After 20 years in the publishing industry, the New Zealand native left her high-flying sales job in Sydney to launch luxury agency MaxMediaLab in 2011. Despite securing a portfolio of high-end clients including Hermès, Audi and La Prairie, Phillips has never been one to rest on her Jimmy Choos. In 2014, she capitalised on the burgeoning beauty influencer space and founded talent platform MaxConnectors—which last year signed 50 new faces alone. Her HQ is soon expanding to include YouTube rooms for content creators, and Phillips even had a day spa set up in the office so her 40-plus staff can get prepped and primed for events. When it comes to finding work-life balance, those deskside beauty appointments come in handy—as do restorative weekends spent in her “gingerbread cottage” of a home in Sydney’s Mosman with her partner and four children. In a rare moment of downtime, the entrepreneur shares how she makes it all work
INSTYLE: What motivated you to start your own business?
LYNETTE PHILLIPS: When I decided to leave [publishing], I really didn’t want to work for anyone else. I was like, “I’ve worked for someone for 20 years—you know what? I’m just going to do it on my own.” There was a gap in the market that I identified for a new luxury agency that understood the Australian woman. The benefit was that we were able to do media buying, publicity and create content, because that was my background. I was really fortunate in 2011 that the luxury market was buoyant…we picked up some of the top luxury brands in the world within the first year.
Did you face any challenges when you first launched?
My biggest challenge was that I went from being a sales director and publisher with 2,000 people working for me, to opening my office with one person. I was like, “Oh my God, how do I work the photocopier?” [Laughs.] I remember losing sleep over certain decisions that, when I look back, weren’t as crucial as they seemed. If I knew seven years ago that my tiny office with five staff members was going to turn into a much larger dream space in Alexandria with more than 40 employees, I would have got in more beauty sleep over the years!
What is the most significant lesson you learned in those early days?
When you’re starting a business, it’s really all about the people you surround yourself with. Seek out a mentor who is willing to help build your career. Find someone you admire, or who shares your professional outlook, and ask for their advice. Don’t be afraid to reach out—more likely than not, they will feel honoured to be approached. I genuinely credit my own career to the help my mentors gave me.
Describe an average day for you
There’s no such thing for me. Managing two companies—with major events before, during and after work every week—means it’s always hectic. The one constant ritual I stick to (although I don’t know if this can be classified as a ritual) is getting my phone calls done on the 40-minute drive to work. I have to say, I’m loving [Apple] CarPlay right now
How important is style and presentation in what you do?
One of my mentors was Karin Upton Baker, the managing director of Hermès Australia, and I learned a lot from her. Taking the time to iron tissue paper, do proper bows, the policy of invitations and handwritten thank-you notes…that set me up well at MaxMediaLab, because in everything we do we have attention to detail. Our offices are a bit extra, with selfie mirrors, white marble and orchids everywhere you turn, but our approach to business is luxurious as well. It’s all about making our clients feel special.
What qualities do you look for when recruiting?
Someone who’s done their homework. This is such a cliché, but surprisingly I still see a lot of people who haven’t done any research [on the company]. You should always come prepared with a few questions to show your interviewer that you’re interested in the company…and I look for people who are honest about both their strengths and weaknesses. There’s no use claiming that you’re good at something, starting the job and realising that you’re not the right fit. I seldom use recruiters, [as usually] it comes down to people having a really good reputation instead.
How do you define success?
Success is a relative term. If you achieve what you want to and are happy, then I think that is success. It’s also looking back at a task and knowing you couldn’t have done any better, no matter the result.
What is your best piece of advice for aspiring business owners?
Back yourself. Most people will say at the time, “Oh, you can’t…” but if you listen to the buzz around you, you’ll never go and do it. The timing has never been better to start a business. [But] start off slowly. Don’t go and get that big loan, because you don’t necessarily need a lot of money to start your own business, especially in the age of social media.
Finally, any words to live by?
I love this quote from Meghan Markle: “I’ve never wanted to be a lady who lunches—I’ve always wanted to be a woman who works.”