30 October 2015
When Donna Cooper considered taking the helm of Baycorp's New Zealand operation, she took a long hard look at herself.
Would the role align with her values and could she feel proud of a move into debt collection?
"What I learnt was the more I looked at it, the more I realised how critical it is that companies like Baycorp exist and are there to support businesses," she says.
Bad debts have been good business for Baycorp for nearly 60 years, but Cooper, 41, says it also has an important role in ensuring businesses keep cash coming in the door.
"Everybody can think of someone they know who hasn't been paid and how very much they feel for them." Baycorp's long history has been its strength, contributing to the biggest default database in Australasia, but there have been changes during Cooper's 18-month watch.
The most public was the announcement last month that US-based Encore Capital Group has agreed to purchase a 50.25 per cent stake in the business. The deal brings the technological heft of a global player, giving Baycorp a jump start on competitors in the development of data analytics, Cooper says.
"Part of it is about expertise but part of it is just that when you have access to a whole lot of data then you can see trends and do cleverer things because you can test on bigger volumes."
"Effectively, what it does for Baycorp is rather than us developing all that ourselves we can open the door to some of the best people in our industry and some of the global best practice." And the smarter Baycorp is with this data, the more successfully it can collect money on behalf of its clients, she says.
The deal not only provides Encore with a foothold in a new market, it also gives it a deeper pool of data.
While hard data helps track down debt dodgers, the soft touch plays an important part in ensuring bills are repaid.
Cooper says Baycorp acts as an extension of its clients' organisations and needs to ensure it takes their reputation seriously and treats their customers well.
She has taken what she says is the "obvious but important" step of standing back and really understanding what clients are looking for from a collections company.
"We're focused on being much more of a partner and listening to what clients want as opposed to just being a provider of a service; of sharing some of our expertise so that they can put that into their business and improve what they're doing." Cooper says she also wants her staff to feel proud of the job they do in what can be a challenging situation.
A new logo has been the outward sign of a fresh, modern and professional approach to its services, but Cooper says there has also been a behind-the-scenes improvement in the company culture.
"It's not a nice situation to be in, whether you are the person who is owed the money or owe the money, so we've been thinking more about our business as being resolving problems.
"I think that's been a big mindset change in our organisation but it's delivering some really nice results for everybody."
For Cooper herself, the Baycorp role marks a return to New Zealand after a career spent, for the most part, overseas with American Express.
The former Rangitoto College head girl says postgraduate study in France gave her a taste for life abroad.
"I guess I'm a bit of an adventurer at heart."
Her most exotic posting was two years in India from 2006, helping re-establish the American Express brand in the face of growth among credit card rivals in the rapidly developing market. "It was probably one of the biggest learning opportunities from a career point of view for me as well because there is a very different culture; very hierarchical and ... much fewer women in senior roles so I really got first-hand experience of what it was like to be in a cultural and gender minority."
She went to India with a deep knowledge of American Express, but little understanding of the local market. Cooper needed to meld her skills with the abilities of the local team to carve out a niche for Amex as the premium credit card option in the market.
"I don't know how to say this without sounding trite, but I believe leadership is how you empower a lot of smart people to do a great job, because if there's a clear vision about what you want to achieve and you've got 100 people who are all empowered and going in the direction to deliver that, you get a much better outcome than if you're one person trying to go somewhere, trying to pull everyone along."
For now, Cooper, with her young family, isn't going anywhere.
"I'm really happy here but I'm always an adventurer at heart and I'll always remain open-minded to opportunities but for now I'm good."
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