Sydney Business Travel Guide
Expect a low-key—but high-achieving—business culture when you travel to Sydney.
Australia is a dream destination for many international tourists. However, Sydney, the island continent’s most populous city, is much more than a tourist destination: It has become an important hub for doing business in Australia, and it’s now prepared to take a pivotal role moving ahead into Asian markets.
Australia has a history and heritage that has shaped its business culture. Australian aboriginals, who account for only 1 percent of Australia’s current population, trace their history back some 50,000 years. As a sign of respect to these traditional owners of the land, a welcome to the country or an acknowledgement of traditional ceremonies is now commonplace at the start of public meetings, performances and media events.
Despite the ancient past, Australia is commonly regarded as a modern country; British colonization took place less than 250 years ago, in 1770. Until the last few decades, Australia’s historic links with Europe and the West dominated the economic and political landscape. But with the dawn of the Asian century and Australia’s location in the region, Asia has become a major influence, shaping the future of Australia.
Today, Australia is the 13th-largest economy in the world, according to nominal GDP, and the 17th largest according to GDP. The country is one of the fastest growing advanced economies in the world, with particularly strong resource, agriculture and service sectors. Foreign investment is attracted to abundant natural resources, including extensive reserves of coal, iron ore, copper, gold, natural gas, uranium and renewable energy sources.
In the past two decades, Australia has enjoyed uninterrupted economic growth and has weathered the global financial crisis better than any other Western market. The diverse economy continues to have a steady growth trajectory; the government is committed to an open trading policy and is actively pursuing more free trade agreements. Australia has a reputation of being a welcoming and easy place to do business.
Work Hard, Play Hard
Anna Huurdeman, a marketing executive previously in Boston with a leading legal firm, sums up the key difference between the business cultures: “In general, Australians work to live and Americans live to work.” Australia’s commitment to a life–work balance is pervasive. The driven and efficient workforce values out-of-office time, working only a 38.5-hour week and enjoying four weeks’ annual vacation. Patrick Fazzone, a lawyer and the American Chamber of Commerce in Australia trade chairman, quips that he “would rather run with the bulls in Pamplona than get in the way of Australians at the end of their working day,” noting their keenness to be out of the office by 5:30 p.m. to perhaps get a surf in, get to footy practice, spend some time with the kids or head to the pub with their mates.
Australians also have a well-deserved reputation as fun-loving. They will have a drink at a business lunch, and overall there is a strong emphasis on relationship building over drinks outside of the office—a great opportunity to enjoy the country’s fine wines and beers.
The Australian Dialect
While both nations communicate in English, Katie Mitchell, director of marketing with Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel, suggests that “communicating in Australia is like learning a different dialect, with a faster pace of speaking as well as shortening of words, using nicknames and a distinctly different vocabulary.” Common examples include brekkie for breakfast, arvo for afternoon, barbie for barbecue and Maccas for McDonald’s, even in TV ads.
Less is More
As well as using the language differently, Australians have a different communication style: “Australians tend to understate and Americans tend to fully state—and hence can appear a bit pushy and appear to come on too strong,” says Fazzone. Matthew Hyder, director at residential property development firm Legacy Property, explains that in Australia there is “a ‘tall poppy’ syndrome, where people who gain success or acclaim are criticized, and as such, these high achievers keep a low profile and underplay success.” He contrasts this to America, where “success is celebrated and seen as inspiring.” This provides the backdrop to Australians’ understated way of communicating and their appreciation of brevity and to-the-point communications. But do not be deceived by this friendly, low-key culture. Australian executives as a whole compete on a world-class level, with deep experience and keen motivation.
Tom Nicholson, director of Major League Baseball in Australia and Oceania, expresses his amazement and respect for Australia’s deep sporting culture. “In a country with the land mass of the U.S.A. and a population the size of L.A. County,” he says, “there is an abundance of sports,” listing four different football codes, alongside cricket, golf and swimming, as well as American favorites including basketball and baseball. His advice is to become “tribal:” Choose a local team to support and take an active interest, as it is a vital part of the nation’s cultural fabric.
When Meetings End
The Sydney Harbour Bridge climb, while touristy, is a must, as is spending some time in or around the harbor on a local ferry or cruise, and even visiting the world-famous Sydney Taronga Zoo to have an encounter with a koala and a kangaroo.
But for a more authentic Sydney experience, get to know the locals and join them in exploring their unique city.
Isobel Johnston conducts bespoke tours to Sydney’s major galleries, commercial spaces, artist-run initiatives and artists’ studios, where you can meet artists, gallery directors and curators. Opt for a door-to-door, chauffeured personal tour, including lunch, or join the regular Saturday group event “Walk Art, Talk Art”.
One of the most famous buildings in the world, the Sydney Opera House is an architectural marvel. Architect Eoghan Lewis and his team at Sydney Architecture Walks offer two-hour tours examining this iconic building through the lens of the original architect, Jorn Utzon. Lewis leads custom tours and has a regular schedule of public walks, including one focused on modern architecture in the city center and another called Harbourings, which explores the splendidly scenic foreshore as well as the gritty and industrial western edge, exposing Sydney’s maritime past.
For those in the mood for some relaxation and indulgence, it is hard to beat a flight in a seaplane, which takes off and lands in the water. Fly over the harbor and head north over spectacular beaches before settling into a fine gourmet lunch at one of Sydney’s outstanding waterfront restaurants.
Rockpool Bar & Grill
66 Hunter St. ; +61-2-8078-1900
There is no better place for a power business lunch or dinner. Patrons enjoy the fine décor, but most of all they come here for the best beef in the country, dry aged and wood fired, with the signature dish being the Wagyu Burger.
529 Kent St.; +61-2-9267-2900
Tetsuya Wakuda, who arrived in Australia from Japan in 1982, has created an iconic dining experience blending Japanese philosophy, French techniques and Australian produce.
2 Courtyard Palmer Street (between Burton and Liverpool streets), Darlinghurst; + 61-2-9331-0709
A brilliant example of modern Australian dining, Universal offers a vibrant culinary experience drawing on global inspiration, crafted superbly by acclaimed Australian chef Christine Manfield.
7 Hickson Rd., The Rocks; +61-2-9256-1234
Located on the waterfront directly opposite the Sydney Opera House, the hotel features rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows opening onto private balconies; you’ll feel it is possible to reach out and touch the harbor.
199 George St.; + 61-2-9250-3100
With close to 550 rooms and suites, this award-winning luxury hotel is one of the largest in the city and is perfectly situated in the heart of the central business district, adjacent to the heritage area called The Rocks.
6 Cowper Wharf Rd., Woolloomooloo; + 61-2-9331-9000
This hip 100-room boutique hotel, located in a chic marina complex on the Sydney foreshore, is housed in a building that was converted from one of the historic wool-trading wharfs.
Fiona Caulfield divides her time between Sydney and Bangalore, India, where she runs an artisanal publishing company. She works both as a travel writer (lovetravelguides.com) and a futurist.