baby number one and that was it, I needed to get a real job - I needed to support my family, and I knew rugby wasn't the one for me."

Hudson then fell into an online sales job, selling banner advertising. That business went under but through the contacts he made, he was offered a job with family-owned fuel distribution business McFall Fuel.

"I worked with them for six years and helped build it into an incredibly successful business. I was able to take them through a full digitalisation project ... which got me really excited about technology."

In 2014, Hudson and his wife Bronwyn shifted to the UK to give their children a global perspective.

"I didn't have a job at the other end, and landed not too far from Milton Keynes where Xero HQ is, and a role came up."

His first role was as an accounts manager for Europe, Middle East and Africa.

Craig Hudson during his keynote at Xerocon Melbourne last month. Photo / Supplied
Craig Hudson during his keynote at Xerocon Melbourne last month. Photo / Supplied

"The majority of it was remote, using technology to be able to connect in with all of those advisers all over the place but I went to South Africa a few times to do roadshows, went to Dubai and Kuwait a couple of times, so I was able to get around a little bit for work, but I also ticked off 15 countries with the kids as well - to be able to show them what it looks like on the other side of the world."

He says being a Kiwi helped him land the role, particularly given that he was directly reporting to Xero New Zealand.

Hudson worked for Xero UK for two and a half years, moving through the ranks from accounts manager to building a team, to ultimately being regional director for Europe, Middle East and Africa - before he got a call from Xero chief executive Rod Drury to take over the country reins from Anna Curzon when she transitioned into the role of chief partner officer.

When he isn't working, Hudson can be found at the beach, or at his Auckland home, playing with his four children aged 10, 9, 7 and 5.

Hudson knows first-hand what it's like to run a small business.

He and his wife previously ran their own business; a franchise for Jumping Beans, a pre-school development programme in Tauranga, and now Fuel Your Family.

"We ran that in Tauranga for a few years; I'd help out on the weekends, and run Saturday classes with her, and help with all of the marketing," Hudson says.

"To be honest, it's really hard running your own small business," he says. "There are never enough hours in the day, and when you've got small kids it can be difficult as well."
Hudson has just entered his fourth year working for Xero. The company employs more than 1000 people in New Zealand and 1800 in all.

As a key member of Xero's global leadership team, Hudson is responsible for driving relationships with government, financial institutions, enterprise, and promoting the small business economy.

He also takes care of the financial and non-financial performance of the business in New Zealand.

"I'm customer-facing a lot of the time so I'm able to come to events like Xerocon and ... hear really cool stories from our partners and to meet small business owners, and fundamentally change their life," he says. "I love getting the positive affirmation that what we're doing is having a really positive impact."