Jacqueline O’Donovan has achieved huge recognition as a business leader in a male-dominated industry — construction. At 19 she became managing director of O’Donovan Waste Disposal, HQ based in Tottenham, North London, after restructuring the business to continue the legacy of her late father Joe, who founded the business in its earliest form in 1959. Having left school at 16 and about to embark on a move to Germany, her father died suddenly aged 51, leaving her and three older siblings with the task of scaling down and running the business. Jacqueline has excelled at growing the business from a £175k firm to a £20m empire, while the 12-strong workforce of 1988 has today expanded to 185.
Jacqueline O’Donovan – No Time to Waste
Jacqueline is a genuine inspiration. An undisputed leader and ‘disruptor’ in a male-dominated industry, she is one of the waste and construction sectors’ most influential trailblazers – passionately advocating for improved training and education for employees across the sectors, greater focus on health and safety, improved environment and sustainable working practices. She has championed improved standards across all areas of waste, construction and demolition, resulting in cleaner, safer and more responsible operations. Since her father’s sudden death in 1985, Jacqueline worked with her siblings to continue his dream of building a leading waste management company.
“I didn’t know there were no women in the industry when I started” Jacqueline stated, “and I think that being a woman means I’ve always seen things a little differently. I also came into the business with no experience, and so from the start I’ve seen that training is vital. My first challenge, for example, was that we needed a transport manager, so I went off to night school to gain the qualification needed. Once I’d passed my transport manager CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) I went on to do a huge amount of further training, including becoming a Health and Safety officer. I am a qualified trainer now and sharing knowledge and teaching others has become a real passion of mine. I hated school but I have more than made up for that. My most recent qualification in my master’s degree in demolition.” Jacqueline became the first female director of a business to achieve such a degree, not in the UK but worldwide!
With the business having a strong reputation for service excellence and exemplar health and safety and sustainability records, Jacqueline has attributed this to the focus she has placed on training and education, writing her own approved training courses and sharing them with the wider industry. “Not being academic and running your own business has sometimes been challenging and this has really spurred me on to continuously improve and learn” Jacqueline said. “I’m an avid campaigner for upskilling staff and giving them the opportunity to better themselves, to allow them to grow, have aspirations and meet their goals. This has been a huge investment in time and resources and it has paid dividends in terms of a motivated and skilled workforce with an impressive staff retention rate as well as staff who are engaged and happy in their work and it shows in the quality of service we deliver.”
Coming from humble beginnings, Jacqueline is the youngest of four children with her parents originating from West Cork, Ireland, moving to London in the 1950s. Born in North-West London, the family of six lived in a tiny one-bedroom flat until her father was able to purchase their first house and he started growing the earliest form of O’Donovan Waste Disposal in 1959.
“Those were happy, simple times”, Jacqueline commented, “and I learnt so much. We were always exposed to our dads work and earned pocket money, cleaning the office and filing. It has stood me in good stead as I have always been in this environment and around the drivers so have always felt at home in this industry. Seeing the drive and determination, our dad had, instilled such a strong work ethic in us and it also has helped us grow a fantastic business that still have family values at its very core.”
Jacqueline is a familiar figure in the news and media and has had a huge number of accolades and awards bestowed on her for her entrepreneurial flair as well as her many business successes and industry leadership. Most recently Jacqueline was awarded the Institute of Directors (IoD) Family Business Director of the Year and has previously been awarded the PwC Business Woman of the Year title. Typically modest, Jacqueline downplays the recognition that she receives saying “It is very nice to be selected for these honours and to have such prestigious awards presented to me but I still feel that I am a business leader doing my job and whilst it is an honour to earn the recognition, it really is a team effort!”
One of Jacqueline’s most notable and understated contributions is something that most people see every day! She has worked hard over the years, collaborating with industry bodies, the Metropolitan-Police, Mayor’s Offices and community-groups, helping establish and implement innovative methods of improving road-safety. Through one of those workstreams, Jacqueline worked with HGV manufacturers redesigning lorry-cabs, to improve driver’s vision from the driving seat. Making lorries safer and helping minimise blind spots in order to increase road-safety for all resulting in the modified lorries with glazed panels in passenger’s doors that are seen on the roads today.
“I am a great believer in just getting stuck in and keeping things simple!” says Jacqueline. “I hate wasting valuable time and if I see an initiative or I think of an idea that has benefits for everyone, then I am usually the first in our sector to implement it. We were the first company to make it compulsory for all our lorry-drivers to go cycling on bicycles on London’s roads with an instructor. Getting in close proximity to HGVs and buses gaining practical, first-hand experience of the challenges faced by cyclists has actually been invaluable for them and has changed the way they drive.”
There really is no end to the powerhouse that is Jacqueline O’Donovan and with such business acumen and steely determination, she could give Boris a run for his money should she put her mind to it!
O’Donovan Waste Disposal
O’Donovan is an outstanding family-run, multi-award-winning waste management business specialising in construction and demolition waste and operating with a strong environmental ethos. Employing 185 staff, and with 100 HGVs, the company invests heavily in its operations and primarily its workforce through education and upskilling. O’Donovan is regarded as an industry leader and innovator with sustained operational excellence as the powerful force behind the firm’s quality service and continued success. O’Donovan deliver an outstanding level of compliance, sustainability and service-excellence to clients whilst ensuring that staff-wellbeing and operational-superiority is a top priority alongside being a proactive contributor to the local community.