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The Aussie way: How 9 Australian businesses do it better, faster, smarter

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Sylvia Pennington
Business Journalist

Sylvia Pennington writes regularly on business and technology for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age

Renowned internationally for our larrikin but hard-working habits, there are plenty of Australians punching above their weight in every arena from the sports field to the boardroom.

As a nation, our laid back, easygoing yet tough-as-nails approach is known and loved, the world over. It’s what we’re celebrated for. But how do our national traits translate into the world of business – and what tips can our global neighbours take from the Aussie way of doing business? 

Feet in thongs on deck above water

Through thick and thin

Is there anything more quintessentially Australian than mateship – being there to share a laugh or pick up the pieces for those who’ve earned a place in our inner circle?Embarking on a business venture with a partner who’s also a great mate has paid off for Sarah Jayne Clarke and Heidi Middleton, the besties who co-founded high fashion label sass & bide in 1999 and seven years later, friendship still intact, had amassed a joint fortune of $30 million.It’s a similar success story for fellow Brisbane gal pals Pamela Easton and Lydia Pearson whose eponymous Easton Pearson label has been going strong since 1989.

Lesson #1: Mateship matters

Those who laugh together, succeed together. It comes back to support, strength and being there for the good times and bad. The Australian ethos of mateship runs in our veins. It also equips business partnership to make it down the long road.

Rebels with a cause

While most of the business world suits up for their nine to five, we’re regarded worldwide as a casual bunch, with many of us thinking nothing of venturing out in shorts and thongs. This iconic trait speaks more of our rebellious streak and dislike of overt hierarchy, than it does our love of comfy clothes.Suiting down, however, has birthed many an Australian casual apparel business success story. Such is the case of uber-casual dress code enthusiast and online bargain king Gabby Leibovich. The co-founder of The Catch Group, which turned over $350 million in 2012-13 via discount deals sites including Catch of the Day and Scoopon, boasts of coming to work in boardies and thongs – and allowing his 500 staff to do likewise.

Lesson #2: Break the mould

Some of Australia’s greatest business success stories have been built on a deep appreciation for comfort over conformity. Our surf apparel industry is an inspiring example, yet upon deeper reflection, the foundations of Catch of the Day and Rip Curl lie in rebellion against the status quo. ‘Doing things differently’ has been one of our most profitable business traits. 

Fair go

Standing up for the underdog has been part of our national ethos since Lachlan Macquarie was a boy. It’s proved a smart business move for Aussie Farmers Direct chairman William Scott who founded the home delivery service in 2005 to help farmers and their communities by selling their produce directly to customers – cutting out the middle man and giving Woolies a run for their money.Fast forward to 2014, and the company owns a milk factory and five distribution centres, and delivers to around 130,000 households around Australia.

Lesson #3: Support the underdog

Putting people first, be it in business model, product, or pay structure, is an Australian way that sets our businesses apart. In Australian business, fairness and equality is critical. 


Hasn’t this always been the way we roll? The work hard, play hard ethos has taken travel czar Graham Turner on a magical mystery tour from his early days with Top Deck, his bus tour business which introduced budget travellers to Europe in the 1970s, to the CEO role at Flight Centre. One of the world’s largest and most successful travel chains, Flight Centre has more than 3200 shops and 15,000 employees around the world.

Lesson #4: Be resourceful

Travel abroad and you’ll quickly learn that businesses love Aussies. We’re curious, innovative and solutions based. It’s a part of who we are. Australia’s geographical isolation, especially before the days of the Internet and long-haul flights, has led Aussies, and their businesses, to look at problems the other way around, arriving at innovative solutions that take the world by surprise. Australia invented Wi-Fi, after all. 

C’mon, Aussie, c’mon

It’s something of an understatement to say we’re a nation that loves to play, watch and talk about sport. For some of our best-loved athletes and players, tenacity and the will to win allow their stars to shine just as brightly in the boardroom as on the field. Chief among them is golfing legend Greg Norman, whose passion for the little white ball has enabled a seamless segue from the fairway to the big business of designing golf courses – more than 70 to date, across six continents.

Lesson #5: Passion first

In the lucky country, we hold this ideal close to our hearts: pursue what you love and success will naturally follow. A case in point, Greg Norman is joined by an ever-expanding team of athlete-turned-entrepreneur from down under, who prove to the business world that in Australia, abandoning your passion does not have to be par for the course.

Taking on the world from down under

In more colourful terms, former Prime Minister Paul Keating famously described Australia as being located out the back of woop woop. But when did we ever let geographic isolation hold us back?It proved no impediment for Lonely Planet founders Tony and Maureen Wheeler whose first guidebook Across Asia on the Cheap was put together at their kitchen table in Sydney in 1973. By 2010 and 100 million books later, the pair had inspired and assisted generations of young people around the world to strap on a backpack and hit the road. As Lonely Planet illustrates, Australian’s may be isolated, but that has only ignited our desire to travel, experience new cultures and develop businesses with global aspirations. 

Lesson #6: Curiosity knows no bounds

Our isolation has bred a passion for travel that’s borne many a business success story for intrepid Aussies. As globalisation continues to transform the face of business, the Australian travel bug is one well worth catching.

Have a go!

Not sure how it’ll pan out – but we’ll have a crack at it! The Aussie spirit of giving it a burl remains alive and well in the younger generation. The latest batch of entrepreneurs to be doing just that includes 23-year-old One Shiftfounder Gen George. After seeing a gap in the market back in 2012 for a site matching buyers and sellers of casual labour, she decided to set one up.Her online marketplace now employs more than 20 staff and in late 2013 secured $5 million in investment funding. Businesses like One Shift illustrate that the ethos of ‘taking a punt’ has a crucial place at the boardroom table. 

Lesson #7: Take the road less travelled

Australian businesses have mastered the art of calculated risk-taking. They’ll always give it their best even if the journey looks bumpy, trusting, that the answers will come. 

Under the southern cross

We love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains. Affection for our homeland and flag is strong in many Aussie hearts. And in none more so than Dick Smith’s. The retail entrepreneur and adventurer has harnessed his patriotism to develop Dick Smith’s Aussie Grown Foods. Taking on the global food behemoths (whose profits go off-shore), the company sells locally grown and manufactured items to support Australian industry and donates all profits to charity - $6 million to date, and counting.

Lesson #8: Give back

Our love for this country means we create local opportunities where we can. Being able to sport a ‘Made in Australia’ swing-tag or give back through charitable business models is important to Australian business owners and their people.  

Life’s a beach

Sun, sand, surf…we Aussies have a longstanding love affair with the ocean. For Rip Curl founders Doug Warbrick and Brian Singer, their passion for surfing back in 1969 spurred the creation of Rip Curl – then a fledgling board and wetsuit manufacturer and now one of the world’s leading surfing sportswear brands, with more than 300 stores worldwide. It’s big business for this Aussie passion, raking in $415 million in revenue worldwide in 2014.

Lesson #9: Go with the flow

Our home is girt by sea – so it’s no surprise we have an affinity with water. Our laid-back surf culture may be a stereotype, but it also speaks to the way Australian’s allow creativity and originality to lead their business pursuits. Take a chance on a road less travelled and you’ll open yourself to new opportunities.

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