In my 20s, I lived in Toowoomba, a city of similar size to Dunedin in southeast Queensland. My father was visiting Brisbane (a couple of hours’ drive away) for his work, so I came down and met him for breakfast in the hotel.

Breakfast was part of his accommodation package and the breakfast was fairly typical hotel fare – one which excited me a lot more then than it does now!

When we lined up, we were asked if we wanted a continental or a cooked breakfast. Dad chose continental and I chose the more expensive cooked option – I was still in student mode and went hard on the buffet bacon!

While we were eating, I said to Dad, ‘you can say on your claims back to work that you had the cooked breakfast and that I had the continental’. He looked at me aghast and said that would be dishonest – he paid for my more expensive cooked breakfast.

I doubt Dad thought any further about that conversation, but I have never forgotten it. The difference in price between the two breakfasts was probably $5, a minor amount that would never have been checked, but for him it was a matter of personal integrity.

Integrity and values are frequently bandied around, yet we don’t have many discussions about what they mean to us as individuals or within organisations. I was recently in a situation where I was subjected to theoretical scenarios where I had to choose a line of action. It made me realise it’s easy to have integrity and values in theory, but more complex in practice.

As an example, a business may have to decide whether to operate in a location with significantly different values from theirs. For most exporting companies there will be a time or occasion when they feel uncomfortable in terms of securing a deal. It is more common than you might think, as alongside Denmark, New Zealand is ranked as the least corrupt country in the world (2019 Corruption Perceptions Index).

I believe we are mostly good at recognising bribery and corruption, saying no and walking away from a deal. It’s harder to draw a line when our values are brought into question.

Countries we trade with in the Middle East have poor records of treatment of women. China, our largest trading partner, has a questionable human rights record. Should we do business in these countries and can we do business with integrity and still remain true to our own values?

I visited Saudi Arabia earlier this year and was nervous about whether I should go, and if I did go, how I might react to the treatment and status of women, who have only recently been given the right to drive.

When there, cloaked in my black abaya, I found there was more open discussion than I thought there would be – with men and women. In some ways I was an oddity as a female business leader; in other ways, I was just another Westerner doing business in a country slowly opening up and diversifying income.

In business meetings, we were able to discuss the role of women in food and agriculture and I was thankful for that. Perhaps integrity in this sense means creating cultural bridges while remaining authentic and true to our own values – quietly demonstrating a different way is possible and even desirable.

Delia Ferreira Rubio, the chair of Transparency International, states: “People’s indifference is the best breeding ground for corruption to grow”. My interpretation of this is that our biggest problems arise when we believe we cannot make a difference, and stop caring.

My father showed me that we make decisions on a daily basis that speak to our individual integrity. What international business has shown me is that we must always look at the whole picture, seek to understand differences and in a small way, lead change.

As an exporting country, we walk the tightrope that is international trade – in walking that tightrope and remaining balanced as to what we stand for, it is our actions that demonstrate a different way.

  • Anna Campbell is managing director of AbacusBio, a Dunedin based agri-technology company.