The insider view: Sydney
Home to nearly five million people, Sydney is the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. This sprawling metropolis, capital of the eastern coastal state of New South Wales, surrounds the world’s largest natural harbour. The state is economically crucial to Australia, observes Aubrey Joachim FCMA, CGMA, a Sydney-based business and management accounting practitioner who was president of CIMA in 2009-10.
“New South Wales is a A$500bn [$385bn] economy, contributing a third of Australia’s GDP. Well over 200 of the country’s top 500 companies are based here,” he says. “In total there are more than 450,000 businesses operating in the state, 36 per cent of which are in property, finance or professional services. This is perhaps the reason for the state’s attractiveness to CIMA professionals. There are more than 1,200 students and members of the institute based in Sydney alone.”
The ICT industry is also strong in New South Wales, as Joachim points out. “The state has one of the highest smartphone penetration rates in the world – the figure is expected to reach 93 per cent by 2018. New South Wales is also the most popular location for data centres in the country,” he says. “The state government spends A$2bn every year on ICT applications and services, while 64 per cent of Australia’s tech start-ups are based here. Much of this achievement can be attributed to the new generation of migrant workers.”
Paul Thambar FCMA, CGMA, an academic with teaching and research experience in management accounting and strategy at the University of Technology, Sydney, says that the city serves as both the gateway to Australia and its commercial hub.
“While some global organisations have their regional Asia-Pacific HQs here, most operate in Sydney with a branch-office structure,” he says. “Large Australian companies are an important facet of the commercial community, but small and medium-sized enterprises are the engine room of the city’s economy.”
While Sydney is undoubtedly Australia’s business capital, it is arguably also the nation’s social and cultural centre. Thambar claims that it’s “the best city in the world. We have good entertainment, excellent sporting events and great weather all year round. You can mix with the whole world here, as people from all parts come to work and/or play.”
Joachim adds: “Sydney is an extremely multicultural place and it is said that one can taste the food of almost every country on Earth here.”
Sydney’s undoubted attractiveness means that the cost of living in the city ranks among the highest in the world. The property market is booming too: house prices have risen by nearly 40 per cent in three years, prompting fears of a bubble. Thambar acknowledges that housing is “expensive, but it remains affordable for most Sydneysiders”.
Joachim agrees, saying: “It must be recognised that Australia contains the highest number of households in the world with wealth exceeding $200,000.”
AUSTRALIA’S BUSINESS community is relatively small and tight-knit, says Jasmin Harvey FCMA, CGMA, project manager at national airline Qantas.
“This strikes me every time I return home after working in places such as the UK, India and North America. Your reputation and personal brand go a long way in Australia, so it’s important to leave your best impression in all of your commercial interactions,” she says. “The secret to success in business here is to network – you must build and maintain good relationships. I was reminded of this point when I attended an event on cyber-risk the other day: I bumped into a number of people from different organisations whom I had worked with before in areas unrelated to what we’re all doing now.”
Australians have a very professional approach to business, according to Joachim – although “knowing the results of the weekend’s sporting events is a must and the ability to hold your own in an exchange of banter helps” when trying to establish new commercial relationships.
The standard etiquette is that “meetings start on time. Smart business attire is the preferred option and one needs to have researched one’s subject thoroughly,” he says. “While it’s easy to do business in Australia – it comes 10th in the World Bank’s latest global ranking on that measure – there are plenty of administrative, tax and legal issues that must be in order.”
Qualifications are a must for people wanting to work in almost any capacity in Australia, Joachim adds. “Even a hairdresser must gain certification.”
Thambar says that, although the old-boy network counts for a lot in Sydney’s business community – as do connections forged through sport – Australians tend not to be statusconscious. “Get into a lift in any commercial building and you’ll see that the CEO will happily greet and speak to the cleaner,” he says.
THREE DECADES AGO, Sydney’s prevailing corporate culture was relatively laid-back, according to Joachim. “Many industries were controlled by trade unions and there used to be a saying: ‘Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ leisure and eight hours’ rest,’” he recalls. “But Sydney has since caught up with the rest of the world.”
Today there is a “strong culture of achievement at every level and in every segment. Ethical standards here are equal to, if not higher than, those in other parts of the world,” he says. “Such changes have largely resulted from the influx of professionals from various nations over the past 30 years. Many jobs in finance and professional services have been filled by migrants from places such as India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa and China.”
Joachim continues: “British professionals have also been entering the management cadres of Australia’s healthcare and retail sectors – many of whom used to work in the National Health Service or for big UK supermarkets.”
Harvey reports that, despite Sydney’s hard-working culture, businesses are becoming increasingly supportive of flexible working arrangements. “There is also a push to improve diversity in companies by, among other things, increasing the proportion of women in senior management and board positions. This was supported by the introduction of a new diversity reporting scheme for companies by the Australian Stock Exchange in 2011,” she says. “Supporting indigenous Australians in employment is another key diversity focus area for many large firms.”