The Unauthorised Rules For Doing Business In Australia

How to do business in AustraliaGetty / David Rogers

There are frothy tip-sheets for business etiquette everywhere, but this summer’s interns will have learned the basics by the time they return to uni.

Australia has a dynamic, diverse business community and despite the country’s reputation for being laid back, there are some rules of engagement.

We spoke with business leaders including CEOs, company directors, and successful people in finance, construction, IT, and media sectors about what’s really expected when doing business in modern Australia. Here’s the result.


  • Contrary to the rules everywhere else in the world, it’s OK to wear a double cuff shirt and cufflinks without a tie.

  • Black shoes and a black belt for men in a suit. No exceptions.

  • A bloke can never, ever have dyed blonde hair, highlights, or tips. A buzz cut is just fine.

  • If you have tattoos that can be seen through your shirt, for god’s sake, wear an under-shirt so we don’t have to look at them.

  • If in doubt, dress like the CEO.

  • Suits with a large pin stripe are for corporate lawyers, bankers and company directors only.

  • If your boss wears a tie every day, wear a tie every day.

  • The only time shorts are OK in the office is when you rock in on a Saturday to pick something up on the way to the beach.

  • Only Twiggy gets to wear a yellow tie.

  • A beard is fine but you’d better grow it on a week off and trim it weekly.

  • In the main, dress for the weather. While there may be standard business attire there’s nothing more wince-inducing than someone in too many layers on a hot day.

  • But no matter how hot it is, it’s never too hot to turn up to a finance client meeting without a jacket.

  • And no, you can’t wear a t-shirt under the jacket.


  • Once an hour’s up in the meeting, stop babbling and leave. That’s all the time you get.

  • Having an opinion your peers don’t like is better than having nothing to say at all.

  • Don’t say “at the end of the day”. Ever.

  • If you have a hangup about diversity, know that in the small pool of Australia’s elite CEOs, one is a gay Irishman and another is a mum of triplets. Consider this for five seconds before opening your mouth.

  • Nobody cares how busy you are.

  • Be to-the-point. Have the conversation but do it efficiently and get it out of the way. People will appreciate getting the time back; it’s like giving a small gift.

  • Melbourne folks want to know who your family is and where you went to school.

  • Brisbane people want to know where you were born and if you are buying the drinks.

  • Sydneysiders want to know what they can get from you and when you are leaving.

  • Adelaide people should order the wine and are more connected than you think.

  • Being rude to a waiter is the biggest sin.

  • You don’t have to be interested in sport but you do need to know which teams are doing well and which ones suck.

  • They are either rugby fans or league fans. Never both.

  • Gossip is like exactly like Facebook. It’s excellent, and best used judiciously and infrequently.

  • Ask about the photographs on the office wall. People want to talk about them.

  • If meeting someone from Sydney, ask where they went to school. Make it your business to know someone from every school and recite the relevant alumni at every opportunity.

  • Talking about your degree is fine as long as you remember something interesting that you learnt. Don’t just talk about your days at university.

  • It’s OK to talk about your successes. People will happily steal the IP.

  • You don’t need to point out the douchebag. Everyone has spotted him or her already.

  • Beers are sacred, so no pitching for business in the bar. Exchanging advice is fine.

  • Pitch for business in the bar or else you’re soft.

  • Be original. Never tell a story the same way twice in meetings. You will be caught.


  • Read the news and have plans for the weekend.

  • Start early.

  • Pay the lunch bill without expecting anything in return.

  • Respect the advice of people who are more experienced than you, but do not take it as the gospel.

  • Research the person you are meeting. Be familiar with their achievements.

  • Humility, like chivalry, should never die.

  • Don’t schedule meetings on Friday afternoon, unless there are drinks involved.

  • Australians love to travel and tell the stories, so it’s a career investment to go to interesting places. It can anywhere from Maui to a minor suburb with a ghost story.

  • No sympathy for the hangover. You can — and will — be at work.

  • Put your phone away in meetings. You’re not that important.

  • The maximum number of times you can check your phone during lunch is twice.

  • Don’t ever call just to “touch base”. What does that even mean?

  • Aim to show up two minutes early to every external meeting. If you’re going to be more than three minutes late, text your appointment to let them know.

  • Look people in the eye.

  • Follow up.

  • If you’re trying to do a deal over lunch you might lose out if you announce you’ve another meeting scheduled for 2pm.

  • If travelling alone, sit in the front of the cab unless you just got off an early-morning flight between Melbourne and Sydney.

  • If getting in a taxi with a more senior person, let them approach the car first so they can decide whether to ride in the back with you or sit up front. You’ll learn something from their choice.

  • Don’t try and kick off a major project between Christmas and Australia Day, Not only is it unAustralian, but it will fail.

  • Decide. It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.

  • Remind yourself the Australian business pond is very, very small. The words of that great R&B man, Allen Toussaint, are particularly pertinent. “People fly high, begin to lose sight… it’s high time that you found the same people you misuse on your way up, you might meet up, on your way down.”

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