World class from New Zealand

20:32, May 22 2013

Two presentations at yesterday’s Inspire Day, hosted by expat network Kea and AUT University, were in part a study in opposite approaches to leading and developing a global business.

The founder of global business process management company Sysdoc, Katherine Corich, reckons there are repeatable steps Kiwi firms can take on the path to global domination.

By contrast, former Air New Zealand CEO Rob Fyfe told the audience there was no magic management formula. Instead, effective leadership was about finding stories that rallied staff and customers around a cause that resonated, he said.

Corich completed a linguistics degree, but went on to train as a commercial pilot. Lessons learned from aviation training would form her recipe for creating Sysdoc.

These lessons were using simulated experiences, rather than real scenarios, to train people; human factors that made a business – or a plane – safe; and end to end process excellence.

“From FTSE100 businesses to startups, businesses thrive if they understand the business model they want to achieve, then define it and work to that model.”


Sysdoc had to define its own model because it started as a team of mothers balancing parenthood with building a global company, she said.

“I had to look for role models who had been a mum and were growing a business globally, but no one was doing that. You have to invent your own ways of doing things.

“We started as mums charting the course of parenthood and achieving global goals. We had to mind each other’s backs and look after the customer. It was a challenge every day, but we attracted some amazing people to work with us.”

Corich says stepping back from her business – she moved from New Zealand to Europe with her family – made her see that Sysdoc had a model that could be replicated around the globe.

“When you’re distant from your company you can think about strategy and the big picture. You have time to re-engineer the business. I realised we had this incredible business model, but it takes being away from the business to see that.”

Fyfe, who was Air New Zealand’s CEO for seven years, told the audience he was often interviewed by students about his approach to management and leadership. The students often tried to contextualise what he had done by linking it to a management theory, he said, but he maintained there was no formula for effective leadership.

“It’s about behavioural traits, like courage, taking calculated risks, asking impossible questions, being human and projecting personality.”

He said asking such ‘impossible questions’ had led to some of Air New Zealand’s biggest innovations. One was Cuddle Class, which asked staff to solve the problem of letting passengers lie down and sleep on a plane, but without any more space per seat.

Another was Grab a Seat, which emerging from Fyfe’s experience of cheap flights offered by Irish airline Ryan Air. Grab a Seat had since significantly boosted Air New Zealand’s sales, he said.

Fyfe told the audience companies needed to demonstrate courageous choices at every level of their organisation. One example at Air New Zealand was the airline’s apology over the Erebus disaster – another was a pilot’s decision to divert a flight to Dunedin to help an elderly couple to visit their critically ill daughter.

When asked about hs next move, Fyfe said he was continuing his sabbatical year and wanted to work with Kiwi organisations furthering New Zealand's identity and intellectual property.