The Style Series: Innes Willox

02 October 2017

A heavyweight in Australia's business community, Innes is the Chief Executive of the Australian Industry Group.

His impressive career has seen him appointed as chief of staff at The Age newspaper at only 26, then working as the media advisor to Australia's foreign minister Alexander Downer, moving on to managing corporate affairs at Singapore Airlines before settling into his current role.

We sat down with him to hear about the lessons he's learned along the way on business, building a career, and personal style.


OH: What does your regular week at work look like? What does it involve?

IW: Lots of variety, lots of travel and lots of challenges.  Every day is different but it can involve talking to CEOs, government ministers and their opposition counterparts, giving presentations and speeches and doing media.  There are a few three-cities-in-one-day routines which can be taxing. As well, we cover the waterfront on issues of concern to business so there is a lot of material and information to get on top of.  The unpredictability of it is what really spices it up but it also means you can never be sure what is next to do. Although staff here can dress reasonably casually if they’re not out seeing people, I never really have that luxury because I never know what could be next. That’s why I’m always a suit and tie guy, although the tie occasionally gets left off if I think I’m just in the office for the day.

Dormeuil Amadeus Charcoal

OH: Three lessons you’ve learned you wish you knew when you were starting out?

IW: I’ve sort of lived by these three rules ever since I did start out but they get reinforced all the time. 1) Never say no. 2) Challenge yourself – never get comfortable. 3) First impressions count.

OH: Is there a book you recommend that you think everyone should read

IW: I read a lot for work but also at home. My home reading is a bit all over the place so the bookshelves could be confusing.  A friend told me once you can tell a lot about a person by their bookshelf.  If so I’m not sure what people would make of me! I’ve just finished two Jack Reacher books by Lee Child and I’m about to start Sapiens- A Brief History of Human Kind by  Yuval Noah Harari.  That’s about as far apart as you can get I think.  There are no business theory books that I’d say are must read but I read the occasional business biography.  The last one was by David Nasaw on Andrew Carnegie,  in some ways the Bill Gates of the 19th Century. The book I keep going back to is Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks – a complex and beautifully written World War 1 story. Just stunning.  Everybody should read it.

OH: Do you remember your first suit? What did it look like

IW: Sadly yes. It was brown with golden threads. Seriously.  It was shocking.  And it didn’t last long. One of several fashion disasters along the way.  I had a suit as a youngster – a mulberry coloured one for my sister’s wedding when I was eight. Wore it with a lilac shirt and a purple patterned tie.  Kind of fetching!

Dormeuil Iconik Mid-Navy

OH: Do you have any advice for how to always look sharp?

IW: I wear block coloured suits – black, blue or grey. Too many patterns don’t work for me.  A white shirt most days. I usually wear French cuffs because they just work better for me and I like the touch they provide. The point of difference is always the tie. It’s where you can be a bit individual.

The key is not to clash too much in colours or tones. Everybody has different opinions, so don’t expect universal praise. When you’re on television I’ve discovered nobody remembers what you say but everybody remembers what you wore or if your hair was out of place. That reinforces that appearance is really important for your image. Style triumphs over substance every day of the week.

OH: What do you find important when getting a suit/garment made?

IW: Firstly, that it fits! There’s nothing worse in terms of impressions than a baggy or ill-fitting suit with the legs or sleeves too short. Aim for comfort in the fitting and the cloth because you are hoping to wear it for a long time. Quality lasts.

OH: What’s your idea of luxury?

IW: Anything that’s a bit self-indulgent.  That can be a really good meal out, a great holiday or even taking an unexpected day off to spend on yourself. Luxury is when you have time to devote to yourself.


OH: What accomplishment are you most proud of?

IW: My three kids.  All of them are finding their way but are fantastic people and with luck will do well.  Professionally it’s taking chances.  I’ve been a journalist, a ministerial adviser, a  corporate strategist and spokesman, a diplomat, a CEO and a board member.  The day you stop professionally backing yourself to improve, learn and make a difference is the day to think about heading permanently to the beach.