Some thoughts on the late Lynn Saunders

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This 27 January marks the 12th anniversary of the death of Lynn Austin Saunders.  Lynn was my first ever ‘real’ boss and a registry-man of some repute.

I thought it might be nice to record a few words about the man.

At the time of his death, in 2003, Lynn was the Regional Manager of the Insolvency and Trustee Service.  Formerly he had been the Regional or District Manager of both the Companies Office and Insolvency Service for Christchurch and surrounds.  He had a long career in the public service, he had served nearly 40 years.

Lynn was a rather remarkable man.  He was a significant mentor of mine and I believe we grew to become friends over the years.  We were sort of neighbours in that he lived in the port suburb of Lyttelton and I over the hill in Sumner.  Lynn had grown up in Sumner.

When I applied for a role with the Commercial Affairs Division of the Department of Justice it was Lynn and another legendary chap Robin MacDuff (the office solicitor) who interviewed me for the role. I remember with some amusement the interview as I had not long left the monastery, having decided that the life of a monk was not for me.  One of Lynn’s questions was to ask how I might cope should a fellow staff member use bad language.  I gave some answer or another (that must have been satisfactory).  I laugh now as I am frequently told I swear like a sailor…

I have long been of the view that there is a correlation between the effectiveness of an employee, their loyalty (and longevity) in a role and the quality of their induction.  I attribute this belief in part to my own experience and that of others who started in their roles under Lynn’s management.  There are a number of those staff still employed by the Ministry today.

Malvern House - Lynn
Lynn in his office, Malvern House days.

Lynn had no formal university qualifications as he had pretty much worked from the moment he left school.  He was lucky in that the public service in which he worked didn’t need such things.  Lynn was extremely intelligent.  He had an incredible ability to get to the heart of an issue and to develop a strategy or process to resolve or improve it.  He was a master a business process reengineering.

Lynn was the brains behind some of the biggest changes in customer experience in the Companies Office in his day.  The ‘shuttle’ Annual Return, the ‘abstract’ or CommAff1.  He played a significant part in the development of the Companies Act 1993 and in the development of the early iterations of the Companies Office computer systems (that so much of my own life has revolved around).  What is equally impressive is that while he was contributing so generously to the New Zealand Companies Office he was doing the same for the Insolvency Service.  His capacity for work was equal only to his capacity for a beer (which was significant!).  He was always looking for the next opportunity for improvement, he contributed to national committees on nearly everything and was very well regarded by his management in Wellington.

He instilled a culture of assistance for clients rather than annoyance.  Drilling staff to ensure that they assisted a client in getting a document registered the first time rather than playing ping pong with rejection letters (Those who knew Lynn might enjoy the reference to ping pong as he had significant involvement with the Hoon Hay Table Tennis Club for many years).

He was a very supportive manager and was able to provide meaningful and constructive career (or personal) advice.

Lynn managed an office in an era where social clubs were the norm and where staff socialised regularly.  We had some ripper parties back in the day and Lynn managed always to balance the ‘party’ and the ‘boss’.

I am very grateful to him for all he taught (either overtly or through my observation), he was a wonderful man and I think of him often, I hope it says something of his leadership that I do.

Lynn as Santa. Always an office ritual in the days before political correctness.