Currently dividing her time between the UK and New Zealand, Katherine Corich is one of our most successful and philanthropic business women.
The founder of business transformation consultancy Sysdoc and 2015 UK New Zealander of the Year, Katherine was admitted into the New Zealand Tech Hall of Fame in 2016. She has lectured as an associate fellow at Oxford University Saïd Business School, and is a mother, director, mentor and investor. NZBusiness posed the questions to a remarkable visionary.
NZB: Who have been the biggest influencers in your life? And what people and experiences have contributed the most towards shaping the direction you’ve travelled?
Katherine: As a youngster, it was my parents, friends and some really special teachers, such as Mr Parry at Paraparaumu Beach Primary School who inspired my love of poetry, and Mr Brown, my science teacher and badminton coach at Kapiti College.
Growing up I played every competitive sport I could. Not always brilliantly, but with real commitment.
The great New Zealand outdoors is a massive part of my life too. Long beach walks give you the negative ions that our energy levels crave and the wind can blow away the cobwebs of a tough day at work.
Travel and living abroad experiences have been important shapers of my thinking. Dad was chief pilot in Western Samoa, so I attended St Mary’s school in Apia. As a 17-year-old I lived in a tiny milling town in Canada’s Northern Quebec.
I have an incredible husband, Maarten, the primary caregiver for our children. He’s my biggest influencer, always encouraging me and pushing me beyond what I believe is possible – all the while keeping the home fires burning and re-setting me if the workaholic sets in!
I live life by a philosophy of ‘unattached curiosity’. It’s a really fulfilling way to live as you are constantly seeking new and often random things to learn.
NZB: Why is mentoring and your philanthropic work so important to you?
Katherine: It’s important to give back. To use your skills to improve the lives of others.
I mentor people from different backgrounds, who have a range of innovative social impact and business ideas. I love working with people who are full of energy and drive.
As for philanthropy, I chose causes where I know there is a big challenge; which when combined with whole-system thinking – aka the Sysdoc approach – can be transformational.
When you combine expertise with philanthropy you achieve greater and sustainable impact.
NZB: Sysdoc is 30 years old. What’s been the key to keeping the business and its products/services constantly relevant?
Katherine: Our core skillset with customers is designing, refining and challenging standard business models. We work with them to help them improve their offering, whether that be products or services. As this is part of our daily activity and expertise, it’s natural that we constantly challenge and evolve ourselves. We are energised by change and reinvent where necessary. We’ve moved from being an all-services company to one where significant portions of our revenue are now from tech.
NZB: You’ve broken many traditional boundaries in your business and home life – what’s your advice to fledgling entrepreneurs to help them overcome roadblocks along their business and personal journey?
Katherine: Be yourself. Invent the business life that will work for you. When you are an entrepreneur you have to give so much of yourself to the business, your staff and your customers. If you’re not in tune with your emotions and living authentically, then you will not be able to sustain continual growth. People need to believe in your vision and trust your integrity. When they do, they look to you for how you’re role-modelling the future.
Also, own your mistakes and learn from them. Share the workload early in your journey. There are people way more skilled than you in their area of specialisation. If you put trust in them as people, they will reward you with excellence and commitment.
And, choose your life partner wisely!
NZB: What have been the absolute standout milestones in your business journey? And what are you most proud of?
Katherine: Being named two years in a row in the Top 30 companies in the UK for Best Practices for Working Families, and being inducted as a ‘Flying Kiwi’ in the Hi Tech Hall of Fame – it was such a special moment as I was joining industry peers whom I have long admired.
Going global and securing global framework agreements with iconic brands, with whom we have now ‘journeyed’, has also been special. Every day can be a ‘pinch ourselves’ moment.
We are most proud of our social impact work and projects where we make a material difference to our clients’ operations across safety, security, staff well-being, productivity and prosperity. These include:
• It’s a Penalty – Nine campaigns to eliminate child sex exploitation and trafficking around major international sporting events. The campaign we just completed for the Miami SuperBowl turned around the lives of 22 young people who were saved while being trafficked.
• Happy Child International – 14 children’s homes in Brazil which trafficked and exploited young girls and boys. We have developed a repeatable, scalable operational approach for the three stages of our care for these children: ‘Rescue, Rehabilitate and Reintegrate’.
• GIGA Group Gold Award for Knowledge Management – Creating award winning end-to-end process, learning and knowledge portals. Winning this award made us realise that Sysdoc can foot it with the best in the world.
Most importantly, I’m most proud of all the Sysdoc people who make all this possible!
NZB: What is your best advice for school leavers contemplating their careers?
Katherine: Do what you love. Love what you do. But recognise that no job and no day will ever be perfect. Life is challenging, complicated, and at times frustrating. Look at all of these moments as possibilities to grow and learn.
Your journey will need lots of hard work. Stretch yourself and study/learn as often as you can. Not every moment will be easy or without frustrations and challenges, but like the All Black who consistently makes the team, excellence requires practice.
Most importantly, don’t be afraid to ask for help, mentoring and introductions. I’m co-editing a book with colleagues from Oxford University School of Business for young people who ar e starting out on their journey. We hope that the inspiring stories will help them find their personal strengths.