A principled company: SYSDOC

The Principle of a principled company – the New Zealand way

by Brendon Wilson

TINZ Director

Writing for Employers and Manufacturers Association

BusinessPlus Magazine

Visionary New Zealand business leaders and their companies have a long, remarkable record of taking their business models to the other side of the world and in a quiet unassuming way carving a major place in far larger economies – to great effect for New Zealand’s reputation as well as for their own growth. From a New Zealand start-up in 1986, Katherine Corich has developed Sysdoc to international success, with revenues in Europe now outstripping their New Zealand earnings, providing a wide range of consulting, IT and managed services.

Katherine gave us some pointers to how she runs her New Zealand global company. She herself leads a busy existence, now based in the UK, with outreach activities across business, public sector, academic and charitable and philanthropic enterprises. Sysdoc operates projects in the UK, Europe, North America, New Zealand and Australia, working in every corner of the world.

Katherine Corich Founder and Director of the Sysdoc Group

But the real story here is in the underlying style and philosophy underpinning this success. Katherine makes it clear Sysdoc, a specialist consultancy, is a New Zealand story, personifying the ways New Zealand’s business methods are seen as best practice in far bigger economies, that can scale value creation and success in those markets to far outreach expectation and local practice. By this model for getting the leadership and philosophy right, and New Zealand companies CAN conquer the world, while bringing wider benefits to clients and economies than were dreamed of. That’s real value for money.

Katherine built Sysdoc with the belief that with good governance, leadership and goal-setting at the core, then integrity, ethics and the right strategy building blocks are straightforward – an uncomplicated platform which is clear to team members and clients, and an enabler for innovation, added value and growth for clients. Key to this is a leadership style which is low-profile, leads by example, always displays ethical behaviour and doesn’t run from difficult decisions or issues. By addressing medium and long-term strategies, the short-term goals fall into place and problems become tactical steps, more easily addressed.

Katherine shows that a good board will ensure management are working to good governance, and focus to ensure shareholder values are not put ahead of stakeholder values. With the right focus clients win and Sysdoc also benefits. With these approaches, a positive culture of integrity is not difficult to set – ethical, enabling, fair, open, communicative and values-oriented for the client and for all involved – so neither integrity nor ethics become goals or structures in their own right within expected culture.

The old model has it that leadership constitutes deciding the strategy, making sure everybody gets on board and stays focussed to the immediate goal. This can be a win-lose philosophy which looks to short horizons and doesn’t allow focus to stray outside the strict path to the next milestone. There are better ways ….

An economy in crisis

UK’s economy was far harder hit by the Global Financial Crisis than New Zealand’s, so operating a medium company there was testing to say the least. However Katherine realised that the very ‘New Zealand’ attributes which had led her company to remarkable success so far and which were so different to most established business approaches in the UK market, were her biggest assets in helping the UK to move forward, while building a better future for clients, their employees and stakeholders.

The Sysdoc model won them major business to the surprise of established UK business, as for example the British government recognised their ability to be a game changer in that economy. They were appointed to a very small panel of companies to improve procurement of the Small to Medium Enterprise (SME) sector throughout the UK. Senior government recognised that the old model was eating itself, and that Sysdoc’s was a business model to create the new paradigm for leverage with the SME sector’s greater responsiveness and openness to change to lead UK’s economic recovery. It offers business revival, employment and opportunity outside the old narrow win-lose models, and shows how real understanding of shareholder and stakeholder values leads to better growth in a better economy. And so it has worked out. The Sysdoc model was so successful it has been moved up to the big end of town.

Can BIG Business benefit from the Sysdoc model?

Sysdoc thinks so. Their work for large companies and corporates in New Zealand, Britain and around the world includes significant contribution to many sectors and large-scale organisations – Associated British Ports, Fonterra, McLaren, Biffa, Vodafone, Chevron, Westpac and NAB to name a few. Their approach has turned heads in providing similarly impressive results in this more complex corporate climate, to enable transformation of older industry companies, for example automotive, and in the fast-moving technical world of aviation.

Point of Principle: Should ethical companies work in ‘dirty’ sectors?

A dilemma faced by thoughtful companies everywhere is whether to engage with industry sectors or individual clients with ‘tainted’ reputations – eg high carbon emissions.

Katherine describes their internal discussion in deciding whether to do work for say a company with a poor reputation in facing environmental requirements. Some in the team said ‘don’t go there, getting involved just adds to the problem’. But Katherine wonders ‘does it benefit the world if we just protest and hold our noses in the air?’ If the right opportunities permit, she believes that to work with clear integrity inside such companies to ensure improvement and change is not ignoring principle. Rather, it is seizing the opportunity to be the agent for change which otherwise won’t happen. Key to this approach is getting agreement from the top of a client company that in a given project they will work together to also identify other ways to improve, even outside the brief to not only ensure project goals are achieved, but also seek permission to add further value where potential for innovation and improvement is uncovered.

They regularly recognise opportunities to get clients to think differently and create a better industry. As an example, by not standing aside, Sysdoc have been major agents for change in Britain’s motor industry, enabling unseen opportunity, encouraging best practices in green technologies, greatly increasing production, increasing employment and ensuring difficult new environmental standards are met.


After soul-searching doubt, Sysdoc agreed to carry out a project with a central-Asian mining/drilling company, a combination of an ethically-challenged industry and part of the world. This a mix offered enough risk to deter most. In their work with this client, Sysdoc became aware of their ‘ignored’ mountains of industrial waste resulting from continuing years of industrial processes. Although outside their working brief, Sysdoc proposed new notions of ‘quality improvement’ and ‘waste management’ to the company, whose governance model excluded these factors.

By introducing a ‘how we leave the country’ focus, Sysdoc encouraged the company to separate their waste mountains into good waste and hazardous waste thereby enabling use of the good waste as a resource to enable change. As a result the company now produces garden fertiliser from the waste which is used in public parks, thereby improving the bottom line, improving public and government perception, raising challenging points of principle for themselves and others to think about, and benefiting their countryside, their industry and the world.

Now – A model for Brexit economic conditions

Britain’s recent Brexit decision brings a new set of serious challenges to business and their economy. With Sysdoc’s recognition for game-changing approaches in working with clients to solve problems and create benefit, can a principled New Zealand company play an incisive role in Britain’s ability to rise above the situation and make this a positive event? Sysdoc thinks so and we do too.

Katherine: “Integrity and ethical business are not goals in their own right, they are the way we change ourselves and the world around us, the way we are, to all do better and more for everyone.”

The New Zealand Way? We’d like to think so.

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